How much do we know about homelessness? Why do we see more people experiencing homelessness when it seems like we’re doing more now than ever to address the crisis? What are others in our neighborhoods, cities, Washington State and along the West Coast doing to move people into safe, affordable housing? Where can we find hope?
Local media will try to find answers to these questions – and more – through a day of focused reporting on the topic of homelessness.
The idea for June 29th focused day of coverage was sparked in San Francisco where more than 70 news outlets signed on do an “all out blitz” on the topic of homelessness. The idea was quickly adopted by other regions, including some in the Pacific Northwest. Locally, at least 17 news outlets* have joined Crosscut’s Homeless in Seattle project.
The hashtag #SEAHomeless will connect all the stories, offering us a way to see the wide range of viewpoints, approaches and solutions that come out of today’s coverage.
All the effort won’t matter unless we begin tomorrow with new energies, ideas and commitments to make homelessness rare, brief and a one-time occurrence. To help move us towards solutions, we are supporting today’s coverage with a series of three #SEAHomeless To Do lists to convert today’s coverage into action.
Join us! We will be posting a morning, noon and afternoon #SEAHomeless To Do lists along with links to some of the great coverage we’re finding throughout the day on Facebook and Twitter @lisagustaveson and @hhunthausen.
By Lisa Gustaveson, Program Manager, Seattle University School of Theology & Ministry
On the first Tuesday of every month you will find a handful of Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry faculty, staff and students at the Emergency Family Shelter. We finish up our work day, grab our families if they are joining us, and meet down at the Belltown shelter with a prepared meal. Sometimes we bring homemade sauce, meatballs and pasta, other times we pull together something easy like a taco bar.
The food we bring is greatly appreciated – the families love the variety and recognize the time and money it takes to organize these monthly visits.
School of Theology and Ministry graduate students, staff, faculty and their families at the Emergency Family Shelter.
The best – and most needed – part of our visit happens after we dish up the meal. That’s when we join the families at the tables and share stories about our day. We complain, or rejoice, about the weather and the joys and challenges of parenting. We laugh at the antics of children showing off for the visitors. We open our hearts to hear stories of heartbreak and frustration from mothers who just want to find a better life for their children.
The last time I was at the shelter I met Mary (not her real name). When I asked if I could join her she smiled brightly and welcomed me. There was something about her smile that put me at ease. I felt the stress of my day melting away, and I let myself relax.
“How are things going for you?” I asked. Over the years I’ve asked this question of people experiencing homelessness hundreds of times. Sometimes people shrug and say, “o.k.” This lets me know today is not the day for them to share their story with me.
More often than not the question is met with a smile and “good, and you?” This opens the door to a more personal exchange.
This time, Mary and I quickly connected and found ourselves laughing about the funny things that happened to us that day. Her two-year-old daughter took advantage of her distracted mom to eat a couple packets of butter (at least one with the wrapper still on) before we noticed. We laughed some more about how much trouble kids get into when Mom is focusing her attention elsewhere.
In a short time I learned that Mary was the daughter of a very young mother, and was placed in foster care at age 11. She bounced around from foster home to foster home until she turned 18 when she “aged out.” That means, at an age where many kids are still relying on their parents for support, Mary was left to support herself.
Without a supportive community to rely on, she fell into a crowd that wasn’t always on the right track. Somehow, Mary managed to stay out of big trouble. She told me she didn’t have her daughter until her 20’s because she knew how hard it was for her mom to raise her alone.
Infographic created by Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness.
Like so many of the homeless women I’ve met, there was a man who came into her life that didn’t treat her well. She didn’t go into the details and, frankly, she didn’t have to for me to understand how instability, trauma and violence led her to the place she is today.
At this point in the conversation I asked her how her housing search was going. Mary was quick to tell me that the first thing she does every day is check the Capitol Hill Housing website to see if there’s an open unit that meets the requirements of her Section 8 voucher.
