News

Shift policies to treat trafficked girls as victims

February 2nd, 2020|

From the Seattle Times

In Washington state, however, we continue to arrest and charge minors for prostitution, even though they are victims of sex trafficking. To bring Washington in line with federal law — and join the states that have eliminated criminal liability — we should exempt minors from charges of prostitution and create therapeutic alternatives.

Most girls get involved in sex trafficking when they run away from chaotic, unhealthy and abusive situations. More often than not, they are crime victims themselves. Yet we arrest girls on charges of prostitution, which is the result of a long history of treating girls and women who are victims of exploitation as criminals.

Nationally, and here in Washington state, the exact number of girls who are victims of domestic sexual exploitation and sex trafficking is unknown. Precise counts of the number of children and young adults who are commercially sexually exploited are challenging. Dr. Debra Boyer’s 2019 work is our best estimate of commercially sexually exploited children. Generally, anti-trafficking groups use missing children statistics to estimate the number of trafficked youth. However, estimates are inferred from data on runaway and homeless youth populations. Though these estimates are based on a method that is imperfect, they are the best at hand.

What we do know is there are more than 13,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults in Washington state. We also know that commercial sexual exploitation is closely linked to childhood trauma: The majority of sexually exploited youth experienced childhood victimization or sexual abuse, and between 60% and 85% have histories with the child-welfare system.

A recent Covenant House report suggests that approximately one fifth of homeless youth are victims of human trafficking, and a 2016 Administration on Children, Youth and Families report suggests that 60% of homeless youth experience some degree of victimization on the street. What we also know is that, although trafficking affects all youth, the vast majority of youth arrests for prostitution — 76%— involve girls.

Washington state currently offers some protections for girls who are trafficked. For instance, in 2010, Washington state strengthened our Safe Harbor law. Before the change, diversion of minors charged with prostitution was discretionary. Now, prosecutors are required to divert cases involving minors for the first offense (diversion remains discretionary for subsequent offenses). In Seattle and King County, minors are not charged with prostitution. However, this is a policy decision by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Still, we must take additional measures to expand protections for girls and all youth. According to Shared Hope International’s 2019 update, many states have decriminalized “prostitution” for minors, recognizing that minors charged with the offense have been exploited and victimized, that it is an indication of social-service needs, and that youth should not be held responsible due to their age and development.

This legislative session, state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, is sponsoring House Bill 1775, and state Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, is sponsoring companion bill SB 5744 in the Senate seeking to strengthen protections for commercially sexually exploited children. The legislation, if passed, would limit the crime of prostitution to individuals 18 years or older and create two therapeutic receiving centers, one in Eastern Washington, the other in Western Washington. Youth would receive assessment and referrals for mental-health and substance-use disorder. Law enforcement, service providers or guardians would be able to refer youth who are victims of sexual exploitation to a receiving center or allow youth to self-refer. And what is especially promising? The legislation creates dedicated liaisons within the Department of Children, Youth and Families to assist with system navigation, service delivery and cross-sector investigations. Both bills were voted out of their respective policy committees and await action in their fiscal committees.

Many advocates who work directly with youth impacted by the practice are closely following this legislation. We are hoping for a legislative fix that is worthy of the challenges these youth face.

Let’s build on the momentum and treat the symptoms of how girls become victims of sex trafficking in the first place. Let’s join the growing cries to stop criminalizing girls for the trauma they have experienced.

Washington state senator unveils bill to aid people who refuse treatment for drug addiction or mental-health issues

February 1st, 2020|

From The Seattle Times

When her 33-year-old son leaves jail or a treatment center after a mental-health and drug-addiction crisis, Theresa Yates says, there’s nothing to keep him from winding up back on the streets.

After an episode, he’ll be taken to jail and then involuntarily detained at a hospital or treatment center, said Yates, 54, of Tacoma.

“They’ll let him back on the street with a plan, and his plan is to go to the shelter,” she said. But, she added, “He won’t go to the shelter. Nobody can make him, because he has rights.”

That’s what brought Yates to a committee hearing Friday to speak in favor of a bill by Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, intended to provide treatment for adults suffering from mental illness or drug addiction who won’t or can’t help themselves but aren’t in bad enough shape to be detained.

