Homelessness hurts us all—but we can do something

The Washington State House of Representatives convenes for floor session, March 9th, 2016, the 59th of the Legislative Session.

Homelessness hurts us all—but we can do something

by Rep. JD Rossetti

Homelessness is hurting every corner of Washington. Our small towns are not immune, and it hurts everyone—homeless families, taxpayer and the community.

The crisis is especially hard on our most vulnerable: children, women, veterans and seniors.

There are record numbers of homeless children right now. In Cowlitz County one out of every 20 students in our public schools is homeless. Five years ago, there were an estimated 407 students in the county who were homeless. That number jumped to 832 students last school year.

These are kids living in a shelter, staying with a friend or sleeping in their mom or dad’s car, on the street.

Students who jump from school to school as they find temporary places to stay are more likely to drop out, have future mental health problems and even shortened life-spans.

It’s hard to focus on homework when you don’t have a home.

Veterans are also over-represented among the homeless. Going on multiple combat tours of Iraq and Afghanistan has been especially hard on our vets.

Our veterans have sacrificed enough. There must be systems in place to secure these brave men and women well-paying jobs, homes and proper health care.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Without steady employment or proper health care, too many vets in the 19th District have resorted to camping in the woods.

Veterans experiencing mental ailments deserve proper treatment. These people are our best, brightest and bravest Americans. They deserve to be treated as such.

Single-mothers also make up a big portions of our homeless. The trouble usually comes from being recently divorced or separated. No woman should be focused to choose between living in an unsafe home or having no home at all for herself and her kids.

It is time we acknowledge that homelessness effects people of all backgrounds. It’s a myth that the only homeless people are addicts, criminals or outcasts. They’re people. It can happen to anybody—your friend, your neighbor or even your family.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Solutions to homelessness will benefit all Washingtonians, regardless of where we live. More families buying homes means a stronger economy. Giving homeless kids a stable place to live means more graduates instead of high school dropouts.

This session, I fought for more funding to deal with the problems in affordable housing and homelessness.

It wasn’t easy, but the budgets we passed include important new funding for homeless kids, veterans and families.

The new operating budget puts more funding in emergency residential services and beds throughout the state; give local governments more resources to help homeless people transition to permanent housing; and boosts programs that prevent children from being homeless.

Our new construction budget puts real money toward fixing this problem:
• $2.25 million for Supportive Housing and Emergency Shelters;
• $8 million in new money for the Housing Trust fund; and
• $2.5 million in new funding for the Homeless Youth Grant Program, to address the estimated 35,000 homeless students in our public schools.

While safe, temporary housing for people is an important step, there is so much more that can be done.

We all can do more. These are real people—mothers, children, veterans—and they matter.

Solving the homeless crisis won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy. But we can, and will, do better for homeless kids, women and veterans.

Rep. JD Rossetti (D-Longview) is a small business owner, school board director and youth baseball coach who lives in Longview with his wife and three boys.