Like all homeless families, receiving that housing voucher was a big deal for Mary. For almost a year she’s held onto that voucher – bouncing between couches and shelters – searching, searching for that one break that will change everything. She told me that all she wants is a place to call her own where she can rest and play with her daughter after a long day of work.
One thing became crystal clear to me: Mary really wants to break the generational cycle of poverty. “If I had a job I would be so grateful. Even if it’s at McDonalds I would treat it like it was a 5 star restaurant.”
Suddenly, it was time to clean up for the Therapeutic Play program run by volunteers from Ballard Church on the first Tuesday of the month. (Watch for an upcoming post about this important program.)
I walked out to my car with Mary’s words running through my mind: if I had a job….
But I know the deck has been stacked against Mary since she was a child. She didn’t get a great education – each move meant she fell further and further behind in school. Bouncing from place to place made difficult to build trusting relationships, especially with caring adults. It’s never going to be easy for Mary.
What is so incredible to me is that Mary gets up every day, turns on her phone and looks to see if today is the day she gets a break. Is today the day everything changes?
Read blog posts on Firesteel about homelessness, poverty and the brain – how toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) affect outcomes for children as they grow up.
Learn about the One Home campaignand invite friends and acquaintances who are property owners/landlords to consider modifying their rental criteria to help families move out of homelessness. Consider hosting a Landlord Coffee Hour to reach out to landlords in your faith community. (Contact us to find out more.)
Do somethingto help homeless individuals and familiesRIGHT NOW:
Volunteer with one of Union Gospel Mission’s many shelters or meal programs – there are special opportunities for Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up.
Volunteer with or donate to Mary’s Place, which serves homeless families through rotating and permanent shelter and a day center.
Donate your time and resources to one of Seattle’s sanctioned encampments, two of which are opening at new locations this week – Tent City 5 in Interbay and Nickelsville in Ballard; or to one of the other many encampments in the greater Seattle area: Tent City 3 (currently at Bryn Mawr UMC in Skyway), Tent City 4 (currently at Hans Jensen campground in Issaquah), and Camp Unity (currently at Bear Creek UMC in Woodinville). All of these communities list their specific priority needs on their websites, so please check them out!
Seattle University sits in the center of the fifth fastest growing city in the country. We are also third in the nation for the number of people experiencing homelessness. Sadly, this gives our students plenty of opportunities to explore the crisis. Recently, we accompanied one student on a tour of Nickelsville to learn how encampments work, and if they are a solution.
(Originally posted in Seattle University’s student paper – The Spectator)
Down on South Dearborn Street, a sign and pink picket fence marks the entrance into one of Seattle’s overlooked communities. Nickelsville is an encampment of tents and individual shelters packed onto a steep hill, a transitory home to homeless people and families in the area.
Last week, Seattle City Council, backed by Mayor Ed Murray, voted unanimously to allow three new tent encampments across Seattle. Each encampment is predicted to hold up to 100 people.
“The legislation passed unanimously,” wrote Councilmember Sally Clark in an email to the Spectator. “There was debate about studying potential locations in single family zones, but otherwise, all 9 members supported passage of the bill.”
City Council also passed two more measures which will allocate a total of $375,000 toward the improvement of certain resources for the homeless community. The funds should last a year.
According to Lisa Gustaveson, Program Manager of Seattle University’s Faith & Family Homelessness Project, it’s significant that the Seattle government is making these moves, because it shows acknowledgment of a problem that Seattle has been struggling to solve. But she is clear that installing new tent encampments is not a permanent solution.
The One Night Count this year found 3,772 people sleeping outside or in their cars—providing shelter for 300 of those people at any one time is not going to solve the problem, Gustaveson said.
Gustaveson added that these encampments should be considered a temporary solution—a transitory place where people can get the resources they need to move into real housing.
In other words, this should not be an attempt to solve Seattle’s homelessness problem by pushing the entire homeless population into one corner of the city.