Senate Bill 6109 would create a four-year trial run for a new executor program in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Under the bill, someone who has been involuntarily detained at least five times in a 12-month period could have an executor appointed to them to help oversee treatment.

The bill would also create requirements to make available treatment, supportive housing and vocational rehabilitation for those in the program.

O’Ban called the bill an attempt to bridge the gap between treatment that people get voluntarily and the high threshold that needs to be met in order for officials to detain someone under Washington’s Involuntary Treatment Act.

Under that law, someone “in imminent danger because of being gravely disabled” or who “presents an imminent likelihood of serious harm” can be detained and given involuntary treatment.

At a news conference before Friday’s hearing, O’Ban said his legislation was geared toward “those who consistently refuse care and shelter, but suffer crippling addictions and mental illness.”

“Unless government intervenes, their conditions harden, the likelihood of recovery lessens, and many will perish,” he said. “We owe them and their parents more, a lot more.”

Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, also spoke at the news conference in favor of SB 6109.

“This will increase the safety of the public, it will increase the safety of law enforcement, and very importantly it will increase the safety of the people involved,” said Strachan.

Standing nearby was Jerri Clark, founder of the advocacy group Mothers of the Mentally Ill, who  talked about her son’s long struggle with mental illness. She recounted a story of the last time he was released from involuntary treatment in a hospital.

“I pleaded with the staff to make sure he was released into appropriate housing,” Clark said of her son, who died by suicide last year. Instead, he was sent to an emergency shelter.

He discarded his medication, according to Clark and “spent six days running around Seattle in psychosis with no fewer than five interactions with law enforcement.”

“But none of those experiences led to a level of imminent threat or criminality that would allow public officials to do anything to help him,” said Clark. “He didn’t get help until he broke into a residence and was arrested on felony charges and thrown in King County Jail, where he immediately tried to kill himself …”

Lawmakers are seeking other ways to make it easier for officials to intervene with people needing mental-health treatment.

Senate Bill 5720, sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, would make several changes to the Involuntary Treatment Act, including changing the threshold for someone to be detained.

For example, the definition of “serious harm” would be expanded to “include a risk of physical harm evidenced by harm, substantial pain, or which places a person in reasonable fear of harm to themselves or others,” according to a legislative analysis.

Dhingra’s bill passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House. Last week, Senate lawmakers passed it again, and she said she hopes it will get to the governor’s desk this year.

By Joe O’Sullivan

What They’re Watching: Sen. Manka Dhingra

January 27th, 2020|

From State of Reform

“I’m very excited about my civil commitment bill – it’s taking a look at our Involuntary Treatment Act. It’s something that we haven’t looked at comprehensively for decades. And so, this really takes a look at the entire makeup of the statute, cleans out language that is no longer relevant, and really makes sure that we’re addressing the problems so that the people who need this high level of care can actually get access to it, and the people who don’t meet that criteria aren’t the ones that are scooped up in it. I’m actually very excited about that bill. It does make some dramatic changes in separating out the adult section with the juvenile section — really making sure that we’re taking a look at medicine and science and what makes sense in terms of the way we’re serving our individuals who are in the hospital for civil commitment.

Right now, we actually have people that are boarded. That means they’re strapped on a gurney without any rooms waiting for hospital beds because they are so severely decompensated that they may be presenting as a danger to self, or others, or gravely disabled. So, we’re really taking a look at what is the definition of gravely disabled?…

Right now, you have a hearing at the 3-day mark. And what we’ve been finding out is that people continue that hearing multiple times, which makes sense from a science point of view because it takes 3 to 5 days for people to stabilize. If you want to plan for aftercare, if you really want to be able to discharge them in a thoughtful way, we’re actually expanding that 3 days to 5 days so that you do get a right to a hearing, but you have that at the 5-day mark and not the 3-day mark. And that again is about making sure we’re putting the science first, the medical needs first, and really understanding that a lot of people need the 3 to 5 days to even detoxify. A lot of individuals who show up to our hospitals have a lot of different issues going on and substance use disorder is one of them. And, frankly, the 3 days is simply not enough for doctors to do a full assessment to really understand what the whole picture is, or for anyone to do discharge planning. So, the hope really is that the 5 days will give people that additional time to really be patient-focused, patient-centered and come up with discharge planning.”

By Emily Boerger

Watch the video here.

