It has been almost one year since a “greater than” 100-year flood impacted Whatcom, Skagit, and other counties around the state of Washington. Close to 2,000 households were displaced in North Sound, and one year later many of those families are still waiting for repairs or permanent placement.
Access to affordable housing was already severely limited, and the flooding increased the demands on scarce options, leading to some tough trade-off conversations. Who do you prioritize during an emergency – households who have been waiting in a queue for months or longer, or those impacted by an emergency asking to have their needs met more quickly? These are tough conversations and they will remain tough for some time to come.
I saw a picture (right) this week of the air quality around the Space Needle in Seattle and, even though so many of us have been living with the smoke, this picture posted by Washington’s Emergency Management Division tells an unhealthful story.
When we see air quality like this, it’s why we have such respect for the Vital Conditions for Well-Being (click here to see our Resource Library, as it calls out a thriving natural environment as being essential to health and well-being). This air quality was not just unhealthy for vulnerable community members – it was unhealthy for all of us. So imagine those among us who didn’t have a safe place to stay inside and wait out the smoke, but because of housing insecurity were forced to stay outside and breathe that air. I know we do heating shelters in the winter, and cooling shelters when it’s too hot. Are we now looking at needing clean-air shelters as well?
We’re happy to see cooler weather and rain dampen the fires and clear out all the smoke. We’re also aware that community members are anxious about another wet fall, and what is on the way. There is a network of partners who have been meeting to discuss flood response and the next few meetings will focus on preparing for what comes next as the rainy season continues. With this network, we’ll be better prepared than we were 12 months ago. We have lots of partners in Whatcom and Skagit to thank for that, and both counties now have Long Term Recovery Groups set up for households still recovering from last fall.
Our team has also been heading to meetings – yes, in-person meetings. A successful presentation at the WA Public Health Association meeting on the Collaborative Action Network, and a chance to interact and brainstorm with ACH teams from across the state at the HCA/ACH Learning Symposium happened in the same week in October. We’re beginning to plan our first in-person partner convening for January in three years (Save The Date announcement coming soon!). We’re going to take our technology learnings from remote meetings and use them to optimize real-time meetings. Yes, that should be fun!
We also have about 40 people (partners, board, and team members) from across the region heading to Phoenix, AZ to attend the Facing Race Conference; continuing to learn the language that will allow us to identify, mitigate, and dismantle structural barriers is a commitment we have. We look forward to bringing those learnings back to the region.
We appreciate the time and energy that you put into learning and planning initiatives with each other and with our team. Thanks for providing those chances to work together and see how far we can go!