Once a week I volunteer at a homeless shelter at First Christian Church in Olympia. About a month ago, one of the residents told me that he had started a GoFundMe page in order to buy a wheelchair. One of his doctors informed him that if he did not start using a wheelchair to get around he would eventually lose his right leg. Unfortunately, Washington Apple Health did not consider the chair a medical necessity and therefore was unwilling to cover it. In desperation, and with the help of a staff member, my friend began asking for internet donations, hoping that slow trickles of $10 and $20 increments would somehow raise the needed $8,000 to afford a wheelchair before he lost his leg.
Fortunately, it did not come to that. He was rescued when he found a local medical bank that had an available wheelchair. I felt a sense of relief that this man was spared the prospect of losing his leg, but the relief was bittersweet. Access to medical care for this man was not a matter of right, but of luck. It is hard enough to expect people to roll the dice when meeting basic needs; it is even harder when it is clear that the house has rigged the dice against them. Indeed, the whole reason my friend was homeless in the first place was that he had lost everything he had during Hurricane Katrina. He had very little family, his wife died a few years before and his son died while fighting in Iraq.
Looking at his life, it is easy to see the numerous levels of government failure. Our country failed this man by sending his son off to fight in an unjust war, it failed this man without providing adequate resources after Hurricane Katrina, and it failed him when it refused to cover his medical necessities. The question is: will Olympia fail him? How many more people are we going to let slip through the cracks before we admit that our house was built on a bad foundation? If the low-barrier shelter in the basement of First Christian Church that he is staying at failed to open, a real threat just a few years ago, how much lower would his odds of accessing vital resources be?
This man’s story is one of the reasons I am running for Mayor of Olympia. It is time we not only filled those cracks, but build a better foundation. I do not want to live in a city knowing that there are people who cannot access basic necessities, who are constantly struggling to find a life of dignity. An Olympia for all means that homeless people are treated with the same consideration and thoughtfulness that any other person in Olympia is; if not more so, because their circumstances require special attention. Please join me in creating a movement in Olympia that will end homelessness and poverty, that will create a more democratic and just city, and that will ensure the security and safety of every human being.