  • Permalink Gallery

    Bill would start comprehensive sex ed in kindergarten for Washington students

Bill would start comprehensive sex ed in kindergarten for Washington students

January 27th, 2020|

From King5

SEATTLE — Sex education could soon be required in all Washington state public schools after a comprehensive sexual health bill overcame its first hurdle by passing in the state senate this week.

Senate Bill 5395 would require all public school districts to provide comprehensive sexual health education that is evidence-informed, medically and scientifically accurate, age-appropriate and inclusive for all students.

Democrats say universal standards will empower and protect students.

“It really helps teach our children how to have those tough conversations in relationships, how to have conversations about consent and how to understand our bodies,” Democratic Senator Manka Dhingra said. “Our bodies are not taboo.”

Republicans, however, say they are not against sexual education but want each district to make its own decision for communities.

“I think we will have a lot of families leave the public school systems rather than have these sorts of values which go against, in some occasion, their deeply held beliefs and morals,” Republican Senator Mike Padden said. “And they’re gonna say it’s not worth it.”

The curriculum is designed to be tailored to children’s developmental needs. For instance, classes starting in kindergarten would cover topics such as inappropriate touching and safety.

Parents could also opt-out of the program, a concession that Democrats made to Republicans last year.

The bill will now head to the committee in the House, where it stalled in the 2019 legislative session.

  • Permalink Gallery

    Access to menstrual supplies an equity issue, bill backers say

Access to menstrual supplies an equity issue, bill backers say

January 24th, 2020|

From the Kitsap Sun

OLYMPIA — Two bills introduced this legislative session would make it easier for women, including public school students, to get menstrual supplies.

Senate Bill 6073 would require schools to provide sanitary pads and tampons to students at no cost in bathrooms designated for females or as gender-neutral in schools serving grades six through 12.

House Bill 1053 would provide a sales and use tax exemption for feminine hygiene products.

A nationwide movement to de-stigmatize menstruation has gained momentum in the past few years and with it, a campaign to end “period poverty,” or the loss of opportunities, including education, when women and girls can’t afford menstrual supplies.

Proponents of both bills say they want to advance “menstrual equity,” removing barriers women face when on their periods.

According to a recent Harris poll cited by backers of menstrual equity laws, more than four in five students in the U.S. have either missed class time or know someone who missed class for lack of access to feminine hygiene products.

“Most women can remember how awkward and embarrassing this situation was when we were young,” said Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, a co-sponsor of the school sanitary supply bill. “And it makes sense that a district would help girls to avoid missing classroom time because they forgot, or because their home doesn’t have hygiene supplies.”

The estimated cost to districts statewide during the first two school years is $2.95 million, according to a fiscal analysis. That includes more than $2 million for dispensers in an estimated 10,109 bathrooms at a cost of $200 each, plus an estimated $466,610 per year for supplies. In fiscal year 2023 and beyond, the cost would be for supplies alone.

State analysts note that schools could apply for grants or partner with nonprofit or community-based organizations to help cover the cost.

The impetus for the school supply bill came from a group of students at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland, according to Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, prime sponsor. The students testified Jan. 17 before the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee.

Caroline Schmale, a Lake Washington senior who spoke, estimates on any given day in Washington state thousands of girls get their period at school, some during class.

“(They) have had to find a way to get a tampon or pad before continuing their school day,” Schmale said. “So they might have had to sneak back into class to grab one from their bag or ask their friends to see if anyone has extra.”

Sure, they could go to the nurses’ office, where limited supplies are usually kept, Schmale said, but that interrupts class, and some girls are embarrassed to ask. Schmale said some school nurses don’t always have tampons or pads on hand, forcing girls to go home.

The Harris poll found that 61% of teens surveyed have worn a pad or tampon for more than four hours because they lacked access to supplies. Schmale said, echoing the national platform, which puts girls and women at risk for bacterial infections and toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.

“We don’t ask people to go to the school nurse to get toilet paper,” Dhingra said. “Why should we expect them to go to the nurse for feminine hygiene products? This bill is about normalizing the human body and removing stigma.”

Dhingra said the new state mandate would encourage districts to work with community partners, “as many are already doing.”

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro Woolley and a member of the Early Learning & K-12 committee, said he liked the concept but wondered about the fiscal impact, which wasn’t available at the committee meeting.