“Warehousing people isn’t the way to solve homelessness; it’s affordable housing and services,” said Gustaveson.
“And so [tent encampments] can’t be a stand-alone solution.”
Right inside the pink picket fence of Nickelsville is a booth with an attendant. Once you sign in, you can walk between the wooden shelters and through to the outdoor cooking area. Those who ascend the steep hill can climb up to the top where the tent residents live.
One of Nickelsville’s longer-time residents is a man named Lee, who has been living there since July of last year. He said he was pleased with City Council’s decision to add more tent cities.
“I think it’s great because this place…it saves lives,” Lee said. “A lot of people that were on the street or don’t know how to handle themselves out there, a lot of them die.”
Lee has been saving money from his job at an IHOP in Aurora. He recently thought he was going to move into real housing but after filling out all of the paperwork, he was told that he didn’t actually qualify for the housing option because he made too much money. So he remains in Nickelsville.
A variety of people make up his neighbors, and they stay there for varying lengths of time.
“We have a couple of families; I live across the way from one,” Lee said. “Some people stay for a week or two, some people a month or two. Some people never leave.”
What he would like to see from future tent encampments is a multiplicity of available resources and improvements that will help to make these tent encampments the transitory spaces that they should be.
The next step, Gustaveson said, will be figuring out the budget.
“There’s no extra money laying around,” Gustaveson said. “Part of what they’re trying to do is divert some funds to help this, but that could possibly hurt somebody on the other end.”
According to Gustaveson, although this is not a permanent solution, it’s a big step forward. She said that it was public will that made this happen, and that people should continue to let their voices and desires be heard by Seattle’s government.
And it’s true that City Council and Mayor Murray are moving in a different direction than their predecessors. “Nickelsville” is not named in honor of pocket change, but rather it is a grim mockery of Seattle’s former Mayor, Greg Nickels, and reflects disdain of the ways he addressed the issue of homelessness.
The Golden Rule. So simple, yet so powerful. Treat others how you would like to be treated. It gives us a foundation for societal norms; a lens for decision-making. It’s the tool we parents reach for during those “teaching moments”. I think of it as the thread that runs through belief systems, offering a common touchstone for us as we work toward the common good.
Imagine, just for a moment, that you are a homeless mother staying in a local emergency shelter. You grew up poor and married early to make a fresh start, but the white picket fence dream ended quickly. You adore your two young children, but worry constantly about them because they have witnessed things no child should see.
The good news is that you qualify for, and have been offered housing assistance through King County’s Rapid Rehousing Program. You will have help paying your rent for a few months – or longer – while you get back on your feet. You will continue to work with your case manager if things get bumpy. You just started a new job that has the potential to lead to a living wage position.Things are looking up.
The bad news is that you can’t find a landlord who will rent to you because you have an eviction on your record. You fill out application upon application (paying the fee each time, which dips into your already meager savings) and each time face rejection and humiliation. Your children ask, over and over, when are we going home?
The Committee to End Homelessness recently estimated at least 1,000 households in King County have access to housing resources but can’t find a landlord who will rent to them. Ending homelessness is within reach – if we can close the rental housing gap.
Although I am not a landlord, I can understand the hesitation to rent to families with rocky rental history or even a felony conviction. The Great Recession hit many of us hard; property values are finally rebounding. The economy is making a slower than predicted comeback. Property owners worry we could face another recession, and are hesitant to take risks. I get it – we are all a bit more cautious. Sometimes families face discrimination just for being poor and homeless. Some landlords see the families through a dangerous – and unfair – stereotypical lens: homeless families will damage their property and, in general, be unreliable tenants.
Bottom line: these families need someone to take a risk, someone to show them the compassion we would all want to receive if we were in their situation.
What if landlords could follow their hearts AND their heads?
King County is one of a few regions in the country that has programs that offer safeguards and supports to give landlords the help they need to live the golden rule with little or no risk. Unfortunately, most landlords are unaware of the programs.
