Opinion

Vote YES for the Veterans and Humans Services Levy

The question has been asked; do we really need the Veterans and Human Services Levy?  One answer is yes as the demand for assistance is increasing while funding from federal, state, and charitable resources is declining.

We are on the cusp of a homeless crisis.

As uncomfortable as they are, here are some of the facts about Kitsap County. Public schools report that they have 555 homeless students.  We have 14,000 people on DSHS Food Program (food stamps) of which 1,900 are homeless and 1,100 without shelter. We have 4,300 residents receiving unemployment, of which 986 are veterans.  In 2010 936 citizens (including 144 veterans) exhausted their benefits.

In 2011 (through June 30) 536 more (including 79 veterans) exhausted their benefits. These are all hard-working neighbors and friends who are now without any income.

Kitsap’s four primary shelter operators provided 31,121 bed nights (July 2010 to June 2011). They remain full with waiting lists.

VA’s homeless programs in our county are inadequate and at capacity. The demand on the county’s Veterans Assistance Fund is now exceeding its $300,000 in annual revenue.

You can see where the money goes at: http://www.kitsapgov.com/hr/wsolympic/veterans/VA.htm.

This levy is about giving a hand-up to those who are on the edge of becoming homelessness or are already homeless. It’s about helping the elderly, veterans, military personnel and their families, services for children and youth, the unemployed and underemployed and for services specific to veterans’ needs such as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and specialized employment assistance. And, we need to provide help with compassion, collaboration, and common sense.

The levy is also about providing a cost effective, seamless delivery of services that 1) reduce homelessness, 2) reduce involvement of the homeless in the emergency, medical and criminal justice systems; and 3) increase the self-sufficiency of veterans, military personnel, their families and non-veteran families and individuals in need.

Activities to advance the above goals include, but are not limited to, capital facilities, housing assistance, homelessness prevention, mental health counseling, substance abuse prevention and treatment, employment assistance, strengthening and improving health and human services system infrastructure to provide greater access to services.

The levy is also about transparency.  The levy resolutions outline in detail how the revenue is collected - into two separate funds, one for veterans and one for non-veterans - and how the money can be spent. Each fund will have its own citizens advisory board to oversee each fund.  They are also required to publish an annual report on activities funded by the levy.

If passed, the county is limited to not more than 5 percent of the proceeds for administrating the fund. The county cannot use any levy proceeds for supplanting funding to any existing county human service programs, including the veterans assistance fund  The state-mandate VAF will continue, separately from the levy’s veteran fund.

Preventing homelessness, and helping those who are homeless is an extraordinarily complex process.  It also means eliminating redundancies and building a cost effective, efficient, seamless system that breaks the cycle.

The levy, if passed, would bring in approximately $1,350,000 a year at a rate of five cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That’s about $12.50 a year on a $250,000 home. That’s a small price to pay.  Got questions?  Go to www.kitsapcares.org for the ‘real facts.’

 

Leif Bentsen is a Kitsap County Human Services Planner, on the Veteran’s Advisory Board and Vietnam veteran.

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