February 13, 2011 in City

Once homeless residents to plead for safety net

Group heading to Olympia as legislators talk of reducing social services
The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Jaclyn Coyle plays with her two children, 3-year-old Alexandra and 22-month-old Nico, in her Spokane apartment Friday. Coyle, who has experienced homelessness, will join other advocates Monday in Olympia to lobby the Legislature to preserve social service programs.
(Full-size photo)

At a time when both the U.S. Congress and the Washington Legislature are discussing scaling back social services to help reduce deficits, a group of formerly homeless Spokane residents and advocates is headed to Olympia on Monday to ask lawmakers not to remove the safety net that has kept families from drowning.

“It does not benefit society when we put our most vulnerable people in jeopardy,” said Romney Simpson, who became homeless after giving birth to her disabled son.

Jaclyn Coyle and her two small children nearly ended up on the street after divorce and foreclosure obliterated their middle-class existence.

“It could happen to anybody,” Coyle said. “It could happen to your daughter.”

Both Simpson and Coyle, who were helped by the SNAP homeless program, will be part of a group of 20 social workers and clients participating in Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day in the state capital on Monday.

The following week, a delegation of 50 low-income residents led by the Spokane advocacy organization VOICES also will travel to Olympia.

Both groups will plead with Spokane-area lawmakers to restore some social service programs that have been cut and preserve other programs at risk of being cut in the current session.

“I want to put a face to the programs they are cutting,” Simpson said.

The 42-year-old single mother lived in rural Stevens County until she prematurely gave birth to Logan in 2005.

Born with intraventricular bleeding and an underdeveloped trachea, Logan would not have survived if Simpson had not moved her family closer to advanced medical care in Spokane.

Jobless and unable to find affordable housing in the city, Simpson eventually had to move her son and two daughters into the Salvation Army’s Family Emergency Center and later SNAP transitional housing.

Five years later, Simpson and her two youngest children now live in federally subsidized housing. She works part time as a photographer and cares for her developmentally delayed son.

Simpson said Logan, who suffers from seizures, would not be able to enter kindergarten next year were it not for a preschool program for disabled children provided through Spokane Public Schools.

However, beginning Jan. 1, the state will no longer reimburse the district for school-based medical services, for which school districts are responsible under federal law.

“I want to make sure my son has as much chance as everybody else,” Simpson said. “Without programs we are on, he wouldn’t be able to go to school.”

Coyle now receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families under the state’s WorkFirst program, which provides welfare while she looks for a job. Her grant for a family of three was just reduced 15 percent, from $562 a month to $478.

Coyle also receives the state’s Working Connections child care subsidy. But once she finds a job she will have to reapply for the subsidy. Under new cost-saving rules imposed by the state this year, it appears unlikely she will remain eligible.

“Then why would I try to become employed if I am going to remain in poverty?” Coyle asks.

Jennifer Martin, homeless coordinator for SNAP, the private nonprofit social service organization, said budget cuts threaten critical services designed to help families find work, housing and health care.

 “There will be a direct correlation in homelessness,” Martin said. “I also think we should look at what it will do to landlords who have all these tenants who were just scraping by.”

Martin said the group from Spokane will meet with Spokane’s legislative delegation to demonstrate the importance of these programs and others that target poverty and homelessness.

“We want to send a message that cutting in this area will have a huge impact for the next three to five years in our community,” she said.

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