At the Real Change Annual Breakfast Sept. 15, I thought about two vendors who approached me with a story back in 2014.
Vendors Darcie Day and Daniel Long had been camping across the street from the Salvation Army near Century Link Field when the city of Seattle’s Department of Transportation cleared their tent. It had everything they owned except what they carried on their backs.
They lost their tent, a leather coat and medications that they both needed. It was an experience that continues to be repeated for many other people living on the streets.
I thought about their story as Seattle University Professor Sara Rankin spoke at the 22nd Annual Real Change Breakfast. In her keynote address, Rankin described the disturbing reality for homeless people that she has discussed in the research she conducts with students at the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project (HRAP). Through many reports the group has released, HRAP shows how even the most innocuous city, county and state laws can make survival a crime that comes with jail and monetary fines.
A simple law banning sitting on a sidewalk leads to an infraction, much like a parking or speeding ticket, which low-income people simply cannot afford. Missed fines and missed court appointments can lead to criminal charges, all for the sin of trying to survive.
Stories such as these are what bring nearly 500 of our readers and allies to the Washington Convention Center every year to gather in community with our staff, volunteers and vendors to support the work of Real Change.
With its speakers, awards and food, the breakfast feels like a celebration. And it is, but it’s also serious work. We gather because of our shared values, reflected in the Real Change mission: to provide an opportunity and voice for low-income and homeless people while taking action for economic, social and racial justice.
The work has never been more important. In January, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness found a record 4,505 unsheltered people in parks, doorways, tent encampments, cars, RVs and greenbelts across King County. It was a record year.
At the same time, the city of Seattle continues to sweep people from those same places. When the city swoops in and clears tents, there’s little attention paid to what is actual garbage and what are the last possessions of the poor and homeless people who were trying to live there.
The safety net does not provide a reasonable alternative: People are routinely asked to separate from family members, pets, community and give up their belongings in order to enter shelter. Rather than providing shelter, our safety net forces homeless people to bargain with their lives to enter programs.
“We offer false choices and then blame them for not taking it,” Rankin said.
Rankin had the numbers, the research and a PowerPoint presentation to explain the problem, but vendors know it in their gut.
Vendor Mellie Kaufman, in accepting her Vendor of the Year Award, managed to distill the entire conversation that morning into a single sentence: “Nobody should be homeless in America.”
Your support will echo Mellie’s message. We collected $106,852 toward our $115,000 goal. That donation pays for award-winning journalism, employment for vendors and advocacy that’s making a difference in our community.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend, we continue to collect donations for the event. Visit main.realchangenews.org/support to make a donation to help us meet our $115,000 goal.
For those of you who have already donated, thank you.
If you missed our event you can watch it in full here.