SB 6073 was discussed by the Central Kitsap school board at a recent meeting among bills the board would be tracking. Board President Jeanie Schulze said the board was concerned with unfunded mandates, but she didn’t single out the sanitary supply bill.

The district doesn’t do cost estimates on bills as they move through the Legislature, said spokesman David Beil. “We will be able to calculate the financial impact (or non-impact) of this bill when/if it is passed at the conclusion of the legislative session.”

Beil said the district doesn’t have data on students who may be absent from school because they lack menstrual hygiene supplies.

“We already make sanitary supplies available at each of our secondary schools, typically in our health rooms,” Beil said.

Chris Henry reports on education and community news for the Kitsap Sun. Reach her at (360) 792-9219 or christina.henry@kitsapsun.com.

  • Permalink Gallery

    Comprehensive Sexual Health Education bill passes in the Senate

Comprehensive Sexual Health Education bill passes in the Senate

January 23rd, 2020|

From the Washington State Wire

While not everyone supported the effort to require schools to teach sex ed, those who voted for the bill said the effort to educate children about personal space, physical safety, and violent behavior would decrease sexual and domestic violence.

“The way we do that is that we teach our children about consent, healthy relationships and how to actually live in a world where we don’t have violence,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-45th District). “It really helps each of our children to have these tough conversations in relationships and how to really understand our bodies. Our bodies are not taboo.”

The bill, among other provisions, requires public schools to teach comprehensive sexual health education that is scientifically accurate. The curriculum adopted by each school district must also be inclusive of diverse students, include instruction about abstinence and forms of contraception, encourage healthy relationships, how to respond to sexual violence, and teach affirmative consent.

Opponents of the bill said it should be up to community leaders to decide if that school district teaches sex ed and develop its own curriculum. Sen. Mike Padden (R-4th District) said he wanted the decision to be left to school district officials.

“Let’s just say I trust our superintendents and local school boards to develop the proper curriculum, and they’re doing that,” Padden said during debate on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “I would note that the number of abortions and pregnancies are down in our state, so some of the things we’re doing and what local school districts are doing now seem to be working along with, of course, the implements of parents.”

Padden feared some parents would pull their children out of public schools entirely rather than let their kids attend a school in which sex education is taught.

“A lot of people will leave the public school system rather than have these sort of values, which go against, in some occasions, deeply-held beliefs and morals,” Padden said. “And they’re going to say it’s not worth it. The future of my child is too important to have them harmed by this.”

The new regulations, if signed into law, would be phased in on a timeline. Sex ed that follows the new law would be required for grades 6  through 12 by Sept. 1, 2020. That rollout will have an additional year for students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. All schools must comply with the new law by Sept. 1, 2021.

The bill also stipulates that parents can still opt their children out of all or parts of the school district’s sex ed program by filing a written request stating as much with the school principal or the school board. Such requests must be granted by the school district.

This bill, Dhingra added, would provide the state with an early intervention tool that would mitigate the need to utilize crisis response resources later.

“I’d love for domestic violence to not be in our state,” Dhingra said. “We do that by making sure we are teaching our children about healthy relationships.”

By Madeline Shannon

Washington State Senate Tackles List of Gun Bills

January 22nd, 2020|

SEATTLE (AP) — A grieving mother, a frightened student, prosecutors and law enforcement officers told a Senate panel that setting certain limits on firearms will save lives, while a home-invasion victim, gun store owners and a tribal chairman argued that changing firearms laws will prevent vulnerable people from protecting themselves.

After two days of public hearings on a list of firearms bill, the Senate Law and Justice Committee is expected to debate the measures on Thursday and possibly vote them on to the next panel.

The measure that drew the most comment seeks to limit firearm magazines to 10 rounds.

“High-capacity magazines enable those with evil intent to maximize carnage,” said Sen. Patty Kuderer, sponsor of Senate Bill 6077. Limiting the size of the magazine allows first responders to intervene and save lives, Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said during Monday’s hearing.

Nine other states have pass laws to limit magazine capacity, she said.

Keely Hopkins, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, said people relay on firearms for their personal protection. Others testified that taking the larger magazines from law-abiding citizens makes them vulnerable to bad guys who don’t care about the law.

Ami Strahan told lawmakers that she never got to say good-bye to her 15-year-old son Sam before he was fatally shot by a student at Freeman High School outside Spokane, Washington, in 2017.

