Catholic Advocacy Day puts a face on bishops’ legislative priorities

  • Written by Mary Louise Van Dyke
  • Published in Local
Students from St. Joseph School in Chehalis surround Jessie Barr, one of the speakers at Catholic Advocacy Day in Olympia. Photo: Courtesy St. Joseph School Students from St. Joseph School in Chehalis surround Jessie Barr, one of the speakers at Catholic Advocacy Day in Olympia. Photo: Courtesy St. Joseph School

OLYMPIA – After her husband died, Jessie Barr lost her home and ended up sleeping in her car for eight months.

Then Barr found housing and employment assistance through Catholic Community Services/Catholic Housing Services of Western Washington and the state’s Housing and Essential Needs referral program.

“Having a roof over your head is one of the most important activities of getting back into daily living,” Barr said in an interview. Now the 58-year-old is beginning an internship with a child care program.

By sharing her story with an estimated 500 people who attended Catholic Advocacy Day, Barr helped put a face on the need for more state funding for housing and job training.

The March 16 event was sponsored by the Washington State Catholic Conference, the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, the Archdiocese of Seattle, CCS/CHS and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

It kicked off at St. Michael Church in Olympia with briefings on the legislative priorities of the state’s bishops: criminal justice, housing, economic justice and life and dignity issues. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain celebrated Mass, encouraging the participants to show peaceful attitudes while speaking with their elected officials at the state Capitol that afternoon, said Patty Bowman, IPJC executive director.

Catholics talk to legislator
Catholic Advocacy Day participants meet with 46th District Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, at the state Capitol March 16. Photo: Courtesy Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center.

“I do think there’s something powerful about seeing so many people come together,” Bowman said.

It wasn’t just adults who came to Olympia to advocate for the less fortunate: St. Joseph School in Chehalis sent a contingent of seventh- and eighth-graders. When their scheduled meetings with two state representatives were canceled, the students weren’t turned away empty-handed. Tom Dent, a Republican representative from Moses Lake, left a meeting to visit with the students and give them copies of the U.S. Constitution.

Seventh-grader Joey O’Neil, interviewed later, said his classmates were most interested in two bills: one requiring the state to compile information about abandoned infants, the other prohibiting employers from initially asking job applicants to mark on an application if they’ve been arrested.

“If someone checks they’ve been in prison, they have a lower chance of getting a job,” Joey said. “That could result in being homeless.”

The legislation that interested the students does allow an employer to check an applicant’s background after determining the person is qualified for the position, Bowman explained. “Of course it’s legitimate for employers to ask for this information,” she said. “If the person is qualified, this would give them a chance to at least present their case.”

The crowd of Catholics that descended on Olympia for Catholic Advocacy Day also spoke to their legislators about ensuring the 2017-2019 capital budget includes $200 million for the state’s Housing Trust Fund. In addition, they proposed that funding should be increased to provide 24 months of vocational training through the WorkFirst program, which helps financially struggling families.