King County voters, including islanders, will decide in the Aug. 1 primary whether to approve the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy (VSHSL) — a ballot measure of significant importance to several key organizations on Vashon that provide services to seniors, low-income islanders and other populations.
The levy — approved by King County voters in 2005, 2011, and 2017 — is up for voter consideration for the fourth time. The current levy expires in December of 2023.
If approved, it would authorize an additional six-year property tax levy for collection beginning in 2024 at 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, with the 2024 levy amount being the base for calculating annual increases by 3.5% in 2025-2029.
The levy rate is identical to that passed in 2017, and the median-valued home will pay $17 more per year, according to a county statement.
The levy funds regional health and human services and capital facilities for veterans and military service members and their families; seniors and their caregivers; and “resilient communities.”
The county defines resilient communities as persons or communities susceptible to reduced health, housing, financial, or social stability outcomes due to systemic and historical exposure to trauma, violence, poverty, isolation, bias, racism, stigma, discrimination, disability, or chronic illness.
These criteria are a match with demographics served by several key Vashon nonprofits.
In 2021, the Vashon Food Bank applied for and was awarded $146,000 through Remote Access for Rural Food Banks, a pilot program of the levy.
The funds supported the creation and implementation of the Food Bank’s Community Connections Program, which has now evolved into a joint program serving islanders who depend on the Vashon Food Bank and Vashon Youth & Family Service’s (VYFS) Oasis Program.
The funding has enabled the hire of a bilingual community resource navigator, Patricia Banuelos, who assists community members under the auspices of both the Food Bank and VYFS.
Banuelos connects islanders to a wide array of local and regional social and human services that are available but often come with multiple barriers to access, said Emily Scott, executive director of the Food Bank.
Passage of the levy’s renewal, Scott said, “will increase the chances that hundreds of islanders per year have easier access to supporting resources that help them thrive.”
The DOVE Project, a nonprofit that serves islanders who experience interpersonal violence and also provides focused prevention education, also has received funding from the levy.
Tracy McLaren, supervisor of the prevention program at DOVE, said that VSHSL funding has supported DOVE’s Mobile advocacy program — “allowing us to meet the clients where they are.”
“It reduces the sometimes insurmountable barrier to seeking and receiving help,” McLaren added. “In addition, the flexible financial assistance allows us to aid in the housing and stabilization of a person who is making steps to leave a violence situation. This survivor-driven advocacy prioritizes the needs of the survivor and offers resources and assistance to navigate the various systems. This funding has been vital for us to provide direct service and support to survivors.”
In May, The DOVE Project was asked to present at the VSHSL 2023 Summit, McLaren said.
Maria Glanz, director of Vashon Senior Center, is now urging islanders to support the renewal of the levy.
The levy, Glanz said, has provided essential funds for the Senior Center’s staffing and operations, its hot meal and transportation programs, and multiple other programs that support health, wellness and community building.
The levy has provided funding to the Vashon Care Network, which connects islanders with services, supplies and support to live safely and independently at home.
In 2021, the organization, in partnership with the Senior Center, received funding that helped it create a new pilot program to provide scholarships for cohorts of students to complete coursework to be state-certified home care aides on Vashon.
All of the scholarship recipients committed to working a minimum of three to five hours per week for low-income island seniors who qualify for state-funded caregiving assistance.
[We’re] delighted to report that nine of those caregivers are now providing much-needed affordable caregiving hours to low-income families,” said Carol Spangler, former board member of the Vashon Care Network. “Our partnership with the Senior Center is an excellent example of effective use of VSHSL funding to address a clear island need.”
Vashon HouseHold received $544,268 from the levy for its new project currently under construction — Island Center Homes, which will provide housing for target populations of veterans, seniors, and those who are houseless or formerly houseless.
Mike Mattingly, of the Vashon Veteran’s Association, said that on Vashon and throughout the county, veterans overlapped with other groups served by the levy, including seniors, and sadly, those without housing.
He said his organization, which oversees Vashon’s Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, had only received one $10,000 grant from levy funds, to help furnish the Association’s space for local veterans to gather and complete home-improvement, repair, or other building projects.
According to the county, since 2018, the levy has:
Funded 39 senior centers across the county.
Served more than 27,000 veterans, service members and their families with fewer eligibility barriers than many federal programs.
Contributed to a 40% reduction in veteran homelessness.
Helped more than 260 veterans, service members, and family members access more than 15,000 mental health counseling sessions.
Built 234 units of affordable housing for veterans and their families.
Served more than 100,000 seniors through expanded senior programming.
Launched DVHopeline, a countywide, 24-hour multi-lingual and multimodal domestic violence hotline, that received 16,000 calls or texts and referred nearly 7,000 of those callers to additional support.
Funded mobile advocacy services for more than 1,200 survivors of gender-based violence.
Helped build more than 1,000 units of affordable housing and 198 new shelter beds.
All programs of the levy are independently audited for their efficiency, according to a statement written in support of the levy by King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus.
”Since 2017, the levy has helped over 185,000 veterans, seniors, and vulnerable people,” they wrote.