Homelessness: 2nd annual media blitz

A year ago, more than 30 Seattle media outlets joined a coordinated media response to the region’s homelessness crisis.  Despite sincere and sometimes successful efforts by city and county governments, local businesses and philanthropies, and community-based organizations, homelessness in King County still qualifies as a crisis.

In January, the one-night count of sheltered plus unsheltered homeless in King County was 11,643, generating the local headline, “A city the size of Woodinville is sleeping in our streets.”  But the annual count used a new method in 2017, so that number can’t validly be compared to previous results.

We have another source of data, though. School districts in Washington are required to “track their homeless students and report that data annually to OSPI” (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction), which in turn reports to the state legislature.  Communities Count has compiled these data for King County school districts going back to the 2007-2008 school year.  By 2015-2016, student homelessness statewide had ballooned to 39,671 – a 52% increase in just 5 years. Over the same period, student homelessness in King County almost doubled — from 4,423 in 2010-11 to 8,411 in 2015-2016 (see chart). Of the 19 school districts in King County, the number of homeless students declined in only 2 (see school district trends).  Washington schools use the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of student homelessness, explained in detail here.

Options for monitoring national and local media coverage of homelessness on June 28th include a national conversation curated by CityLab, Crosscut’s social media pages (Facebook and Twitter), and hashtag #500kHomeless.

 

Migration stories

While Communities Count presents a lot of data about disparities, we often miss opportunities to look at the historical and cultural underpinnings of those disparities. Fortunately, exhibitions at three Seattle museums create artistic contexts within which we can explore – without charts and numbers – how we got to where we are. Understanding our history may help us make informed decisions about the future.

What is it like to leave home, family, friends – everything you’ve ever known – and start over in a new place? And what if the people in that new place don’t really welcome you? These questions come to mind as people around the globe are searching for places to start over – places where they will feel safe and secure, and perhaps build a better future for themselves and their children. The questions also resonate with the history of our country. Through April 23rd, a Seattle Art Museum (SAM) exhibit, Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, offers an opportunity for us to learn about that history by chronicling, through pictures and words, the 20th century relocation of millions of African Americans from the American South to industrial cities in the North.

The Migration Series, Panel 18: The migration gained in momentum., 1940–41, Jacob Lawrence, American, 1917–2000, casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12 in., Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy, The Museum of Modern Art, © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, © 2016 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Lawrence told his story in 60 bold images – painted on hardboard panels in 1940 and 1941 – each with a brief, eloquent caption. For example,
• Panel 3: “From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north.”
• Panel 49: “They found discrimination in the North. It was a different kind.”
• Panel 58: “In the North the African American had more educational opportunities.”

To complement the exhibit, the museum lined up more than 20 special programs and community events. Two distinguished guests, who spoke at full-house performances, deepened the context for understanding this massive migration:
• Pulitzer-Prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson discussed her landmark book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, a 15-year project for which she interviewed 1,200 people.
• United States Representative John Lewis shared personal stories about nonviolent activism during the Civil Rights era. He was accompanied by writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, who collaborated with him on the graphic novel trilogy, MARCH, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

In their lives and work, Lawrence, Wilkerson, and Lewis have reached new audiences with well-documented but untold stories that hadn’t made it into the textbooks. Explaining his motivation for a 31-painting series about Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman, Lawrence said in a 1968 oral history, “We hear about Molly Pitcher. We hear about Betsy Ross…. [but] the Negro woman has never been included in American history.” Thanks in part to Lawrence, some of the gaps have been filled. But we’re still catching up. From the Seattle Art Museum, “To this day we have barely understood the full impact of this movement that was driven not by one single leader, but by six million Americans seeking political asylum in their own country. This migration reshaped culture and politics, North and South, and set in motion the current racial challenges and disparities we now face as a country.”

What about our region?

During SAM’s Migration Series exhibit, exhibitions at two other Seattle museums offer local perspectives on themes of migration and displacement:
• At the Northwest African American Museum, An Elegant Utility (through May 28th) features photographs, household belongings, and other artifacts of artist Inye Wokoma’s family to explore the broader story of African-Americans in Seattle.
• In Year of Remembrance: Glimpses of a Forever Foreigner (through Feb 11th, 2018), the Wing-Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience brings together poems by Lawrence Matsuda and artwork by Roger Shimomura to recognize the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during WWII, and to relate this to current events.

