Food crisis for seniors?

Concerns about hunger in King County have primarily focused on families with children.  Since the Great Recession, however, the need for food assistance among King County seniors has increased dramatically.

Food bank visits by seniors rose as visits by younger residents declined.

In 2016, for example, adult age 55 and older accounted for almost 1 in 3 food bank visits, up from 1 in 5 in 2010.  In the time period, the number of food bank visits decreased for all age groups except seniors, for whom the numbers of both new and returning clients increased.

The jump in use of food banks among King County seniors was paralleled by an increase in participation in Washington’s Basic Food program (formerly known as food stamps), which grew from 17,931 King County residents age 65+ in 2010 (9% of the 65+ population) to 28,426 (12%) in 2016.

Basic Food participation among seniors has increased in all major King County cities.

Increases have been especially steep in Tukwila, where 30% of seniors age 65+ participated in Basic Food in 2016.  Sharp increases have also occurred in the South Region cities of Kent, Seatac, Federal Way, Renton, Burien, and Auburn, with participation rates ranging from 15% to 22%.   All major cities in King County have experienced participation increases among seniors.  For other age groups, use of Basic Food peaked between 2012 and 2013 and has declined thereafter.

This trend isn’t just about food.  Steep increases in the cost of living in the Puget Sound region have exacerbated our homelessness problem, and can be difficult to afford on a fixed income.   It’s easy to understand why seniors might go without food or medication to keep a roof over their heads.  Even in times of economic expansion, food benefits may become increasingly important for the older members of our communities.

For more information, see Communities Count data on Basic Food, food hardship, and food bank trends, plus a link to an interactive map of food bank locations.

Data training to improve public grant-making

For the past two years, Communities Count has worked with local governments and philanthropies to develop data trainings that will help public agencies understand community needs and fund strong programs to address them.

Looking to East King County

Revealing barriers to nonprofit grant applicants’ success

In early 2015, graduate students from the University of Washington’s Community-Oriented Public Health Practice MPH program analyzed applications that did and did not receive funding from Communities of Opportunity, a regional initiative to stem the tide of increasing racial and geographic disparities in health outcomes. They found that the probability of receiving funding was closely linked to applicants’ ability to use data in proposals: While all funded applications had used data effectively, only 41 percent of unfunded applications had done so. Some of the unfunded proposals might have offered innovative programs or responses to emerging needs in the community but, according to the students’ report, “they were unable to articulate their need or link the data they provided to the actual project.”

From this analysis, Communities Count recognized that building stronger data capacity among service organizations could improve the quality of the applicant pool and the selection process. As part of their project with Communities Count, the students contacted organizations that had been turned down for funding to solicit suggestions of topics they would want to learn about in a data workshop.

Discovering the popularity of data training

Ideas from these interviews guided the development of Communities Count’s first training, which focused on using data to tell a story that supports an organization’s case for funding. Designed with the participants’ needs in mind, the workshop was:

  • Small — limited to 30 participants;
  • Accessible — held in a community venue in a low-income area of South Seattle that was easy to reach by transit, car, and bike;
  • Interactive — with hands-on exercises, plus lots of time for questions.

The workshop filled up quickly with staff from a wide variety of community-based organizations, government, and philanthropy. In the month after training, Communities Count also offered follow-up support through customized technical assistance. Participants reported that both the training and the technical assistance were valuable, and said they would attend additional sessions if they were offered.

A long waiting list for the first offering and requests for more workshops confirmed an unmet need for training. Over the next several months, Human Services departments from cities in South, East, and North regions pooled their resources to partially support two large data trainings – each filled to capacity with waiting lists.

Moving upstream in the grant-making process

These trainings — primarily for nonprofits serving King County cities outside Seattle – took place several weeks before the application deadlines for Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) and other city funding. To ensure the trainings were aligned with the criteria by which applications would be judged, Communities Count consulted with city staff who would be rating the applications and customized the curriculum to meet their needs. Held at locations in South and East regions, the workshops drew more than 200 participants and received enthusiastic ratings. A review of the subsequent applications found that many cited data sources included in the trainings.

Communities Count’s latest efforts center on trainings for Best Starts for Kids (BSK), a voter-approved community initiative to “improve the health and well-being of King County by investing in prevention and early intervention for children, youth, families, and communities.” As with the cities, Communities Count coordinates with BSK staff who write the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to make sure the trainings align with the goals and evaluation criteria of each team. The trainings are offered in a variety of settings, including bidders’ conferences and webinars.

Learning from the process 

Communities Count has discovered an exciting thirst for learning about data – each workshop has been full and spurred demand for additional and sometimes more advanced sessions. For example, community groups increasingly want to “own” their data and have expressed interest in conducting household surveys, crowd-sourcing data, and analyzing data. While trying to tailor sessions to the needs of each audience, workshop leaders grapple with the tradeoffs between smaller interactive, hands-on workshops and larger, lecture-based classes that accommodate the growing demand for improved data literacy.

Communities Count also recognizes the importance of aligning and training both sides – the groups applying for funding and the staff rating the grant proposals. As funders become more intentional and clearer about what they want to see in applications – with themselves and in their RFPs – they make it easier for applicants to comply and are more likely to adhere to their stated criteria when evaluating applications. Communities Count has a continuing role to play in helping program staff communicate clearly and consistently about application requirements and in helping nonprofits build a compelling case for the services they provide. This should boost both the quality and the clarity of the information used in deciding how to invest public dollars to improve community health, educate our children, and revitalize our neighborhoods.