The shooter came to school with more than 400 rounds and planned to unload them in a busy hallway, she said. The only thing that saved the other students that day was the shooter’s gun jammed, she said.

“I am here because I am a grieving mother,” she said, speaking in favor of banning high-capacity magazines. “I lost part of my soul and I am still struggling to recover.”

Adam Cornell, a Snohomish County prosecutor said July 30, 2016, was the worst day of his life. It was the day he was called to a mass shooting at a house party in Mukilteo.

“I saw what an AR-15 with a high-capacity magazine can do,” he said, adding: “maximum harm.”

Lawmakers on Monday also heard testimony on bills that would require firearm safety training for people applying for concealed carry permits.

On Tuesday, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, introduced a bill that would prohibit people charged with felony driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs from possessing firearms. Senate Bill 6163 would also apply to people charged with vehicular homicide or vehicular assault.

The bill would ensure that these offenders would not have access to a gun while going through the pretrial process and potentially prevent suicides, she said.

Amy Freedheim, a King County prosecutor, said she recently had two defendant who were awaiting trial and sentencing who shot and killed themselves.

Nearly 33 percent of those charged with alcohol offenses are at risk of violent firearm acts, she said. Passage of the bill would give judges the discretion to prohibit access to firearms as a condition of release from jail, she said.

An NRA spokesman said they support felons losing their firearms rights when convicted, but taking guns away from a person before they’ve been convicted creates due-process concerns, he said.

Another bill before the panel would create the Washington office of firearm violence prevention. Dhingra said the measure “is about understanding where violence occurs in communities” and would secure grant funds for violence prevention.

“It’s a shift from crisis response to an early intervention and prevention model,” she said.

By MARTHA BELLISLE
  • Permalink Gallery

    I-976, affordable housing, other issues discussed at legislative breakfast event

I-976, affordable housing, other issues discussed at legislative breakfast event

January 22nd, 2020|

From the Redmond Reporter

The East King Chambers Coalition held its annual legislative breakfast on Jan. 8 at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue in anticipation of the legislative “short session,” which began on Jan. 13.

The event, emceed by Q13 anchor and correspondent Brandi Kruse, included a keynote address from state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and continued with two panel discussions.

The coalition comprises several Eastside business leaders. Eleven (11) chambers of commerce make up the group, including the Bellevue, Bothell-Kenmore, Kirkland, Snoqualmie Valley and Redmond (OneRedmond) chambers.

The yearly event is timed to commemorate the start of a new political year, and, in this instance, what will be up for discussion at the short legislative session.

Ferguson’s address

In his speech, Ferguson touched on homelessness, the opioid crisis, the importance of nonpartisanship and President Donald Trump.

Ferguson said during his speech that although many people might think of the attorney general in relation to the more than 50 lawsuits filed against the current president, that’s only one aspect of his output.

At one point in his speech, Ferguson spoke at length about the opioid crisis (and the way it intersects with the homelessness crisis) and how it has become a major topic of concern in his office.

“We have filed numerous lawsuits against the entities that we think have helped fuel the opioid epidemic,” he said, adding that one of the primary goals of the litigation is to hold those in power accountable.

In speaking about federally targeted litigation, Ferguson said lawsuits are filed when it’s clear that the state will be affected.

“It doesn’t matter the political party,” Ferguson said, adding, “In all 53 lawsuits we have filed against the Trump administration, they all have a critical nexus for Washington state.”

First panel discussion

After Ferguson’s keynote speech, a panel — encompassed by Sens. Bob Hasegawa (11th District) and Mark Mullet (5th District) and Reps. Larry Springer (45th District), Shelley Kloba (1st District), Vandana Slatter (48th District), Bill Ramos (5th District), Amy Walen (48th District) and Davina Duerr (1st District) — congregated on stage to talk about business, infrastructure and budget.

Mullet was the first to speak. He said he thinks that during the session, legislators are going to have to put a “pause button” on affected transportation projects that were underway beforehand.

“I think in 2021 — the larger session — we’ll have to come up with a more comprehensive plan,” he said. “We need to find ways to find money to finish the projects that we need to get moving on. Our job just became twice as hard after that vote.”

Kruse subsequently brought up the recent recommendation by the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) to replace the currently-in-place gas tax over time with a pay-per-mile tax.