Here’s where you come in – help us spread the word through local faith communities, and invite landlords to end homelessness for one family.
Invite all the landlords you know to the Landlord Appreciation Reception (below) where they’ll learn more about the One Home Campaign.
Talk to us about hosting a One Home coffee or happy hour at your congregation.
Let’s give homeless people the break we’d all expect if we were in their shoes.
Help us spread the word…
One Home: A King County Landlord Partnership to End Homelessness One Unit at a Time
What are the benefits for me as a landlord?
Assistance to help fill your vacant units
Payment of rent deposits, utility deposits, and first month’s rent
Access to loss mitigation funds if damage is done to your unit
Access to eviction prevention funds
Case management support for formerly homeless residents
Support through the Landlord Liaison Project – 24 Hour Assistance in dealing with issues that may arise with tenants
Find excellent tenants who have completed the Ready to Rent classes through the Landlord Liaison Project
Special Invitation: Landlord Appreciation Reception
Everyone deserves a safe and stable place to live. When you help house a family, you are not only helping individual take charge of their lives; you are making our community a better place to live, One Home at a time.
Help us spread the word – Invite landlords you know from your congregation and community.
Our region sent an impressive delegation to the national Youth and Family Homelessness Conference in San Diego last week. Twitter helped us stay in touch during the busy two days – follow our journey through a sampling of the tweets that are captured by this Storify.
Click on the image below to be directed to the Storify page.
On or around January 23, 2015 most regions of the country – and every county in Washington State – completed local Point in Time Counts. These manual counts of people who are experiencing homelessness give us a snapshot of how the homeless system is performing. Last week King County reported a 21% increase in the number of people they found living in places not fit for human habitation. Clearly, we need to make changes to the way we are doing things to reach the outcomes needed to make homelessness rare, brief and one time.
In press release, Alison Eisinger, Executive Director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, which organizes the count, reports a substantial increase over those found without shelter last year. “This year’s Count is heart-breaking evidence that we cannot cover our community’s most basic needs. Clearly, the crisis of people homeless and without shelter is growing, and clearly we must respond by using every resource we have. Everyone needs a safe place to rest.”
Photo by Dan Lamont
Even more shocking, the One Night Count numbers don’t include the more than 500 “literally homeless” families who are on the wait list for emergency shelter in King County (there are over 200 who are staying in emergency shelter, and are in the queue for housing.) These are the families who have burned out their social supports and are in their cars, on the street or in tents.
These are more than numbers… we are talking about very poor men, women and children who have no place to go tonight. Every night they spend homeless adds to the time it will take for them to recover.
Mark Putnam, Director for King County’s Committee to End Homelessness, shares his thoughts about the 21% increase in the number of people found outside. Take a look at his ideas of ways YOU can get involved in local efforts to end homelessness… it’s up to all of us to make change happen.
If you’re like me, the results of last week’s One Night Count are still weighing heavily on this sunny Monday. The increase did not surprise me, or most people I talked with, because of what we see all year long. All felt very somber about it. Some felt enraged. I feel some of both, with some measure of optimism, resolve, and conviction mixed in as well.
There should be no more denying that homelessness is a crisis in King County. We can do better and we should not accept 3,772 unsheltered people on a night in January as a part of our culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. We could instead choose to fund our safety net through investments such as ensuring there are enough psychiatric beds for those in need. We could choose to prioritize affordable housing, and renter protections. To ensure we are providing what people need, we need to shift the way we work to be more flexible and creative. We need everyone involved, from congregations to businesses to landlords. And as individual residents we could choose to be more compassionate to our homeless neighbors, to pay it forward by helping them today, tonight, in any way possible.
This mailing list is 1,500 strong, and each of you have networks of friends, business associates, and allies. Reach out to them, and tell them what they can do to support our efforts to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time in King County. A friend of mine asked me on Facebook this weekend how he could help. Here are my ideas, and I’m sure you have many as well:
Second, you can give money to nonprofits that are providing housing for people who have been homeless. We are lucky to have dozens of really strong organizations building housing, and providing shelter, job training, and meals in our community.
