Below is the full text of the speech Senator Patty Murray gave at our recent "Bringing Washington Home" Advocacy Awards Celebration that took place on Tuesday, May 27 in Seattle.
I’m honored to be here to take part in your awards celebration. Your organization has so much to be proud of.
Every day, the Housing Alliance is building a coalition of advocates.
You are educating lawmakers and stakeholders.
And you are organizing, to ensure more residents in our state have access to safe, affordable housing.
Thank you for the incredible work you all do on behalf of our state, the affordable housing community, and all those struggling to find housing.
And thank you for the partnership we have had.
Your knowledge and insight are so valuable to me, and truly help me be an effective advocate for the programs that are so important for residents across our state.
I’m so pleased to join you this evening for this great event.
You know, one of the things that I appreciate so much about the Housing Alliance is your work to share personal stories, and the stories of so many, who struggle with homelessness and housing.
Whether it’s by empowering people through your Emerging Advocates program, or your one-on-one conversations with lawmakers, your stories can have a real impact.
The stories you tell put a face to the issues of affordable housing and homelessness.
They serve as an important reminder that the programs for which you advocate represent a lifeline for members of our communities—our neighbors or friends in need.
That lifeline was there for a woman named Rebecca, a single mom, raising two kids.
After falling on hard times, she said she wasn’t sure how she would keep a roof over their heads.
But thankfully, she was able to access housing services.
And because of those critical support systems, she was able to re-establish a stable home life for her kids and herself.
She says that today, her kids are happy, healthy, and thriving all because those services were there for her family when they needed them most.
And now, she’s become a great advocate for the Housing Alliance.
In our country, safe housing in a thriving community is part of the American Dream.
And a home is more than a roof over someone’s head. It is where families build their lives.
But right now, across the country, and right here in Washington, many families can’t find consistent affordable housing.
Parents drop their kids off at school in the morning, not knowing where they’ll be able to find a safe place for them to sleep that night.
Veterans who served our country can’t access the services and the housing they need.
According to the 2013 Annual Assessment report, there were 610,042 individuals who experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2013.
And the Seattle/King County and Washington State Continuums of Care had some of the highest homeless populations in the country.
The good news is that the work you all are doing is paying off.
Homelessness declined by 9 percent since 2007; veteran homelessness declined by 24 percent between 2010 and 2013; the number of families experiencing homelessness declined by 11 percent between 2007 and 2013; and Washington State had a 24 percent decrease in homelessness between 2007 and 2013—one of the largest declines in the country.
Yet despite this important progress, secure housing and homelessness are still major challenges for many families, here in Washington state and across the country.
One woman, named Susan, who is now a part of your Emerging Advocates Program, said she was on her way home from work one day, when she got into a car accident.
That meant she could no longer work and she fell into debt.
And ultimately, she lost her home.
Another woman named Glenda never thought she’d have to struggle with housing.
She was the owner of a successful small business.
That was until, seemingly overnight, she lost her income.
She had to lay off employees.
She lost her condo to foreclosure, and teetered on the brink of homelessness.
So many of these stories share a common theme that I know you’re all familiar with.
Often times, it’s not just one event that causes a family to lose a home.
It’s the culmination of little things that build up.
Maybe it’s losing a job.
Maybe it’s an injury, or an unexpected medical bill – or a combination of those things that force a family into homelessness.
But what gives me hope is knowing that the culmination of small, positive things can tip the scales in the other direction, too.
Those small steps can build up and help more families find safe, affordable housing.
For example, the work that you do every day to empower volunteers, organize, and mobilize people – that also adds up.
And that advocacy is enormously important in making sure more people in our state can go to bed at night in safe, affordable housing.
That’s why I love hearing stories of people like Virginia Shelby Powell, who is your 2014 Grassroots Leader of the Year.
She’s working with people who are transitioning from living on the street into housing.
And, she’s energizing more advocates to get involved and to talk to their legislators about how important safe, healthy, and affordable housing is for all residents of Washington.
What gives me hope is hearing about one of your volunteers, Ellie Lambert.
This year, she’s earned the title of Individual Advocate of the Year.
For several years, Ellie has dedicated her time and skills to organizing people so they can share their stories about what affordable housing means to them.
And, it’s always heartening to see all the work that the YWCA is doing – your Organizational Advocate of the Year.
Providing a safe haven for women and families to lay their head at night, to access meals, showers, and laundry can be instrumental for them to get back on their feet.
And, of course, the YWCA is a powerhouse of advocacy to ensure we do more in our state to help families in need.
I’m also so glad that the Housing Alliance has strong partners and advocates in the state legislature.
You’re honoring many of them here tonight because of the important champions they’ve been for this movement in Olympia.
In the other Washington – Washington, DC – I’ve been working onto protect critical housing dollars.
Congress has spent far too much time over the past few years lurching from budget crisis to budget crisis, and too often engaging in petty partisan bickering, instead of solving problems.
That uncertainty and the severe budget cuts under sequestration were hurting families.
But at the end of last year, I sat down with House Budget Chairman Ryan to negotiate in a budget conference.
And together, we were able to reach a deal that prevents another government shutdown this year.
It provides some much-needed certainty to the budget process.
And during those negotiations, I pushed to make sure that some of the devastating cuts from sequestration were reversed.
And we succeeded in getting an agreement that provided funding levels for fiscal year 2014 and 2015 above sequestration levels.
As a result of this agreement, we were able to restore critical funding for section 8 housing vouchers, as well as homeless assistance and emergency solutions grants as part of the fiscal year 2014 budget.
These were important funding increases that helped ensure that the safety net remains available for families that fall on hard times.
But there is more work to be done.
There are still so many families in need and the budget remains tight.
So your advocacy is more important than ever.
I will continue to fight for critical housing programs, while also looking for ways to improve outcomes for homeless youth, families, and survivors of domestic violence.
We need to continue to look for innovative ways to address the problems families face.
I am constantly in awe of your creativity and innovations.
You are always striving for ways to better serve those in need—to not only provide people with housing, but with ways to improve their lives.
I look to you for feedback on our federal programs and for insight into how to make them more effective.
You are an invaluable resource to me, and I appreciate the partnership we have had—a partnership I hope to continue.
In the Housing Alliance’s tradition of sharing personal stories, I want to close by briefly telling you a bit about why I am committed to making sure we invest in programs that help families who have lost their footing.
When I was in high school, my father, who had served in World War II, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
Within a few years, he could no longer work.
My mom found a job.
But it didn’t pay nearly enough to support seven kids and a husband with a growing stack of medical bills.
Without warning, our family had fallen on hard times.
We didn’t know how we would afford to go on with the lives we had known, how we would go to college, or make ends meet.
But our government didn’t turn its back on us.
For several months, we relied on food stamps. It wasn’t much. But we were able to get by.
With the help of a government program, my mom attended Lake Washington Vocational School, so she could get a better paying job to support our family.
My older brother, my twin sister, and I were able to stay in college because of student loans and support from what we now call Pell Grants.
We had lost our footing. But because of this great country, we didn’t lose hope we’d have the opportunity to live out the American Dream.
Today’s families deserve the same – especially when it comes to having a safe, affordable place to call home.
So, in Congress, I’ll be working hard for these priorities.
And I’ll need your help.
Keep sharing your stories. Keep your elected officials informed on these critical issues.
By working together, we can help ensure more families have the opportunity to have safe and affordable housing.
If you missed our advocacy awards celebration and want to support our work of ensuring everyone in Washington State has an opportunity for a safe, healthy, affordable home, you can still help us reach our goal by donating any amount here.