Hannah Pederson, Senior Online Reporter
Representative Hans Zeiger visited Pierce College Puyallup Oct. 1 to lead a forum discussing homelessness and what he would do as a candidate for district 10 state senator to make headway with the issue.
The event was organized by Social Issues and Services Coordinator James Hesketh of the Office of Student Life, who invited Zeiger’s democratic rival for the senate seat to come to Pierce and provide a counter narrative on the issue in an Oct. 14 event.
“The biggest thing I wanted was to bring awareness to the issue of homelessness. That was on a base level what I hoped to accomplish,” Hesketh said. “I also wanted students to hear what someone who represents them, Hans Zeiger or Karl Mecklenburg, would do about the issue, because personally I wanted to know.”
Both discussions lasted one hour, opening with the candidates speaking about how the issue affects the community, how they have and would approach it and ending with them taking questions from the students present.
John Lucas, political science professor, brought his class to both events.
“I think homelessness is a really big issue, it makes us go beyond ourselves,” Lucas said. “How much are we responsible for problems that people in our community are facing? Where do we draw the line between ‘this isn’t our business anymore’ and ‘these are people in my community so I need to do something to help them out’?”
Laurel Boettcher, a student in Lucas’s introduction to political science, was able to attend both events.
“Hans Zeiger kind of talked in circles, I’m hoping for Mecklenburg to be more ‘I’m here for you guys, I understand communities are complicated and I want to hear what you guys want’.”
Lucas wanted to provide his students with a balanced narrative on homelessness, and hoped that Mecklenburg would be able to provide that.
“Zeiger’s sort of someone who’s concerned about social issues from a conservative point of view and typically people think of taking care of the less fortunate as sort of an issue that liberals and democrats try to own,” Lucas said. “So I think he was working toward showing ‘ok, although I’m a conservative, I have solutions for problems for people suffering in our community as well’. I’m interested in seeing now how the democrats would approach dealing with the problem and where they would assume responsibilities for it.”
Hans Zeiger’s approach to homelessness in his district was in the form of a five part reform plan focusing on what he refers to as adult chronic homelessness.
He wants to invest in mental health, something he says the state has been steadily cutting funding from even though the state constitution requires that adequate funding be provided. Zeiger introduced a plan to merge treatment for chemical dependency and mental health citing that in the case of adult chronic homelessness the two are often intertwined.
He plans to reduce barriers to housing for the homeless population, who Zeiger says is often coming out of jail or has been evicted before. Histories like these make it difficult to secure rental contracts from private landlords, so he would work within the existing system to create solutions, Zeiger said.
Zeiger plans to reduce barriers to employment as well, by providing employers with incentives to hire what they might view as risky hires. He would use the training wage system used for young adults in the workplace and apply it to ex convicts and those who have a rocky employment history. This means that homeless individuals looking for a job would start below minimum wage and work up to or beyond it if the employer approved.
Zeiger wants to provide funding for jobs at a government level by using the model for the civilian conservation corp as a way to create opportunities for the homeless population.
His final piece to the reform plan was changing the method for contracting services that provide aid to the homeless. He criticized the 1964 war on poverty, insisting that community buy-in was the key to spending money wisely and getting results.
“Communities need to solve their own problems,” Zeiger said.
Mecklenburg didn’t focus on adult chronic homelessness, including homeless families and youth.
From 2007 to 2011, Mecklenburg was part of a ministry service that tried to meet the emergency needs of homeless people in the Fife and Puyallup areas.
“I was getting burned out, my volunteers were getting burned out, and I had this vision of all of us volunteers standing along the banks of the Puyallup river and drowning people just going by and us just trying to do everything we could in the mire and muck of the river to maybe save one, then maybe another one,” Mecklenburg said. “I felt like I needed to focus on going upstream and seeing what’s throwing people in to start with, a lot of what we need to be doing and what we’re doing wrong has to do with preventing people from falling into homelessness, or if they do fall in, a really quick response to that to keep them from falling into that long term homelessness which then makes it extremely difficult to get out after even a year.”
Mecklenburg believes his experiences working closely with homeless individuals and families gave him a much more accurate picture of what homelessness actually looks like in Puyallup.
“We’ve seen this with race, we’ve seen this with religion, it’s a way of ‘otherising’ people, to make them different than you so that you don’t have a real connection with them, so it’s easier to go along with policies that negatively impact them because hey, it’s not you and it’s not your people, it’s those people,” Mecklenburg said. “It’s all a psychological game to keep you on one side and draw a line and keep others on the other side of that line.”
Like Zeiger, Mecklenburg believes there’s much more that can be done at the state level, as well as county and city.
He believes the bulk of today’s homelessness crisis was preventable, bringing up the City of Puyallup public forum in April of 2016 where legislators presented data showing that funding for programs that helped the homeless was lowest when the homeless population was the highest.
Mecklenburg has seen how stigma affects mental health treatment, and hopes to be able to advocate for mental health reform if elected to office.
“We stigmatize people when the organ that’s failing is the brain,” Mecklenburg said.
Mecklenburg also wants to work within the system to reduce barriers homeless people face to permanent housing. Unlike Zeiger, he provided a preliminary plan to provide incentive to developers to do what’s best for the community instead of what might be the most profitable.
He wants to provide those just scraping by with a living wage, beginning with a $13.50 minimum wage and working up to $15.
Students can learn more about the candidates other policies at electmeck.com and hanszeiger.com.
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