May 12th, 2014 REPORT FROM THE RURAL COUNTY NEEDS ASSESSMENT

Sierra, Jen and the lovely Rochester sunshine…

Our outreach event at the ROOF (Rochester Organization of Families) food bank was a huge success.  With the warm sun shining, the friendly ROOF staff, and our allies at SafePlace also performing outreach, we couldn’t have asked for a better day.  ROOF is the home of one of Rochester’s two food banks, after school programs, emergency services and a (very much under-utilized) community garden.  We had an appointment with the director, Kelly, first thing in the morning, but due to an emergency situation (someone’s house burned down!), we just spent that time connecting with our new friends at SafePlace and setting up our lovely table.

We collected about a dozen surveys and made first contact with a few folks with whom we’d like to continue dialogue.  Many people are very disenchanted with the current system of social services, the gaps of which are acutely felt by all.  The social securityand DSHS.  Quite a few people who filled out our surveys have trouble acquiring food assistance because of (miniscule) social security disbursements.  How can anyone be expected to survive on $400 a month?  After rent, bills, food, transportation and all the other expenses of living in a capitalist society, there’s just not enough money to even get by.

Another huge service missing in Rochester is transportation.  Though disabled persons can schedule a door-to-door bus service, this must be done weeks in advance and still leaves countless people stranded.  Gabrielle from ROOF noted in our interview with her that many people move to rural areas because the cost of living seems to be cheaper, but don’t account for how they will access services they need.  What a dilemma: either live in Olympia where rent is grossly unaffordable, but services such as transportation and proximity to service providers exist; or, move to the country where rent might be affordable, but you’ll be stranded if you need to get to the mobile CSO to sign-up for food stamps or the soup kitchen on Tuesdays or even the food bank.  Forget about maintaining a garden plot at the community garden…that’s a trip each day that seems impossible with no car or no money for gas.  Our new friend, “Mean Jane,” and her daughter Liz had quite the story that just goes to show how poverty can happen to anyone.  30 years ago, Jane delivered boxes of homegrown produce to churches and food banks in Rochester. Now, with a pittance of a social security check and no food assistance, she’s still a regular at the food bank, but on the other side of the counter.  What stares us in the face is how poverty affects the most vulnerable among us, how we could all be there one day, either like Esther, once very much independent and self-sustaining, now limited by her aged body, or Tom, certified Mensa, whose body is paralyzed on the left side due to a head injury he sustained when he was 28 (my age).

Tom introduced us to something of which neither Sierra nor I had ever heard: self-help housing.  The USDA, through their rural development program, has a loan program for low and very-low income people who want to own their own homes.  Tom lives in a self-help housing community where families purchased land together and built each other’s homes and grow a lot of their own food.  We still need to research this more, but more information about this program can be found here.

Another striking encounter was with a family who visited the food bank at the end of the day.  They’ve been camping for the last 3 weeks and have found a place in Rochester where they can afford the rent, but are having trouble coming up with the money for the deposit.  They are currently $150 short and have already tapped every service they know of, including the Family Housing Center.  I hardly know what to say, but I hope this project helps these people in some way, or at least helps future families who are homeless because they don’t have the money for a rental deposit.

It’s pretty heavy, what these people carry.  The least we can do is to listen long enough to hear their voices.  We have immense gratitude to everyone who spoke up…they truly make this project a success.

Until next time,

Jen and Sierra

 

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