Fourth, if you’re a landlord, rent a home to a homeless person! More than 1,000 people who are homeless have the money to pay for rent (courtesy of government programs) but can’t find a place willing to rent to them — usually because of competition with other renters, past evictions, or criminal histories. Fact is, people need second chances. CEH created a campaign called One Home and you can learn more and sign up here: www.onehomekc.org.
Fifth, share the stories of homeless people in your community by liking Homeless in Seattle on Facebook or sharing the StoryCorps project. Crowd funding projects like Homeless in Seattle are doing an amazing job of connecting people who want to help to people who need help. They post stories almost daily of people who need help, and give concrete ways you can provide help, by crowd-funding, or asking if anyone can provide a sleeping bag, or a room to rent, etc.
Finally, review CEH’s Draft Strategic Plan. This set of new strategies includes ideas from other communities that have made more progress than King County as well as many more changes we know we need to make to get people off the streets.
Add or edit this list, and send on to your networks.
Make sure each of the 3,772 remain on your minds, today, tomorrow, and all year. Thanks for all you do,
Director, Committee to End Homelessness in King County
I have always been an avid Seattle Seahawks fan! My dad and I used to watch the games every week, and he would call them the “Sea Chickens” when they weren’t very good.
Football has always held a special place in my heart; I grew up hearing about my dad’s experience playing the game, watching my brother play and dancing for my high school team every year. In high school I even got to dance at a few Seahawks halftimes!
As I have grown as a Seahawks fan, I have started to follow the National Football League (NFL) and learn more about the game of football in general.
That’s why when I see horrible things like substance abuse, insensitive language/gestures and even worse, the recent domestic violence and child abuse, I feel heartbroken.
Unfortunately, since I started my research into the NFL domestic violence problem, many domestic violence situations and other contract violations have been revealed. The video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in an elevator is just one recent example of how both the players’ actions and the league’s response to them have made me question my passion for the NFL. I have a hard time supporting a sport or league that tolerates any kind of abuse.
If you aren’t familiar with the NFL situation, I’ll talk more about it in Part 2 later this week.
WHAT WOULD I DO?
I recently joined the Project on Family Homelessness and have learned that domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and children locally and nationally. Therefore, when I saw the Ray Rice incident unfold, I was not only shocked, but aware that many women and children end up having no place to go if they leave their abusers.
Stories like this have caused me to think about my own life and to wonder what I would do if I were in a domestic violence situation. I know I have loved ones who would support me, but not everyone does.
This is a question worth asking, considering that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during their lifetime and most domestic violence incidents are never reported, says Safe Horizon.
These women are often exposed to a multi-faceted cycle of violence that is hard to escape, as this “Power and Control Wheel” illustrates.
Facts like these drove me to write this piece, and increased my interest in the relationship between the NFL, domestic violence and our services in Washington state. To make sure I am able to get to all this information, this will be a two-part series.
For now, I will share what I’ve learned about the prevalence of domestic violence in Washington state and the United States.
Then in the second part of this series I will explore the connection between domestic violence and the NFL.
Later this week, my colleague Perry Firth will share her reaction on this blog. She will use the NFL domestic violence scandal as a catalyst to examine domestic violence as one component of violence against women.
ONE CALL EVERY TWO MINUTES IN WASHINGTON
The National Network to End Domestic Violence, a “social change organization” committed to ending violence against women, takes an annual census, which provides a snapshot of domestic violence statistics across the nation on one day. It does this by tracking services provided to adults and children during a 24-hour window.
In the 2013 national census, 87 percent of domestic violence programs participated in the survey, revealing that they served 66,581 victims in one day (36,348 victims accessed emergency shelter, while 30,233 adults and children received non-residential assistance like counseling and legal help). Further, in that one 24-hour window, 20,267 victims experiencing domestic violence called local and state hotlines. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, a national hotline, took calls from another 550 people.