“I think we’re probably years down the road,” Springer said. “I don’t think this is a system that you can drop into place overnight or in a single legislative session… I can envision a highway transportation funding system that includes both the gas tax and vehicle miles driven and then adjust each of those… It’s going to take a while to figure this out.”

Next, Kruse focused on the business climate, and whether it’s getting more difficult for small to midsize businesses to succeed.

Walen, who owns a car-dealership business — with one location in Seattle and one in Kirkland — spoke of concerns she has as a business owner.

“I am proud of our businesses in Washington state,” Walen said. “I am proud of Amazon. I am proud of Starbucks. I am proud of Boeing. I am proud of companies that have been successful around the world. But our culture is pretty critical and pretty harsh on businesses. And I hope that our legislation will come together to work to support not just the big businesses, but yes, the small ones.”

Kruse then mentioned the new iteration of a proposed head tax as pushed for by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Swanat, and if panelists would support it if enacted. Many of those who spoke voiced their reservations.

Second panel discussion

Following the first panel discussion, a second one, made up of Sens. Manka Dhingra (45th District) and Patty Kuderer (48th District) and Reps. Roger Goodman (45th District), Tana Senn (41st District), Lisa Callan (5th District), My-Linh Thai (41st District) and Debra Entenman (47th District), gathered to talk about human services, housing and the workforce.

Rent control policies drove the first part of the conversation. Kruse turned her attention to Kuderer. In the past, Kuderer has stated that she wanted to see the outcomes of rent-control policies recently enacted in Oregon and California, for example, before potentially implementing them in Washington.

“Before Washington goes down any path… we need to have more evidence, because the last thing we want to do is disincentivize and lose inventory,” Kurderer said. “We don’t want to do that. We’re in a housing shortage right now.”

On increasing costs of living, and how workers progressively have to move farther away from where they work, Dhingra stressed the importance of nuance when discussing affordability.

She noted that, in cities like Redmond, for instance, even with a $100,000 salary it can be challenging to find affordable housing.

Entenman, who lives in Kent, invoked personal experience, and how the gains made by the inclusion of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft in pivotal Washington cities are not benefiting everyone.

“We need to understand that a community needs all different kinds of people,” she said, adding, “We need a number of reforms, and it needs to be looked at holistically.”

Kruse next brought up the possibilities of universal preschool and how to better support residents “from cradle to career,” on which several panelists weighed in.

“The idea — rather than say universal preschool — is to continually increase access to high-quality preschool,” Goodman said.

On mental-health crisis support, Dhingra, who helped create the behavioral health sub-committee at the last legislative session and who is its chair, underlined the positives of early intervention.

“I think a regional approach to this solution is important,” Entenman, replying to the first inquiry, said. “I’m not sure that Seattle is the best example of that… It seems that we have not built any permanent homes for folks… I don’t think that is a positive example, to build really pretty shacks without toilets or running water and say that is a solution.”

Regarding the second question, Thai voiced her dismay at Trump’s use of the term “politeness.”

“As somebody who is a refugee elected to serve in the Washington state legislature, I have issue with that word ‘politeness,’” she said. “Because we, the immigrants… we have always been polite, and where does politeness take us to? …If the president of the United States believes that he’s serving every single citizen, it’s not about being politely asked. It’s about the president asking his citizens, ‘What can I do to serve you?’”

Attorney general Bob Ferguson gave a speech at the event. Blake Peterson/staff photoAttorney general Bob Ferguson gave a speech at the event. Blake Peterson/staff photo

From left to right: Bob Hasegawa, Shelley Kloba, Larry Springer, Amy Walen, Mark Mullet, Vandana Slatter, Bill Ramos and Davina Duerr at the event. Blake Peterson/staff photoFrom left to right: Bob Hasegawa, Shelley Kloba, Larry Springer, Amy Walen, Mark Mullet, Vandana Slatter, Bill Ramos and Davina Duerr at the event. Blake Peterson/staff photo

The coalition comprises several Eastside business leaders. Eleven chambers of commerce make up the group, including the Bellevue, Bothell-Kenmore, Kirkland, Snoqualmie Valley and Redmond (OneRedmond) Chambers of Commerce. Blake Peterson/staff photoThe coalition comprises several Eastside business leaders. Eleven chambers of commerce make up the group, including the Bellevue, Bothell-Kenmore, Kirkland, Snoqualmie Valley and Redmond (OneRedmond) Chambers of Commerce. Blake Peterson/staff photo

