Don’t shred safety net for state’s most vulnerable residents

Washington state Sen. Jeannie Darneille is a Tacoma Democrat representing the 27th Legislative District.
Washington state Sen. Jeannie Darneille is a Tacoma Democrat representing the 27th Legislative District.

We all need help from time to time. Asking for it may not be a life-altering decision, but it may be for a person who is homeless, mentally ill or trying to beat addiction.

If that call for help isn’t answered, the results can be severe. For many, it could mean the difference between life and death.

That’s why our state must reject the Senate Republican budget proposal, which makes deep and dangerous cuts to critical programs helping our most vulnerable neighbors – those who face homelessness or experience substance abuse.

We must not fund basic education or balance the budget by decimating our human services safety net.

In 2015, more people in our state died from opioid or heroin overdose than from car accidents. Our state also saw rates of homelessness rise in all communities in Washington.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction estimates that we now have nearly 40,000 homeless children in our schools, a number that is likely much higher because it does not count kids who are not yet in kindergarten, or those who have dropped out of high school.

How many homeless children, families, veterans or seniors will it take to say enough is enough?

How many opioid and heroin overdoses will it take before legislators wake up and realize that decimating programs within our human services safety net will only make the budget situation much worse down the line?

Our state is at a crossroads, and we must determine which path we will take.

The state budget is the largest policy document that the Legislature considers. It is the best representation of our state values and priorities.

We can collectively solve these problems. However, we have to negotiate together. Finding effective solutions to homelessness and the opioid crisis will not come from one person or one worldview.

It takes a diversity of voices, especially the voices of those who have sought and received help and have come out on the other side.

Our state’s human services safety net programs provide our most vulnerable friends, family members and neighbors with hope and the opportunity to make positive decisions instead of choices out of desperation.

Many who are currently experiencing homeless or addiction are not hopeless.

Today, we see the benefits in providing services to people suffering from the effects of poverty and illness: they are safe, restored, made healthy, and now support others as they once were supported.

Providing assistance is the best solution to building families and improving the lives of children.

Let’s make sure that when any Washingtonian asks for help, the human services social safety net is strong enough to break their fall and help get them on their feet once more.

State Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee, and is a member of the Law and Justice, and Ways and Means committees.