Now Is The Time

Ending hunger, homelessness, and the cycle of poverty...in heels.

In the United States more than 633,000 people experience homelessness every night.  48.9 million Americans are at risk of hunger - including one in five kids. Nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty.  Hunger, homelessness, and poverty are devastating for individuals and our communities. This is unacceptable, unjust, and illogical.

We know that effective, commonsense policies like SNAP and EITC lift people out of poverty. We know that Rapid Rehousing and Housing First models reduce homelessness. We know that innovative philanthropic endeavors like Collective Impact and Social Impact Bonds can transform the way government, nonprofits, and local communities work together to tackle our toughest challenges. We know we can band together and create change.

Now Is The Time to get this done.

This site will feature a collection of personal reflections, original ideas, and smart thinking from around the country and the globe on the issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty.  We'll check in with thought leaders and discuss ways we can create change. We will also highlight ways to leverage two of my favorite things - National Service and the philanthropic sector. 

Hope. Privilege. Action.

I worry about what I will do next.  What if the next one isn’t so easy, isn’t so peaceful? Will I stand shoulder to shoulder with women and risk getting arrested for my beliefs? Will I continue to fight not only for women’s rights but for Climate Change? At Standing Rock? At the next Black Lives Matter March? Will I take a risk?

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Today we recover. Tomorrow we get loud!

Today we wake up with the reality that fear did trump love in this election. That the glass ceiling won't be shattered this year. That there are millions of people who believe that America isn't great for them and that a President Trump will fix that. Today we see that racism and sexismmay be even worse than we thought - we should be angry about that.

But I'm ready to fight. Ready to fight to protect funding for Planned Parenthood. To protect Obama Care. To make sure our country remains welcoming to immigrants and refugees. I'm ready to fight for people who are homeless and hungry and ready to fight to protect our environment. I'm ready to talk about how we fund and support advocacy efforts and resistance efforts that shake the status quo..

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What Would Donald Do?

I’m fascinated (and terrified) by Donald Trump. He’s mobilized millions of people by saying whatever he wants, which happens to be exactly what they want to hear.  He is no holds barred. And it is resonating with so many people who don’t understand or like the 2016 version of America.

Many of us are privileged in this country. While I worry about the impact of income inequality, racism, aging elders, and climate change - overall 2016 America isn't so bad for most of the middle class. Could it be better? You bet! But that possibility - that sense of hope -  separates us from so many who struggled before and so many in other parts of the world.

This sense of hope and optimism often leads me to scream at my computer while I stalk my hometown's FaceBook group. It’s full of fear and disillusion from people I once knew, along with great hope for what Trump is selling. Because what he provides is a bizarro world vision and promise of change. These people support a man who seems to break everything he comes in contact with and who doesn’t come close to caring about the middle class, yet alone those in poverty.  And yet they adorn their yards with signs because he tells them he will “Make America Great Again”

While I disagree with virtually everything this man says, I do believe that progressives and social change agents can learn something from him.

Stay with me here.

I too want to make America even greater than it is today. That means eliminating the poverty, homelessness, racial and income inequities that are plaguing our communities.  It means building on the knowledge of communities, taking advantage of technology, changing public policy, and building authentic and caring relationships with our neighbors.

Trump won’t do those things. But we can. To do it we may need to take a lesson from his playbook - saying what we want and believe without worrying who it might upset or how much it will cost. We need to stop looking for small interventions and start investing in real solutions.  

It's the only way.

For a while I have had these questions in the back of my head. Why do we let ourselves believe that providing a basic income or housing for all is out of reach? Why does higher education need to cost so much? Why can’t we fix our schools and jails?

The answer is simple.

 We can. Because of course we can.

We put men on the moon. We pioneered solutions to diseases that once ravaged nations. In just the last few years we’ve passed a $15 minimum wage in Seattle. Marriage equality is the law. And we have guaranteed health coverage to millions (and we have a plan to get health care for all the rest). 

 When can solve big problems - by being audacious.

