Bedlam Begins Thursday

Tomorrow morning, the staff of Olympia's only mental health provider, Behavioral Health Resources, are going on strike. They have over 3000 clients, for whom mental health services are a basic need. These clients will be left without their case management, counseling, medication management, and payee services(which means their rent can't get paid).
If you're going to have a breakdown any time soon, I'd recommend holding off or relocating to another county, as our hospital emergency rooms are not at all equipped to handle the number of people who will be left in need of mental health help. Indeed, mental health concerns will become inappropriately delegated to law enforcement, and we will find county jail being the closest thing to a mental health provider anyone in Thurston County is going to get.
The job of mental health workers is one of the most difficult jobs in our community. They handle crises that the police can't handle, and help people with medical issues that leave many doctors at a loss. Their education will not equip them to do their job well. They have to be knowledgeable, stable, resilient, creative, compassionate, and courageous in order to do their job well. If they don't do their job well, the consequences can be great.
But the management of BHR has been trying to keep their employees from getting a wage increase that was mandated by the state legislature. The reason for this spending increase was to improve mental health worker retention rates, which are abysmal. It was workers at BHR who lobbied the state for this budget increase, knowing that their employer would not be able to increase their wages without better funding. Not only has management refused, but they have misspent agency money to hire a union-busting law firm, and have been negotiating for a contract that would crush the workers ability to advocate for themselves.
Perhaps the poor worker retention rates at BHR have to do with more than the stress of the job. Perhaps they have to do with the stress of working under management who's priorities are so backwards that they should consider getting their own heads examined. Perhaps the problem is that John Masterson, CEO, is the most difficult and possibly the craziest person that any of the staff has to work with.


Feeling the Pinch

We are in week 7 or 8 of a housing search. I have lost track.
We need to find a place for several reasons.
For one, it is getting colder, and our inexpensive little rental house does not have adequate heating. The landlord says the old electrical won't tolerate it. Imagining spending the colder months marooned in a tiny house with damp and musty blankets, a space heater, and two young children bouncing like pinballs around our 800 square feet makes me feel crazy.
For another, a good friend and coworker of mine is currently sleeping in a tent in her friend's sideyard with her 9 year-old kid. Why is this person homeless right now, you ask, when she has a respectable job?
Because she is no longer able to keep pace with the rental market in Olympia. It has become unworkable for a lower-wage single mother to afford an apartment of her own.
And what has always been unworkable remains so- single parenting is an impossible job. She wants to live with another family who can share the burdens and joys of childrearing.
So, somewhere around two months ago, just after she lost her house, we started searching for a large house to rent together. At this time, it was the height of summer, and her kid was off at camp. She planned to stay at a friend's for one month to save money, and then move into a place with us around the time that her kid got home...
Trouble is, we're still looking. Many landlords have said they are not willing to rent to our household of seven. And we have been going to these horrible open houses where the first applicant to finish filling out their application gets the place. So far we have not been the fastest writers.
Meanwhile both our cars have broken down, and her tent is getting wet.
We look at another place tomorrow.
My grandparents both graduated from vocational high schools, and had four children together. My grandfather worked as a telephone repairman, my grandmother was a homemaker until her youngest child went to school. When her mothering duties lessened somewhat, she got a job working part-time as a secretary. They owned their own home. It only had one bathroom, but there were four bedrooms and heating that worked and a big backyard and a dining room. I think of my grandmother at twenty-seven years old, a housewife with four kids. They didn't have a lot of fancy stuff. They ate tuna casserole for dinner, and camped for family vacations. But they had housing security.
You cannot find a family like theirs in Olympia today. Those families have vanished. Those families live in crappy, mold-infested apartments on the far end of Lacey. They have to get food stamps, and still can't afford enough tuna casserole for the month. Or they work three jobs between the two of them and the kids go to daycare 40 hours a week.
My friend's grandparents were farmers. They were poor their whole lives, but they owned acreage, and when things got tough, they'd sell off a little plot, or sell a cow to make ends meet. They worked hard every single day from the time they got up until they went to bed, and they had no luxuries in their life. But they had housing security. For my generation, that is a luxury that only the rich have.
We Olympians are in a bad situation here, and it is getting worse. As the housing market shifts, houses don't sell, and rents are expected to go up.
I know an Olympia family who was displaced when their house burnt down due to faulty electrical. They had a large family and a moderate income, and could not find a single landlord who would rent to them due to their family size. After a year of searching, living in temporary situations, they decided to relocate.
Landlords respond to my classified ad and say, "I have a nice place in Elma that I think would work for you." or Tenino. Or Bucoda. But I don't want to leave the town I have lived in my whole life. I wait for the right place to come along here. Maybe this weekend will be the one.


Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project

Dear City Council,

I regret that I am unable to attend tonight's meeting, so I wanted to register my opinion via e-mail.

I am in full support of the city approving Rafah as Olympia's sister city.