In the Washington state section of the census, 54 out of 68 domestic violence programs participated (79 percent). These providers served 2,082 victims – 575 children and 476 adults! They also answered 837 calls from the Washington hotline – that’s around 35 calls every hour, or more than a call every two minutes, just in our state.
As you can see, domestic violence is surprisingly common. However, there is more to understanding domestic violence than numbers. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend you explore The Joyful Heart Foundation website, which has some great information on who is affected by domestic violence, as well as signs of abuse.
WSCADV: WASHINGTON’S ADVOCATES AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Another great resource is the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV). This local organization partners with other domestic violence programs to help keep those experiencing domestic violence safe. From rental assistance and counseling for survivors, to advocacy and policy change, WSCADV and its partners work to remove the barriers that keep (mostly) women and children in abusive situations.
Because WSCADV is doing such wonderful work, I wanted to talk to someone who works with the organization. That is why I am so happy I got to meet with their communications director, Kelly Starr. Kelly is also the lead on the Refuse To Abuse campaign (see below).
Kelly and I talked about a lot of things, but what jumped out at me was when she said that compared to other states, “Washington falls on the national average across the board.” I was surprised that we don’t have a lower rate of domestic violence here. This means we still have a lot of work to do in our home state!
Kelly also said that she and other domestic violence advocates have noticed that over the past few years there has been a shift in culture: The public understands that domestic violence is wrong, whereas it may have been more accepted in the past. The recent public outrage during the Ray Rice scandal has confirmed this cultural evolution. We have awareness, she said; now we need action.
She believes people are now asking, What can I do to help? Who do I call? What are the signs that someone I know is in an abusive situation?
Kelly said that learning what a healthy relationship looks like is an important first step for many young women. She told me about some great WSCADV tools, including:
But if you can’t prevent domestic violence, you have to try to prevent women and children from becoming homeless as a result of it. WSCADV has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and 13 pilot programs on the Housing First Project. Because so many women in abusive relationships become homeless with their children when they leave the abuser, this project gets survivors out of dangerous situations and into safe environments through tailored services, mobile advocacy, housing search support, landlord education and temporary financial assistance.
I was also glad to hear about a different type of professional sports team fighting domestic violence. WSCADV partners with the Seattle Mariners pro baseball team and the community in the Refuse to Abuse campaign.
Since 1997, the coalition has partnered with the Seattle Mariners baseball team on the Refuse to Abuse campaign, which helps get fans involved in fighting domestic violence. Stars like pitcher Felix Hernandez take a leadership role. This campaign is based on the Mariners’ iconic 1995 “Refuse to Lose” slogan during their run to the American League Championship Series; I was just a small child at the time, but most people who lived in Seattle then remember that season very well. The campaign now includes a 5K run, and was cited in a New York Times article recently as an important part of the Mariners’ culture when it comes to domestic violence prevention among players.
These are just a few of WSCADV’s efforts to end domestic violence.
However, the Coalition can’t fight domestic violence alone! They need the public’s help.
Ultimately, domestic violence won’t end unless everyone works to create a safe world for families and children.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Show your colors during Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Go Purple with the YWCA! (We’ll talk more about this in the next post.)
Call the confidential, 24-hour/7-day-a-week Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-562-6025 for domestic violence information and assistance referrals.
Visit the WSCADV website to find a list of domestic violence programs that cover everything from research and advocacy, to lists of safe housing for survivors.
Last, but not least: Simply have open conversations about domestic violence with your community. You might be surprised by what you learn. Remember, talking is power!
Stay tuned to read more about the recent domestic violence scandal in the NFL, how other NFL fans and I have reacted to it, and how widespread media coverage is shaping fan perceptions of violence against women. I’ll also talk about how one NFL superstar is taking a stand.
Are you a young female football fan, like Emma? Have you learned more about domestic violence because of the NFL situation? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.