MAY 2010

Community Meeting on Housing First

By Janet Jones

Kalamazoo is second only to Flint in the percentage of homeless.

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On March 4, the League’s meeting at the United Way included information on how the community can help low income families, youth, and individuals to find clean and affordable places to live.

Co-sponsored by LWVKA and ISAAC (Interfaith Strategies for Advocacy and Action in the Community), the forum featured a segment from the PBS series “NOW” that illustrates the concept of Housing First ­­– by helping homeless people create a stable personal and permanent space for living, agencies are better able to help them address other critical life issues like health, substance abuse, and employment.

Ellen Kissinger-Rother, Director of Housing Resources Incorporated (HRI) gave information about local efforts coordinated through LISC’s Affordable Housing Partnership which brings government, non-profit, advocacy, and charitable organizations together to fulfill Kalamazoo County’s “10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.” The problem is particularly acute because Kalamazoo is second only to Flint in the percentage of homeless. Over half of the homeless in Kalamazoo County are children.

Kissinger-Rother suggested ways that individuals and groups can get involved through support of the efforts of ISAAC, the Affordable Housing Partnership and the League. You may find more information about homelessness in Kalamazoo County and how you can help at the HRI website or the Affordable Housing website.


Recommended Housing Position Change

Members will vote at the Annual Meeting

On February 16, LWVKA members met to discuss the League’s 46-year-old position on Housing. Participating in that Consensus meeting were Paula Aldridge, Mary Brown, Connie Ferguson, Terry Hluchyj, Janet Jones, K.C. Miller, Sue Nelmes, Ann Perry, Kay Perry and Diane Worden. The new, recommended position to be voted on at the May Annual Meeting is as follows.

The LWVKA supports measures:
A. To establish safe, affordable, and permanent housing for residents of Kalamazoo County, providing for

  1. Oversight of the quality and quantity of the county’s housing stock,
  2. Services needed to support housing stability;

B. To provide for rapid re-housing of residents who lose their housing and are rendered homeless;

C. To eliminate homelessness;

D. To prevent and respond to housing discrimination.

The text of the current Housing position, written in 1964, is as follows.

The League of Women Voters of the Kalamazoo Area favors:
A. Measures to improve housing in Kalamazoo County to include:

  1. Improved enforcement of housing codes by regular and systematic inspections;
  2. Guaranteed protection against undue hardship as a result of enforcement to tenants as well as to landlords;
  3. Coordinated inspection, court and administrative procedures to ensure adequate follow-up of any initiated actions.

B. Measures to guarantee freedom of choice to all in rental or purchase or property.

C. Other measures by public or private means designed to promote and guarantee adequate, safe and sanitary low-cost housing for those who are otherwise unable to secure such housing.


What’s Worse than Health Care Reform? Doing Nothing!

By Barbara Havira

Health care reform is a difficult political task

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A recent interview with Mary Wilson, President of the League of Women Voters, echoes the message in this title. For many months, the League has favored a public health care option, which is omitted in the Senate version. Nevertheless, Wilson urges, “While many of the provisions of the House bill are preferable to those in the Senate version, we believe that the House of Representatives should step forward and pass the Senate bill.”

There are a number of reasons for the League position. U.S. health care is the most expensive in the world, and costs are rising. In 2008, for example, health care spending in the U.S. was $2.3 trillion, equal to $7,681 per person and 16.2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This cost is far higher than per-person costs in other industrialized countries, without producing better health outcomes. Each year, per-person costs rise, as does health care spending as a percent of GDP. These increases are unsustainable.

Even those currently insured are vulnerable. Proposed legislation offers a mechanism for reducing the rate of increase of health care spending overall and as a percent of GDP, while increasing access and limiting out-of-pocket fees for individuals. This legislation includes increased costs, but the costs of medical care for individuals, for employers, and for the government will increase - even if no legislation is passed now. In addition, without proposed changes, more Americans will lose health care, as employers drop coverage, or insurance companies restrict access and increase prices.