I understand that some locals consider now an inopportune time to create a sister city relationship in this part of the world. Certainly Israel/Palestine is entrenched a conflict which is deep, in which solutions are not obvious. It is a conflict where both sides state that there is no such thing as a neutral position, which makes reaching out seem like a risky thing to do for a prudent government, so far from the conflict.

But divisive conflicts such as this are precisely what the model of sister cities was created as a response to. The purpose of sister cities is to bridge cultural gaps, not to align oneself with a particular government or political ideology. Some local constituents have suggested that we should have a sister city in Israel, and I would support such a relationship wholeheartedly as well.
Some constituents have argued that formalizing our relationship with Rafah would be divisive, but I disagree. Diplomatic and cross-cultural relationships do not increase prejudice and conflict, they help resolve it. No matter how misguided, depraved, or corrupt the leadership in a certain region may be I think that creating cross-cultural relationships between common peoples is always a prudent, proactive, and positive thing to do.

We may find a lot of controversy in Olympia about what is the greatest wrongdoing in the middle east, where the blame lies, and what the solutions are. But I believe that you will find that what is uniting and mainstream here is so as well in Rafah and throughout Israel: most all of us wish passionately for a world that is peaceful and just.

As a city we have taken this step in the midst of post-WW2 racism and devastation between the US and Japan, post-cold war Soviet paranoia and propaganda, and in the aftermath of the Contra war. None of these were politically neutral actions, but all were optimistic.

I hope that you will choose to take such an action now with Rafah, where optimism is most desperately needed.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Jade Souza


Spring in Oly

As you may have noticed, I have not been 'blogging' lately. (I still can't use that term without quotation marks...)
Us northwest locals tend to become very inward in the late winter months. Funny that I can't even seem to leave my house virtually. It seems the internet might provide some solace in this lonesome season- that I might happily huddle near the glow of the electric fire, but instead I consume myself with inward activities and solitary work. I make my plans for the future. I reminisce. Strange things from the past come back to haunt me. I write for reflection, not for connection. I read more, and return my library books less. I drink more heated, caffeinated beverages and buzz about the house. I listen to CDs.
But as spring begins to push its way up and burst out all over, I find myself returning to the outer world. The first day of blue sky is so unbearably sweet it seems surreal. The streets of downtown fill with people. It is like the festival we've all been waiting for.
We live off that day for weeks, speaking more quickly, rising earlier, staying up later, calling neglected friends, feeling giddy and flirtatious like teenagers. Nevermind that the days since have been dark and drippy. Like flowers, once our blossoming has begun, we pay no mind to the five-day forecast. We even think silly things to ourselves like, "I think its high time I bought a swimsuit. Its practically summer!"
In keeping with my seasonal observance, I have begun thinking again about the blog. I have so many posts to catch up on...
Camp Quixote is flourishing and I've made nary a peep about it. Four hundred locals protested the war on Saturday. There is local buzz about new, hopeful mayoral candidates.
It seems we made it through the moldy drear once more.

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Library Closure

The Olympia Timberland Library is my church, in a way.
My church was closed on Friday for a staff training.
I was supposed to meet my husband there at 11:00 am. I got there a few minutes early, thinking that me and the toddler would hang out in the children's section for a bit, where he likes to find crayons hidden amongst the books and eat them like candy. He runs away and laughs at me when I try to stop him.
Anyway, we got there and the library was closed. I sat in front for about five or ten minutes. There was a person walking up to use the library about every ten seconds. Everyone seemed to share my shock that the library was closed on a Friday.
The parking lot was pretty full for a closed business! Just as someone got back in their car and pulled out, another couple cars would be parking. More people who I would watch walk up, look confused, then aghast- How could it be closed on a Friday???-and return to their car.
I knew our library was well-used, but I don't know that I realized how well-used it really is until yesterday.
I listened to several people talk about their library concerns. Not enough hours. No evening hours on the weekend...grumble, grumble.
I think its lovely that we love our library so well. I wonder if we as library-lovers (librariphiles?) couldn't be doing more to support the expansion of this vital community resource. We borrow books, CDs, movies. We hide when we have lost material charges. We return the damn thing 6 months later, and continue on.
Do we take our library for granted? With all of its usership, it seems that only the most die-hard library geeks join the Friends of the Library, or Timberland Regional Library Foundation, or concern themselves with the politics surrounding the library. How long has it been since our library expanded? 30 years?
Perhaps we are too passive in our love for the library.
I think its time I considered tithing.


What Olympia Needs is a bit of Mayo

What Olympia needs is a community needs based downtown which also supports business. Take a look at Rochester, MN. The heart of downtown Rochester isn't business, although business certainly thrives there...the heart of downtown Rochester, MN is The Mayo Clinic which serves the entire community with world class healthcare. Tourism? You better believe it...people from all over the world travel to Mayo. Compassion? Of course! It would be difficult for a community to develop a reputation for world class healthcare without having also the reputation of a very big heart. The Mayo Clinic has a reputation for offering services free to those who can't afford them. Want to get people off the streets? Put them in an environment teaming with healthcare professionals educating their community about how to take care of themselves and providing necessary support services to back up that educational approach.