 At least once a week I ask my colleagues and partners this question: How would you solve (this problem) if money and capacity were limitless? What policies would you change? How would you design solutions? This can be really hard for people to answer – those of in non-profits and government agencies have internalized a poverty complex. We think, act, and do in a box - and it's all about the money.

Too often our solutions are limited by our perceptions of what is possible. Because we think funders won't fund (insert solution) or voters won't pay for it ... because it's tough.

Screw that!

When we stop heading toward the perceived inevitable and start marching toward the possible, we can reduce poverty, homelessness and inequality.

Starting tomorrow let's stop asking “can we” and start asking “ how and when will we?”.  What would Donald do.....if he cared about the poor, the disenfranchised or those struggling to make ends meet? What would he do if he cared abut you?

 

I'm Voting For Them!

I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. Overly stimulated, slightly nervous (will I get that shiny new bike) and incredibly grateful. We made it to Election Day 2016.

Elections matter – they really really do.  Not just for President but all those down ballot races and initiatives too – they often have the biggest impact on our communities.  Tomorrow we will wake up with new leadership, new promises, new opportunities, and new found hope. 

My mom took Election Day very seriously. I remember going with her to vote each year at Savin Rock Community School (yay Westies). She understood how important each and every vote was and what a privilege it is to live in a country where every vote counts. She taught me that “your vote is your voice” and she would have been so excited to vote today. I’m voting in her honor and to express the voices of others I care about.

I’m voting for my mom who struggled with mental illness and homelessness and would have benefited from universal health care.

I’m voting for my dad, an Air Force Veteran and cancer survivor, who is unable to vote due to a series of complicated immigration issues but knows that access to housing vouchers are critical to keeping Veterans out of homelessness.  

I’m voting for my grandparents who immigrated to the United States to give their kids a better life and for the thousands of immigrants and refugees who want to do the same. We are stronger when we welcome people to this beautiful, diverse country.

I’m voting for my kid brother, an incredible journalist, who is fighting to keep media honest, transparent, relevant, and engaged.

I’m voting for my niece and nephews who deserve to grow up in a country free from gun violence and the impacts of climate change and full of love regardless of race, identity, or who they love.

I’m voting for my LGBTQ friends and family who know that love is love is love.

I’m voting for my Grandma Bev, my personal hero, who worked long hours as a caregiver, who would have benefited from equal pay for equal work ,and who always told me that I could be President.  

I’m voting as an Alumna of AmeriCorps who deeply believes that National Service creates a pipeline of anti-poverty leaders.

I’m voting for the work I care about. I absolutely believe that hunger, homelessness, and poverty are solvable issues if we do more of “what works”.  Our federal safety-net if highly effective and we need it to be stronger. We need to tackle the structures, policies, and institutional racism that keep people poor.

I’m voting for the country we are today, the country we will become tomorrow, and the country we hope to be in the future. We’ve come a long way America and we have a long way to go. It starts tomorrow.

 Vote. Vote. Vote.

Hunger. Health. Home. Heart.

My friend Heather is the Principal of an elementary charter school in Bridgeport, CT. She has dedicated her career to closing the educational achievement gap. Over the last decade she has worked with some of the hardest  to serve young people in New York and Connecticut. She knows that her school can help break the cycle of poverty by giving young scholars a pathway to college and career. She hires the most talented professionals, uses cutting edge research to inform academic plans, and spends vacations diving into spreadsheets to see which students are making academic progress and which interventions are having the best results. Her young Meerkats (quite the school mascot) have long school days, rigorous academics, and top-notch tecahers.

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But Heather knows that what happens inside the classroom isn't enough.

She knows that....

Kids who aren't healthy fall behind.

Kids who come to school hungry struggle to concentrate.

Kids who don't have a place to call home aren't rested and ready to learn.

And kids who don't have positive relationships with caring adults aren't ready to soar.

This Annie E. Casey Foundation just released their 25th annual Kids Count Data Book. The report ranks states on overall child well-being in four areas: (1) economic well-being, (2) education, (3) health, and (4) family and community. Connecticut ranks 7th. Washington ranks 18th. The report is evidence of what Heather knows: the effects of poverty are holding our kids back - "growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development". Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty but learning doesn't happen in a silo. In order for kids to thrive we must make sure we make address their basic needs - Health. Hunger. Home. Heart.