While a little more than 50% of Americans receive some health insurance from employers, there is no state or federal requirement for that to continue. Some private business owners, such as the Main Street Alliance, support Congressional action to “make health insurance affordable for businesses and our employees, share the responsibility of improving coverage fairly among individuals, employers, and the government, and reform the health insurance market to keep insurance companies honest.”

Passing legislation that expands access to health care and limits the power of insurance companies to deny health benefits is among the most difficult political tasks in the United States in 100 years. Congress first tried to establish universal health care in 1915 without success. This past year, 2009, is the first time since 1938 that both houses of Congress have passed a bill. If this bill does not pass, it might be many years before any other legislation gets this far. Many who urge Americans to “wait for a better bill”might more candidly say they prefer no such legislation at all.

Consumer and public interest non-profit organizations support major changes in current practices, defining current conditions as harmful to the health and well-being of American citizens and of the entire economy. Those private businesses and individuals who profit from the existing system understandably resist. As Mary Wilson warned in a recent interview, the private insurance industry has huge financial resources to flood the nation with negative messages about health care reform.

With these thoughts in mind, doing nothing is far worse than less than perfect health care reform.

Information compiled from various sources including: League of Women Voters web site; Kalamazoo Gazette; History News Network; National Public Television.


The League & the 2010 Census

By Michele McGowen

The Census return rate is critical. Do your part!

All around the country, League chapters are actively engaged in promoting awareness of the 2010 Census and partnering with others to increase the Census return rate in hard-to-count areas. The 2000 Census national mail-back rate was 72%; Michigan’s return rate was only slightly higher at 76%. Some Census tracts in the core city of Kalamazoo had return rates of 65% and less. We need to do better.

Here in Kalamazoo County, your League has been active in strategies to promote the Census and encourage return rates.

  • The LWVKA has been part of the Kalamazoo County Complete Count Committee (CCCC). The CCCC is implementing a variety of strategies to reach hard-to-count populations.
  • Last fall, the LWVKA partnered with the NAACP and the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission to produce posters promoting Census Awareness and encouraging people to return their forms. These posters have been placed at local non-profit agency lobbies, laundry facilitates, clinics, and other places hard-to-count populations may frequent.
  • In addition to the poster series, zippered tote bags promoting the Census were distributed to Gospel Mission residents and 2,000 doorknob hangers encouraging people to return their forms were printed in English and Spanish.
  • The LWVKA has partnered with Michigan Citizen Action to walk door-to-door in neighborhoods with historically low Census-return rates. By the time of publication, League members and other community volunteers will have dropped literature at the doors of households in targeted Census tracts, including Voting Precinct 23, the precinct LWVKA has adopted to increase voter participation rates. This literature features the 2,000 doorknob hangers created by the local League.

You can follow the Census mail-back progress. View any Census tract return rates around the country and compare them to the 2000 Census return rates. Real-time Census mail-back participation rates by Census tract by following this link.

Be sure to fill out and return your Census form as soon as you receive it. Encourage your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues to do the same.


LWVMI Prison Restudy Consensus Meeting

By Paula Manley

Your voice will make a difference.

Join us for a lively, thought-provoking discussion on the Michigan criminal justice system on Wednesday, April 14 at 7:00 p.m. at Paula Manley’s home (5652 Brenda Lane East, Parchment). This consensus meeting on the LWVMI Prison Restudy will be the culmination of six months of study.

Over the past six months we have provided information about the Michigan criminal justice system gleaned from the LWVMI Prison Restudy Committee report. In the March Bulletin you received a copy of the consensus questions. Each local League in the state will meet to discuss the questions and send in their answers and comments to the LWVMI Board. The LWVMI Board will then review all local League responses and formulate a position statement. That position statement will allow the League to advocate on issues which may arise concerning the criminal justice system.

If you cannot attend the meeting on April 14, you may complete the consensus questions and send them to Paula Manley by April 10. Please take the opportunity to give your input on this important issue. The media frequently reports concerns with our prison system as the state faces decreasing revenues. Your voice will make a difference in shaping the State League’s position on these important issues.