Timed with King County’s Affordable Housing Week, Bellevue was home to multiple community events last week to inform residents on the topic of homelessness and affordable housing in the region.
Five King County housing and service providers hosted “The Difference a Home Makes” to educate attendees about the impacts of homelessness and the work required to provide more housing in the county.
The Sophia Way, Attain Housing, Congregations for the Homeless, Imagine Housing and LifeWire put on a joint event at First Congregational Church in Bellevue. The event included a presentation on the current state of housing and homelessness in the county.
Linda Benson, director of community development for The Sophia Way, led the presentation and discussed three major myths regarding homelessness that the five organizations have found to be prevalent in their areas of work.
“From a systemic perspective, the only way we are going to be able to get ourselves out of this mess is if we create the awareness and the will to create the resources to develop enough affordable housing for everyone, which is a lot,” she said. “The key here is to shift people’s perceptions of the blame from those experiencing homelessness to the underlying systems that are creating the conditions that people literally cannot survive unless we do something pretty dramatic.”
Benson broke down three myths.
The first is that people who are homeless are lazy and don’t want jobs. She said that many people try very hard to hold on to their jobs, but surviving while homeless can be a full-time job in itself. She also said that more than 40 percent of homeless people in the area float between part-time and full-time work, but that isn’t enough to afford any housing in an area like Bellevue.
The second myth Benson discussed was that homelessness is a choice, which is only true in cases of domestic violence when choosing homelessness is the only safe choice to make.
The third myth, she explained, was that people are homeless due to their own mistakes or failings. Benson said the ultimate responsibility for homelessness rests at the systemic level, particularly in the area of affordable housing.
After Benson’s presentation, attendees were broken up into smaller groups to hear the personal stories of homelessness told by people who have been helped by the organizations’ services. Clients and their case managers spoke about the circumstances that forced these individuals into homelessness and the struggles they faced trying to survive.
One man spoke to the groups about bringing his family to the Mary’s Place homeless shelter for nine months before being able to work with Attain Housing to find an affordable housing solution. Another person spoke about how The Sophia Way women’s shelter helped her get off of the streets and began helping her find housing.
King County Council member Claudia Balducci, who also attended the event, said opportunities to hear from the people who have had to contend without having a home are very valuable to people who have never had to deal with it themselves. She also talked about efforts to address this issue being pursued on a county level through two initiatives.
“There’s the Regional Affordable Housing Task Force effort that I co-chair that has got Seattle, King County, Bellevue, and other cities throughout King County participating, that’s a long range, what are we going to do about the cost of housing,” Balducci said. “Then there is the One Table effort, convened by the city of Seattle, Auburn and King County, their laser focus is on homelessness and helping people get off the streets.”
Benson said the feedback and questions they received from the event will be discussed among the organizations and questions received from attendees will be answered by the representatives from the various sponsor organizations as well.
Earlier in the week, the community group Clarity Bellevue also hosted an event in Bellevue on homelessness. Tzachi Litov, a representative of the group, said they decided to hold their meeting to educate to provide additional context regarding Bellevue’s goal of establishing a homeless shelter in the city. Litov said they wanted to have a forum to share unbiased information and educate Bellevue residents on many aspects of homeless shelters.
The group invited several speakers for a live discussion on the topic of homeless shelters. The panel featured executive director of Downtown Emergency Service Center Daniel Malone, executive director of New Horizons in Seattle Rob Stewart, board chair of Northwest Urban Ministries Deryl Davis-Bell and founder of Washington Advocates for the Mentally Ill Eleanor Owen.