By Blake Peterson

  • Permalink Gallery

    This group handed out 1,900 feminine hygiene ‘care bags’ to Tacoma girls last year

This group handed out 1,900 feminine hygiene ‘care bags’ to Tacoma girls last year

January 14th, 2020|

From The News Tribune

“I was in the middle of a class … what is happening to me?,” Winesberry recalled. “Absolutely no supplies whatsoever to take care of myself … It was so devastating.”

The experience drove Winesberry, now 65, to volunteer for Raising Girls, a Tacoma nonprofit that aims to overcome the costs and stigma of menstruation for school-aged girls.

“There are many girls who are missing classes because they don’t have access to hygiene products,” said Sharon Chambers-Gordon, the founder and CEO of Raising Girls.
Schools in Washington typically do not provide menstrual pads and tampons, said Chambers-Gordon. In California and a handful of other states, the law requires schools to stock bathrooms with menstrual products.

The 57-year-old Jamaica-raised woman said she’s had a life-long streak of giving back to her community, instilled by her mother. Although she was aware of “period poverty,” as it’s sometimes called, she didn’t realize the magnitude of need in the Tacoma area until her then middle school-aged daughter related stories from her schoolmates.

Raising Girls centers itself around the distribution of large tote bags that contain menstruation products, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothpaste, tooth brush, wash rags, deodorant, a small carrying bag and a handwritten note of encouragement.

Each bag contains about two months of supplies, Chambers-Gordon said.

The need for the bags is great, she said. 2018 census data identified 7,500 girls in the South Sound who live in low-income households in Pierce County.

Low-income families will put rent, food, medicine and other necessities ahead of hygiene products if money is tight, Chambers-Gordon said. Food stamps do not cover such products.

“If you are working minimum wage, maybe even two or three jobs, it doesn’t give you enough to pay your basic rent, have transportation to go to work and buy hygiene products,” she said.

When a girl is having her period but can’t afford tampons or pads, she’s likely to just stay home, at least one study has shown.

“A school nurse may have a pad or two but when (the girls) go home they don’t have access to that,” Chambers-Gordon said.

In addition to a degraded education, a girl’s social connections can suffer when she’s in self-imposed isolation.

Middle school and high school girls can get the care bags at six middle schools and five high schools in the Tacoma Public Schools system. All were identified as having high needs, Chambers-Gordon said.

Raising Girls also delivers care bags to local service organizations including Boys and Girls Club of South Puget Sound and the Tacoma Urban League. The bags and hygiene products also are provided to girls in foster care and the juvenile justice system.

About 200 of the care bags were distributed at two Boys and Girls Club branches in 2019, said spokeswoman Jinnie Horan.

“When the girls received them, they lit up,” Horan said. “It was the breadth and the scope of the items inside. It wasn’t just a hygiene kit, it was a pretty girl kit. It had things that made them feel good and smell good.”

Girls were impressed with the name brand items and the personal touches, Horan said.

“Something that stood out for them were the hand written notes,” she said. “That meant a lot to them.”

CARE BAGS

On a recent January evening, Chambers-Gordon’s two-car garage was filled to the ceiling with packed bags and neatly arranged shelves holding the products that go into them. Except for her vehicle, there was room for little else.

Blue bags with menstrual pads go to middle school girls, red bags with pads and tampons are for high school girls and a smaller number of black bags — minus the feminine hygiene products — go to boys.

Upstairs, Winesberry and the 12 other women who serve on the group’s leadership team, were writing thank-you notes to donors.

Chambers-Gordon launched Raising Girls in 2017. A real estate broker, she pursues her avocation after hours.

At first, she and her like-minded helpers spent their own money. Now, they solicit donations.

In 2019, the group distributed 1,500 bags. For some schools, they have become an integral part of the safety net.

“These bags are vital for students who lack the means — or simply did not anticipate the need — to have access to products vital to their health and hygiene while allowing them to stay focused on school,” said Lincoln High School principal Pat Erwin.

Raising Girls’ work is starting to get notice beyond the school setting.