Upcoming events at Seattle Art Museum (all free and open to the public) include:
• Thu Apr 6, 6:30–7 pm, Migration Stories: community members share personal stories of migration, immigration, place, and home.
• Thu Apr 6, 6:30-8:30 pm, The Migration Series: free drop-in art-making session led by artist Eve Sanford.
• Wed Apr 12, 7-9 pm, Complex Exchange (Part 2 of 2) 7–9 pm, Seattle Art Museum and Northwest African American Museum’s recurring series Complex Exchange pairs Seattle community members from a variety of disciplines in conversations to tackle themes inspired by an exhibition. The April 12 event will focus on Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series.

How do YOU search for data?

Calling all data users! Communities Count is seeking input from anyone interested in accessing data about King County communities. We want to improve the way we organize data on our two favorite websites – Communities Count and Public Health’s Community Health Indicators.

Right now, finding some of our data is like going on a treasure hunt with misleading clues – indicators can be hidden in categories that are too technical, too obscure, and maybe even obsolete. We want you to be able to find the data you need as quickly and easily as possible, using strategies that are natural to YOU. We can only achieve that goal with your help.

We hope you will take 10-15 minutes to provide feedback via an online activity called a CARD SORT (link here). The CARD SORT is fun, and its helpfulness will increase as more people participate. Please feel free to share the link with your friends and colleagues. This is a limited-time opportunity: the CARD SORT will only be available from March 1st through 15th.

Race in America from the Obama White House

As America’s First Family departs from the White House, we are reminded of comments by President Barak Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on the topic of race – something they didn’t often discuss.

On America’s history of slavery: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves—and I watch my daughters—two beautiful, intelligent, black young women—playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.” Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. Talking about slavery is painful, but acknowledging that part of our nation’s history is essential to understanding its enduring impacts.

Racial income disparities in King County continue to increase.

On income inequality: “Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.” Barak Obama’s farewell address, Chicago, January 10, 2017. Yes, but…. In King County, 2014 income for Blacks was still below its 2008 high (of $38,847). More significantly, the difference between income for Blacks and those in the highest income group (whites and Asians vied for first place) grew from $20,970 in 1999 to $53,258 in 2015.

On the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black youth: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Barak Obama, White House Rose Garden, March 23, 2012.

On compassion: Quoting from To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it…. For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change. For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.” Barak Obama’s farewell address, Chicago, January 10, 2017.

For perspectives on economic inequality, see Communities Count data on racial wealth and income disparities, blogs on growing wealth disparities and the unfairness of Washington state and local taxes, and the Home Page Spotlight on the rising fortunes of the top 1%. To learn about the lasting effects of housing discrimination on King County communities, see Communities Count and Public Health blogs.

Nonprofits hailed as new leaders

When we seek deep knowledge about low-income communities in our region, where do we turn? If King County is anything like Boston, new research by sociologist Jeremy Levine suggests that nonprofit community-based organizations may have “superseded elected officials as legitimate representatives of poor urban neighborhoods.”

Poster for meeting called by King County community-based organization

Poster for meeting called by King County community-based organization

Levine proposes that as public funding has declined, policy makers and public- and private-sector funders rely on community-based organizations – not only as providers of services (food assistance, affordable housing, job training, etc.) – but increasingly as “invested and deeply knowledgeable representatives of the neighborhoods.”

In part this trust comes from the consistency of organizations that are not subject to political turnover. In its discussion of Levine’s findings, The Atlantic’s CITY LAB noted that low-income neighborhoods benefit from this consistency as “empowered community organizations present a stronger front against displacement, environmental racism, and transit inequity.” At the same time, Levine acknowledges the flip side – organizations that do not adequately represent all the communities they serve cannot be voted out.

Local nonprofit leader Vu Le may welcome Levine’s findings. Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps, a nonprofit that works to bring more leaders of color into the nonprofit sector, Le blogged last year about why the leaders of nonprofits serving marginalized communities should be respected as leaders and as experts about their communities: “We, above any other field, must act on the belief that people most affected by inequities must be leaders in the movement. It is the right thing to do. Imagine a group of men leading an effort and making important decisions on women’s issues like reproductive health, and then asking women to come give feedback at a meeting.”

More recently, Le wrote about his frustration with funders’ and policy makers’ lack of trust “that people and communities who have endured decades or millennia of injustice actually understand their own problems and know how to fix them.”

Levine has observed nonprofits taking on leadership roles in cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. As requests for proposals (RFPs) for King County initiatives go out to community-based organizations in the coming months, we may see if funders trust (in Vu Le’s words) “that communities have the solutions, that they are the solutions.”