Salvation Army hosts legislative budget discussion

Since the Washington state legislature approved a budget in mid-April, people who provide housing, health and child services are reading the bills to see what kind of belt-tightening they’ll have to do in the next year.

The Bremerton Salvation Army, at 832 6th St., Friday hosted a forum of elected officials and social service staff and volunteers.

Sally Santana, a passionate Kitsap County homeless advocate, directed much of the discussion.

Social services are a safety net for the lower-income members of the population, she said, and many of them have been scaled back in the last few years due to state budget cuts.

The community forum, attended by several Kitsap County and state officials, took a mostly positive bent as people talked about the services still available in Kitsap County.

Many look forward to the Kitsap Community Shelter, the first overnight drop-in shelter to open in the county, said Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council coordinator Kirsten Jewell.

“But the end game is permanent affordable housing,” she said.

Washington state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, attended the meeting to talk about the legislature. She praised Kitsap County services, saying she sees other counties in the state that don’t have such a connected network of help.

Rolfes said the cuts don’t look as dramatic on paper because many programs were reduced in the last budget session, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which now has a 60-month limit.

Margaret Swigert with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Bremerton Community Service Office said they’ve seen more people seeking help with food and medication, but fewer people getting cash assistance since the legislature made requirements more stringent to save money.

“In the last couple months we’ve seen a leveling off in new people seeking help,” Swigert said. “We’re hopeful that the economy is improving a little bit.”

Many people who rely on social services gathered to eat a chicken wing lunch with mashed potatoes at the Salvation Army on 6th Street in Bremerton. Before the afternoon discussions began, those reliant on the help of social services ate with and had conversations with the elected officials.

Rolfes said that she tends to remember the people behind the conversations that happened at Friday's lunch when she is sitting in legislative sessions. It helps her remember who is affected by the legislature's actions, she said.

Michael Griswell, a young man in a camouflage bandana, said he’s been out of work for two years.

“Places like this help,” he said, referring to Salvation Army.

Griswell was one of the people who had been getting cash assistance from the Department of Social and Health Services for about a year until requirements changed last year.

“It was nice, I used to get about $170 a month, I used that towards rent,” he said.

Griswell said he’d like to find a job in construction.

“I just go with the flow, got to keep rolling,” he said.

Barbara Haskell was eating with her children, Guillermo, 2, and Liliana, 3.

“I don’t come here often, but I’m out of bread at home, and how can you even make a sandwich without bread?" Haskell asked. "And here they have chicken dinner.”

Haskell said she’s had a tough time finding a job, and she’s been frustrated by the hoops she’s gone through getting housing services in Kitsap County.

“They make it really difficult,” she said. “They want you to check in all the time, and that’s difficult, especially if you have children and no transportation.”

She said getting services requires understanding where to go, what you qualify for and who to ask.

“I see others struggle, but I can’t tell them what to do,” she said.


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