The Price is Right

By Jacqueline Koch, Partner, Boost! Collective

Keeping veterans and the elderly from homelessness for $32.50 is a deal

It’s that time of year. We’re all getting ready to vote! And among the items on the ballot is the opportunity to renew and expand the King County Veterans and Human Services Levy. The levy connects military Veterans and vulnerable people—such as the elderly—to vital programs and services. It helps them transition to affordable housing, get job training, find employment, receive behavioral health treatment and more. Is it just me or does it seem ironic that Veterans Day approaches in tandem with the upcoming vote to help veterans?

The coincidence got me thinking. I’m the daughter and granddaughter of Veterans. My dad fought in Korea, my grandfather was a prisoner of war in WWII. My uncle fought in Vietnam. War, and its terrible toll, has left a deep imprint on the Veterans in my family—PTSD and depression, well medicated with alcohol. It also came at a great cost to their loved ones.

Today as we witness a homelessness crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen, fueled by endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think about what might have been for my father, grandfather and my uncle. They struggled with the many demons that often lead veterans to the brink and to the streets. What stood between my own father and homelessness is tenuous, especially today. Perhaps it was family, friends and a robust VA system? Or was it that he had government health insurance and access to all the medical care he needed?

Veterans Experiencing Homelessness

Here in our Emerald City, there are 1,329 homeless people who identify as veterans, more than half are unsheltered. An increasing number of them are women. Seattle’s numbers mirror the tragedies that are unfolding in cities across our country. As an American, it is a profound source of shame for me. And it’s an issue that should prompt all of us to take a good hard look at ourselves and our community and to commit to taking meaningful, tangible measures to make it right, right now.

The Seattle Times agrees. To my great relief, the editorial board clearly articulated why we must vote for the King County Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy. With a focus on veterans and the elderly—the levy adds senior citizens for the first time this election—it’s about a good return on investment, in addition to creating the community we can want to live in. In 2016, the levy paid for more than 8,000 emergency-shelter bed nights for homeless veterans. And we can’t forget that the homeless population, vets among them, is aging—quickly. As they age, their needs are vastly different and it’s critical that we truly understand what they are and that we mobilize to meet them.

Programs for Veterans and Seniors

Providing support to Veterans is a pillar of Compass Housing Alliance’s service. It’s also been successful. At the Compass Veterans’ Center in Renton, 89 percent of vets have maintained housing one year after exiting the program. This far exceeds a target of 50 percent.

The aging homeless population also finds a safe haven within Compass Housing Alliance. This is through their focused work to find permanent and supportive housing solutions for elderly individuals through the Health Care for the Homeless Network, as well as through residential facilities with services, such as at Nyer Urness House in Ballard. Here the average age is approximately 55 years. While in my social circle this is considered mid-life, among the homeless population, the average life expectancy for someone who has been chronically homeless is 62.

The Emerald City will shine bright only if we take steps to uphold human dignity for everyone who calls it home. And I want to believe we do. For a median-priced home, it comes at a cost of just $32.50 a year. That’s brunch for two on Sunday. So for my dad, my grandfather, my uncle—and the many people I know who served this country with honor—there is only one vote for me. Yes.