As the 2020 Legislative Session winds down, lawmakers are negotiating their final version of the biennium’s Supplemental Budget. The state’s budget is the vehicle through which state assistance programs and social services for housing, mental health, and economic support are funded — and so, the decisions that lawmakers make in the coming days will directly affect people living on low incomes in Washington State. Kristin, a current resident of Solid Ground‘s permanent supportive housing program, describes her experience navigating the housing and mental illness supports available for people experiencing homelessness and mental illness in Washington State. She makes a moving argument for robust investment in the programs and services that support adults and families in need.
I was a recipient of the Aged, Blind, or Disabled (ABD) program before I started receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). The $197 I received every month from ABD helped me buy my medication, bus tickets to appointments or to the shelter I stayed in, and the occasional cup of coffee in a café that I’d sit in on early mornings while waiting for the day shelter to open. However, I couldn’t afford rent on only $197 per month, and was barely able to supply myself with food for half a month from SNAP (food stamps).
I sought help at a local shelter that offered services and supports for people experiencing homelessness. After a disagreement with a staff member I was kicked out of the shelter and also wasn’t allowed to go to the day center or get meals from them for a month. I had nowhere to go. I was living in a small town and there were not many resources.
Without even the minimum stability of a safe place to sleep at night, my mental health began to decline. I committed a minor crime, and ended up in a psych ward at the local hospital. This began a cycle of being discharged from the hospital with nowhere to go, committing the same minor crime, spending time in jail, and being put back into the hospital. Eventually, I felt so hopeless that I attempted suicide and nearly died, and had to stay at Western State Hospital for half a year, where I was finally put on SSDI.
If I had had housing and a way to pay for my essential needs, none of this would have happened. Right now my life is more stable: I’m in subsidized housing, am on the correct medication, and have the adequate resources from SSDI and Apple Health to support myself. To deprive people of the things they need, while waiting to receive something that is also inadequate, is inhumane and expensive. I did not want to go to jail or the psych ward and did not deserve to be barred from the homeless services I was receiving. I just needed housing and health supports, while coping with a severe mental illness and being abandoned by my abusive family. Social services like ABD are not wasteful, and starving these programs of adequate funding is counter-productive to a healthy, functional society. Lawmakers must invest in essential basic needs services that people need to survive.
Make your voice heard too: use this link to email your lawmakers and urge them to prioritize support of low-income communities in the budget!