Over the years, Real Change has directly impacted thousands of lives and made Seattle a better city — a city where people care for each other and support real solutions to homelessness, and a city that rejects criminalization and incarceration as the go-to solutions to visible poverty.
And yet, Seattle is a city at a crossroads. Rents and housing costs are rising at one of the fastest rates in the nation, and the crisis in affordability is driving poor and working people to live in outlying communities and on the streets. We are becoming whiter and more affluent, as a community, while we choke on our own traffic and witness the results of social neglect on our streets.
Last month, the Committee to End Homelessness in King County (CEHKC) presented a study to lawmakers that explains why, despite Seattle’s relatively generous spending on housing and homelessness, we continue to lose ground. In the past year, the number of unsheltered people counted in King County rose by a whopping 21 percent.
CEHKC cites a Journal of Urban Affairs study that documents how, on average, every $100 in increased rent results in a 15 percent increase in urban homelessness.
This means that so long as housing costs skyrocket and fulltime work doesn’t pay enough to live on, we can expect homelessness to increase, no matter how robust and efficient our human services delivery system happens to be.
Real solutions to homelessness include higher wages, better access to healthcare, curbs on rising rental costs and policies that support racial equity and close the opportunity gap between whites and people of color.
These solutions are beyond any one organization, and can only result from a vibrant movement for racial and economic justice. Real Change supports that movement through the committed vendor organizing, quality journalism and community building that make change possible.
This year’s breakfast will tell that story and recognize a few of the people who inspire us and make the change we need possible. Our keynote speaker is Alexes Harris, a widely respected and admired activist/educator from the University of Washington who studies race and inequality in Seattle and points us toward local opportunities for action.
Our 2015 Change Agent award for visionary and courageous organizing goes to Mark Putnam, executive director of CEHKC. Under Mark’s leadership, CEHKC has made great strides toward creating the political will to end homelessness by recognizing the voices of homeless people and building a more unified movement for structural change.
We are grateful for this opportunity to celebrate the difference that one dedicated person can make when they’re part of a growing movement.
We are also grateful to our vendors, who are the heart and soul of Real Change.
Lisa Sawyer and Michael Johnson have been selected by their peers to receive the 2015 Vendor of the Year award. Michael’s challenges include childhood abuse, prison and 30 years of sporadic homelessness. Yet, the community he’s found at Real Change has given him a place to fight for something better. “I say that just because I’m homeless, I’m still a human being.” Michael said. “I’m going to do the right things I need to do to help myself and help somebody else in the process.”
Lisa was evicted from her apartment and reduced to panhandling and living in a tent encampment to survive. She has become a successful Real Change vendor and a leader in our organizing project, and has testified in front of lawmakers and inspired vendors and community members alike to become part of the solution. “It feels good to actually achieve something on my own,” Lisa said.
Real Change’s amazing community of supporters makes the success of people like Michael and Lisa possible, while we all work together to build a better world. Please join us to celebrate. More information is available at main.realchangenews.org.