This blog was co-written by Kathy Pettit, Director of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) and Louise Carter of Communities Count.  A longer version will be posted by the Microsoft Technology and Civic Engagement Group, which partners with NNIP to expand training on data and technology on behalf of communities.

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.

 

Boom time in Seattle

We may not need an earthquake to get a feel for The Big One. A sampling of 2017 news articles (and accompanying data) suggests that the Emerald City is growing at such a breakneck pace that we can barely track it. And local residents, especially those with limited means, are increasingly unable to find affordable housing in this boom town. Some examples from local media:

According to Seattle Times’ FYI Guy, Gene Balk on May 25th:  From the middle of 2015 to the middle of 2016, Seattle’s population grew 3.1% — faster than any major U.S. city (defined as those with population greater than half a million).  At an estimated 704,400, Seattle is now bigger than Boston, Washington, D.C., and Denver.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, other large, fast-growing cities in King County are Redmond (+3.2% to 62,500), Federal Way (+1.8% to 96,800), Bellevue (+1.3% to 141,400), and Burien (+1.2% to 51,000).  Renton, Auburn, Sammamish, Kent, and Kirkland also grew.

At the same time, according to the Seattle Times on May 30th, “Seattle housing market tops nation in bidding wars and price gains.” Over the past two months, about 90% of houses on the market ended up in bidding wars. And, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, the April median price for a single family home in Seattle was an all-time high of $722,2500; on the Eastside it was $880,000.

And, despite the expectation that rent increases would slow in 2017 as thousands of new apartments went on the market, a March 27, 2017 Seattle Times headline queried, “After brief slowdown, Seattle-area rents surge back up again; when will it end?”

Finally, on the last day of May, Crosscut announced, “A city the size of Woodinville is sleeping in our streets.” That’s right. When the tally from King County’s annual count of unsheltered homeless was added to the number in shelters on the same night (January 27), the total came to 11,643. about the same as the U.S. Census Bureau‘s 2016 population estimate for Woodinville. A new counting method was used in 2017, so valid comparisons of the 2017 numbers to those of earlier years can’t really be made. But a homeless population the size of Woodinville is substantial, and 77% of those who responded to survey questions said they were living in King County when they became homeless. Not a big surprise in a place where record population growth is paired with skyrocketing prices for housing.

Policymakers, businesses, and philanthropists are working to provide more affordable housing for our growing population — with re-zoning, residential assistance, donations of space, and construction of “tiny houses.” So far, though, it’s been a losing battle.

Welcoming immigrants and refugees

In King County, 1 in 5 adults was not born in the U.S. In light of the President’s executive orders regarding federal immigration laws, many in our immigrant and refugee communities are uncertain about the extent to which local governments cooperate with federal immigration agents. Across the US, cities, counties, and states have declared themselves “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Seattle and King County prefer the term Welcoming City and Welcoming County, respectively, which, according to Seattle’s broad definition, means prioritizing “policies, actions, and practices that help immigrant and refugee communities succeed.”


Q. What’s an example of these “policies, actions, and practices”?

Although details differ, a “welcoming” designation generally signals that a government does not use jurisdictional time/resources to target residents on the basis of immigration status. In most cases, government employees (including police) will not ask residents about their immigration or citizenship status. While these “don’t ask” policies protect residents’ privacy, they also protect government employees, who cannot be compelled to disclose information they do not have. This restriction can be negated, however, by a court order, or by “reasonable suspicion” that a person has been previously deported and has committed a felony.

Q. What policies are followed at King County detention facilities?

King County limits compliance with federal immigration requests to hold prisoners beyond the time when they should legally be released. The County will only honor “detainer requests” that are accompanied by a criminal warrant issued by a federal judge or magistrate. This policy is consistent both with federal law and a 2014 King County ordinance.

Q: What is the intention of declaring status as a welcoming jurisdiction?

Backers of “welcoming” policies believe they make communities safer. Why? Because residents are more likely to report crimes, testify in court, and call for help when they need it if police are under orders not to ask about immigration status. In addition, welcoming jurisdictions want to assure people of different religions, races, and national origins that they are welcome and should continue to seek assistance at public health clinics and other government facilities.

Q. Do crime rates in these jurisdictions support the “safer communities” rationale?

Yes, according to a recent analysis of FBI crime reports. After controlling for population characteristics, sanctuary or welcoming cities averaged 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 population. These findings support the conclusion of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, representing the 68 largest law enforcement agencies in the country, that mixing local law enforcement with federal immigration enforcement “would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.”

Q. How can immigrants get accurate information about their rights?

This week the King County Council approved $750,000 to support immigrant and refugee communities’ needs for legal assistance, information about their rights, and (in partnership with The Seattle Foundation) capacity-building of community-based organizations. In addition, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance setting aside $1 million to create a legal defense fund for immigrants and refugees. Access to information about these and other resources is available through:
 Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs
Welcoming Immigrant and Refugee Communities (King County)
 The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which has a wealth of information on its website, including a new advisory for non-profit and social service organizations seeking to protect their clients.
 A hyperlinked list of (mostly) King County cities with ordinances, resolutions, and proclamations that they “promote safe, welcoming, and inclusive communities.”