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Jobs, health care costs will remain top pressures | Forecast 2013

Carolyn and Gil Morales of Hansville contributed in November to the Thanksgiving dinner box program at St. Vincent de Paul in Poulsbo. Carolyn said contributing a box of food makes her realize how fortunate she is. “You want to do so much,” she said.             - Richard Walker / Herald
Carolyn and Gil Morales of Hansville contributed in November to the Thanksgiving dinner box program at St. Vincent de Paul in Poulsbo. Carolyn said contributing a box of food makes her realize how fortunate she is. “You want to do so much,” she said.
— image credit: Richard Walker / Herald

By MARY NADER
North Kitsap Fishline

In these unpredictable times, anticipating what’s ahead can be a daunting task.

Fishline’s priorities are inextricably tied to local economic conditions, and where they will go is anyone’s guess. But it will be encouraging to note that Fishline’s increase in demand in 2012 was around 10 percent, compared to the 20 percent growth it’s seen each of the previous five years. Should this be an indicator of an improving local economy, perhaps 2013 will hold more promise for the many struggling neighbors who have weathered this prolonged recession?

For the hundreds still coming to us for help, difficulties stubbornly hang on. Jobs remain scarce, especially ones that offer a living wage and needed benefits. Many families are patching together several part-time jobs that don’t offer consistent paychecks, creating a roller coaster-like personal economy. And since this type of work doesn’t usually offer health care benefits, for those not covered, every day is a gamble. Will injury or illness occur today, meaning loss of work hours and huge medical bills? Lack of jobs (especially for middle-aged candidates) and health care costs are the top two economic pressures facing Fishline clients today and will likely remain so in 2013.

Homeless residents have few alternatives. There is not enough low-cost and emergency housing, and homelessness will persist if this doesn’t change. The homeless family, lucky if they can find shelter space available, will have to travel to Bremerton, and their family will probably need to split up. At the most, they can stay in a shelter for 90 days, but they’ll be on a waiting list for low-cost housing for at least six months. If the homeless resident is a single male with even a minor criminal background, shelters are not available and low-cost housing options will be limited.

Food is getting more expensive. Predictions for 2013 are for a 3-5 percent increase in food costs, added to a 3 percent increase in 2012. Prices for staples like meat, dairy and produce are expected to rise the most. This means more clients will come to Fishline to extend their food budget, and donations could decrease because of food expense. We expect our food budget to increase by 20 percent this year, but that might be conservative.

We are also noticing encouraging trends, the kind often borne from adversity:Getting back to basics, more people are helping each other through bartering, sharing living spaces and seeking other ways to live more simply.There’s the web of helping agencies, more cooperative and integrated every year, soundly investing donor dollars with less duplication and more direct impact.

And there are the concerned citizens who, at cocktail parties and on blogs, are bringing up these lingering issues in the hope of unearthing solutions.

Alan Kay, a computer scientist, famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” With determination and ingenuity, we can invent an environment where neighbors in trouble are stabilized in ways that endure, creating a community that is safer and promising for all futures.

— Mary Nader is executive director of North Kitsap Fishline. Contact her at director@nkfishline.org

Forecasting 2013 series: Local economy, Poulsbo and local real estate.

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