In December, the organization was given a BECU People Helping People Awards. The grant — $54,400 — was the largest given, and it tripled Chambers-Gordon’s budget overnight.

The cash will go a long way to increasing Raising Girls’ mission, but it’s still short of what Chambers-Gordon estimates she needs to supply those 7,500 girls and some boys six times per year in Pierce County: $1.2 million.

Raising Girls also is pushing for the end of the so-called “pink tax” or “tampon tax” — the tax on feminine hygiene products. Washington is one of 37 states that impose the tax.

Changes to taxes would come from legislative action. In the meantime, a state senator is working on the issue from a different angle.

Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-45th District) has introduced Senate Bill 6037, which aims to require public schools to provide feminine hygiene products at no cost in the schools’ bathrooms.

Dhingra said she was spurred to action after a presentation by girls at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland. Like a lot of girls around the nation, they were forced to ask the school nurse for emergency supplies.

“We don’t ask people to go to the school nurse to get toilet paper,” Dhingra said. “Why would we ask them to get feminine hygiene products from the nurse?”

The bill has bipartisan support, she said. A hearing will be held Friday, Jan. 17. Dhingra expects students to testify.

Funding for the bill would not come from the state. Instead, Dhingra hopes to work with corporations or non-profits like Raising Girls.

“It really is about normalizing the human body and getting rid of the stigma,” Dhingra said.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

▪ Donate to Raising Girls: raisinggirls.org

▪ Host a donation drive or bin to collect personal hygiene products.

▪ Write inspirational cards for girls.

▪ Host a packing party.

▪ Sponsor a school supported by Raising Girls.

 

By Craig Sailor
Founder and CEO Sharon Chambers Gordon, second from right in glasses, is surrounded by Raising Girls teammates bearing bags containing personal hygiene products that will be donated to under-served girls in Tacoma public schools and other organizations. Chambers Gordon says the lack of access to these essentials is born of poverty.  DPERINE@THENEWSTRIBUNE.COM
  • Permalink Gallery

    Yakima Valley priorities: A look at what people want out of their lawmakers in Olympia

Yakima Valley priorities: A look at what people want out of their lawmakers in Olympia

January 12th, 2020|

The Washington Legislature convenes Monday in Olympia. Over the next 60 days, lawmakers — lawmakers we elected — will make decisions that affect nearly every aspect of Washington life.

Yakima Herald-Republic reporters reached out to people who live and work in the Valley to ask what they’d like to see out of the Legislature this year in four areas: Mental and behavioral health, education, homelessness and the environment.

Here’s what they said.

— Greg Halling, managing editor

Mental and behavioral health

Yakima Valley experts on mental and behavioral health want to see mental health get attention — and funding — from state officials on the same level as physical health because it’s just as crucial, they say.

At the same time, mental and behavioral health advocates know funds are limited. But some aspects of mental and behavioral health need increased funding now.

“I also believe their approach to funding should reflect a comprehensive understanding of wellness and thus should include large budgets for substance use prevention and mental health promotion in addition to funding for treatment and recovery,” Schillreff said.

Schillreff recently led Teen Mental Health First Aid training for students and adults in White Swan.

Mary Stephenson, president of NAMI Yakima, is a member of the NAMI Washington Policy Committee and met recently with Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, about the upcoming session.

She noted that 2019 saw the passage of many mental health-related bills, with increased overall funding. The 2020 session will see re-introduction of bills that did not pass last year. They will include House Bill 1240, sponsored by Mosbrucker, which would create a youth suicide review team to focus on the causes of youth suicide in order to develop targeted intervention programs.

“Other legislation which should receive consideration is the creation of a statewide office of a mental health ombudsman,” Stephenson said in an email. “Currently there are regional offices, but no statewide office.”

“Frequently, family members are unable to get help for their loved ones who resist treatment until a crisis occurs and even then, the current definitions of imminent danger to self or others or gravely disabled do not apply,” she said.

The committee is also looking at a bill for the development of advance mental health directives, which would allow a person to agree to treatment prior to a mental health crisis, a time when they are no longer competent.

Other legislation for consideration, Stephenson said, addresses safety in adult family homes, Medicaid rates that are half those of other states, guardianship and children’s mental health.

— Tammy Ayer

FILE – In this Dec. 4, 2018 file photo, pedestrians make their way toward the Legislative Building at dusk at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.