Here in Washington, our state legislature must find billions of dollars over the next few years to fund basic education as a result of the McCleary decision.  This is necessary and good for kids. But the money will need to come from somewhere and without new revenue, the likely options aren't pretty. State Agencies are preparing for the worst by submitting 15% spending reduction plans. While this exercise may be extreme - it illustrates the struggle of fund sources and agencies operating in isolation. With one in four Washington kids struggling with hunger and 30,000 WA kids facing homelessness we need MORE resources to go into supporting the whole child.

Pouring money into classrooms and schools kids won't work if kids are hungry, homeless, unhealthy, or lack social supports. WA we can do better.  We must do better to close the opportunity gap and give all kids a chance to thrive.

Shared Values. Shared Responsibility.

Connecting individual passions and resources with societal needs is inspiring and invigorating. That is why I love the opportunities I have each fall to talk with employees throughout the region about their role in philanthropy. Hearing why people donate to charity restores my faith in my fellow citizens – especially after reading the comments section of the Seattle Times and becoming irrationally angry at guest1234 for the millionth time. It reminds me that - despite the polarization in Washington D.C. - we the people have many shared values. No one believes that people is this country should be hungry, homeless, or living in poverty. No one ever says that access to school, health care, or employment should be unequal. Why do we allow it to happen?

Who is responsible for ensuring these values are upheld?  

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As Americans, we each have personal responsibility. Most of us can and do choose right from wrong, work hard, and care for ourselves and family. But it’s become increasingly hard for people to build wealth - to get by, get ahead, and stay ahead.  For 243,000 people the American Dream isn’t about home ownership but instead about getting off the street and into shelter. That is unacceptable. In 17 states, more than half of school children are poor and rely of subsidized meals to fuel them through the day. That is unacceptable. 8 million people are working part time because they can’t find full time employment.  That is unacceptable. These numbers don’t align with our values. We blame others for these failings - too often we blame the most vulnerable.

Who will respond?

Congress is responding with sequestration, the automatic budget cuts being implemented to reduce the federal deficit. Clearly our deficit is a problem, but cutting food assistance, Head Start programs and housing subsidies for the homeless, is widening the income gap today and ensuring it grows tomorrow. It will mean more people become homeless, hungry, and unable to move out of poverty. When did this become ok?  Where’s the outrage?

Who will respond?

Poverty is an icky word in DC and across the country. It is bad for families and for the economy.  It makes us feel helpless, disgusted, and angry.  Our emotions take over and we often judge rather than act. But what if a disaster struck and you were the person living on the streets?  Or the person who couldn’t feed his family? Or the kid who came to school unprepared to learn? What if you were waiting for someone – anyone – to respond? It’s easy to say “not me”, but believe me, it is closer than you think.

The private sector employees I speak to each week are incredibly generous and willing to open their wallets for charity –but that of not enough to reclaim our values and stop this vicious cycle of poverty. We have an ability to collectively respond.

It is our responsibility.  Now is the time. So what do we do?

1. Educate: Take time to learn the facts about poverty and income inequality. Learn how income inequality impacts you. Watch the new film Inequality For All to hear more about how it effects our society and the policy changes that can fix it.

2. Speak Out: Reading comments on blogs and news sites drives me crazy – because they are largely from uninformed social conservatives who don’t share the values that our country was founded on. We can change that. Take time to comment, write op-eds, and tell your friends.

3. Take Action: Half In Ten is working to cut poverty in half in ten years. This is the group we should all watch, support, and promote.  Learn how to call contact your legislator – you can be the change.

4. Vote: November is right around the corner. Candidates from NYC to Seattle are talking about raising the minimum wage.  The recent government shut down showed us that who we send to City Hall, the Governors Mansion, and Congress matters.

5. Give: It is essential that we continue to support philanthropic organizations. They can spark innovation and bring the public and private sector together to create social change. Philanthropy can take risks that government cannot – and when successful, use the findings from those risks to shift policy.

We have a responsibility to take care of one and other. We have the ability to respond.