Olympia needs to draw tourists with a service that both community and tourists. Excellent healthcare is the way to go. Make downtown a health-based community center and business will flourish because who doesn't want excellent healthcare? May o has facilities in Florida and Arizona...maybe Olympia should invite The Mayo Clinic to set up a branch here...it could specialize in naturopathic meds and research. You never know...they might jump at the chance. It doesn't hurt to try, right?


The Ministry of Radicalism

The Christianity and Anarchism Conference is coming up January 18th-19th. Though I know a few Anarcho-Christians locally, (and possibly even am one myself) there is a lot I don't know about the people who hold this philosophy. I was looking around at the websites of some of the groups nationwide who are connected with the movement, to try and get a feel for what it means in practical terms. How does a Christian Anarchist live, other than reading the bible and wearing circle-A patches? What are the concrete implications of this belief system?
After all, what one does usually says far more about their beliefs than what they call themselves...
Locally, Bread and Roses was born in the movement of Anarcho-Christianity. The original members put a down payment on a house, not knowing where the payments would come from, and started a radical ministry. The ministry was about sharing soup and offering beds in their own house to the homeless. It was also about everyone in this commmunity addressing our problems- decisions were made at local community potlucks monthly, open to anyone. Though it has departed from its roots both in the Christian and Anarchist traditions as it has become a more conventional social service agency, much of the character structure of Bread and Roses still reflects its roots.

My favorite site is that of the Christian co-op house/community in Philly, the Simple Way. (The picture above is from their basement prayer space. The scrape of paper tacked to the wall are prayer requests.) Their website contains information about cottage industry, needs of the local people in the neighborhood, political actions in Philly, and more. Particularly compelling is their information on why and how to obtain abandoned houses.

They also produced this:
  • A number of people have asked us to come up with some simple, practical ideas around social justice. With the help of our friends at Geez Magazine, we’ve come up with the following… add your idea to the mix and let’s brew up some holy mischief.
    • Go out to eat with someone who is homeless, or invite them to your home or cafeteria to eat with you.
    • Leave a random tip in the college bathrooms for the folks who clean them.
    • Find out who makes the clothes for the athletic department and if those companies reflect the values of Christ.
    • Learn to sew and begin making your own clothes.
    • Start tithing 10% of all income directly to the poor (relationaltithe.com).
    • Connect with a group of farmworkers who grow food for your cafeteria or favorite restaurant (such as Taco Bells Immokalee workers ciw-online.org).
    • Give your winter coat away to someone who is colder than you are.
    • Ask to see the budget of your school. What do the workers get paid compared to the administrators? Make sure folks know -- if you are proud of this, affirm the folks who make those decisions... If not, begin a conversation with both workers and administrators of how this could be better.
    • Ask where the campus gets its energy. Is it renewable? If not begin a plan for moving toward renewable energy (talk to folks at Eastern University about how they have done it by an optional ecological tax that is tacked onto tuition -- it's only a few dollars per student).
    • Write one CEO a month -- affirm or critique the ethics of their company (you may need to do a little research).
    • Write only paper letters for a month (go computer free)
    • Try sitting in silence for 15 minutes a day.
    • Kill your TV -- or go TV free for a year.
    • Go down a line of parked cars and pay for the meters that are about to expire... Leave a little anonymous note of niceness.
    • Beat a war machine into a plow, without hurting anyone of course (Isaiah 2:4) -- NOTE: you might want to plan on a little sabbatical after this one, a little reading and writing retreat -- in jail.
    • Write to one social justice organizer or leader each month, just to encourage them in their work.
    • Experiment with a post-oil era by going fuel free for a week -- ride a bike everywhere, carpool, walk or hitchhike.
    • Gut your TV and turn it into a pot for a plant.
    • Try reading only female writers for a year (since many of our problems seem to be stemming from men).
    • Go to a retirement home and ask to visit a few old folks who don't get any visitors.
    • Spend some time with someone who cleans the campus, get to know each other, share your stories.
    • Invite one of the college cafeteria staff to your home for dinner or go to their home.
    • Try jack-hammering the church parking lot to make space for potato plants.
    • Track to its source one item you eat regularly
    • Give your car away to a stranger
    • Convert a diesel car to run off veggie oil.
    • Try flushing your toilets off dirty sink water (for a little guide, check here).
    • Buy only used (thrift) clothes for a year.
    • Cover up all brand names, or at least the ones that do not reflect the upside down economics of God's Kingdom.
Many of these suggestions are things that this town needs, particularly acts of personalism and generosity can have sweeping local impact. Perhaps through many such small actions, we could discover what Jesus meant when he said, "The Kingdom of God is at hand."
Web whatthistownneeds.blogspot.com