Abiding Love and Grace

Guest blogger Heather Thompson is an artist, mother, and graduate student in Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry‘s Master of Divinity program.  Her ministry revolves around “the healing power of art, walking with those on the margins, and exploring a theology of daily living.”  Heather writes about her experience meeting a man named Bear at the window of Facing Homelessness, and the love and grace she observed there in the connections between people.

Facing Homelessness represents one of the ways that people find small grace in strangers.  To get involved and respond to asks like Bear’s, visit Facing Homelessness’ Facebook page.  There you will find photos, stories and requests from people experiencing homelessness in the Seattle community.

Facing Homelessness - IssaquahHeather has since started a branch of Facing Homelessness  in her own community of Issaquah. Visit Facing Homelessness – Issaquah to learn more and get involved.


By Heather Thompson

A man named Bear approached the window of Facing Homelessness. A constant stream of people arrived at the window before him with requests ranging from food to socks to water to boxer shorts.  Two women specifically requested sanitary pads along with hygiene kits after they were finished at the needle exchange next door.  Others simple stopped by to check in, sharing stories of pain, suffering and ultimately resilience – broken bones, drugs, terrifying police encounters, a blood soaked sleeping bag, all a reality of daily life for those living outside.

I met many people that day, but it was Bear that stuck with me.  He was covered in tattoos and his head was partially shaved.  The skull rings on his fingers reminded me of Ozzy Osbourne, yet it felt shallow to draw such a comparison.

Bear approached the window and asked for Rex, the founder of Facing Homelessness.  “I am getting my tools today,” he said.  “Rex and I are supposed to meet up.”  The hope beamed from his piercing eyes.  Then I remembered seeing his face once before.  He had been profiled on the Facing Homelessness Facebook page as a carpenter in need of tools just a few weeks before:

Bear - Facing Homelessness 4-16-16

Stephen “Bear” Gibson. Photo Credit: Facing Homelessness

needsTOOLS:

Please meet Stephen, you can also call him Bear, he won’t mind, he’s a friendly guy, Bear is his street name in the U-district, where he feels connected, loved by the beautiful street family there.

 Bear is 38 years old, there’s been lots of struggles in his life, like the devastating stabbing death of his 18 year old son January 1st of this year, it consumed him, they were close, it was his son that got him clean off heroin and meth, it’s his son now too that he draws daily strength from.

Bear recently found labor work at Everything Under the Sun Construction, he was told if he was able to get carpentry tools, they would give him more responsibility and a raise, a bigBIG step towards long term employment.

 To all of you who have an extra hammer in your garage, and extra carpenter’s belt, speed square, tape measure, chalk-line, gloves, skill-saw, battery drill, goggles, or whatever is in good working shape, please consider donating them to our friend Bear.

Facing Homelessness is an organization rooted in LOVE.  With more than 35,000 people gathered around the Seattle page alone, people in NEED are able to ask for help… and those with the resources to GIVE have a means of contributing directly to the lives of others.  Within a week, the Facing Homelessness community responded with a BIG donation for Bear, as documented by this follow up post:

Bear---Facing-Homelessness-4-27-16

 

Back at the Facing Homelessness window, I was standing with Bear as he spoke about what the gift of tools meant to him personally.  Tears filled his eyes.  “Thank you,” Bear said. He grabbed his cup and took a long sip while his eyes turned a deep shade of red. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a home. A very long time.”

In that brief conversation with Bear, I felt shivers on my arms, and I realized that authentic connection is something ingrained in all of us. It is the awakening of an inherent knowing that everyone and everything comes from a single source, like waves upon a deep and vast ocean.  The Facing Homelessness page concluded with the following:

Bear starts to tear up, he says, “Thank you, you guys gave me a chance to prove what I am worth, you saved my life, now I get to go to work every day, thank you all for taking a chance on me, for giving me the opportunity to get off the streets.”

 Bear then went on to talk about his dreams, for changing his life in this beautiful way, for honoring his son with a new dedication to living good, healthy, and strong and giving back to those in need.

 After a long hug, I walked back to the office, tearing up the whole way, so happy for Bear, so veryVERY happy to be in this beautiful compassionate community that gives LOVE so freely.

Every experience at the Facing Homelessness window deepens my awareness and appreciation of the active, collective and immanent nature of LOVE. It doesn’t come from me. It doesn’t come from another. It is a presence that becomes known in the moment. Some may call it the Holy Spirit. I simply know that it is always there, just yearning to be noticed like the air we breathe. Grace.


THINGS YOU CAN DO:

  • Join the Facing Homelessness community. Though it started in Seattle, there are now groups based in Tacoma, Everett, Issaquah, Renton and Vancouver, WA, and in cities across the country and world.
  • Say hello. Honor the dignity in everyone by making eye contact and saying hello. Folks who are experiencing homelessness and/or living in deep poverty often feel ignored and marginalized. You’d be surprised what a simple acknowledgment and “hello” can do.
  • Explore the healing power of art, as Heather has, by connecting with organizations and groups like Path with Art, Love Wins Love, and Art from the Streets (a program run by Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission)
  • Go further. Share stories and encounters like Heather’s and Bear’s with neighbors, friends and family. Advocate. Educate yourself about local, state and federal policies that impact housing, healthcare, employment, homelessness and contact your council members and legislators to encourage them to act for justice. Consider getting on lists for actions alerts from organizations like the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Firesteel, and the Housing Development Consortium.

heather3Heather is a graduate student at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry in the Master of Divinity program. She is a former award winning CEO turned working artist. Heather’s ministry focuses on the healing power of art, walking with those on the margins, and exploring a theology of daily living. She lives in Issaquah with her daughter, horse, baby goats, bulldog, and cats. You can learn more about Heather at www.bluephoenixart.com.


Cover image is excerpted from “Surrender to Fluidity,” an original painting by Heather Thompson.

Advocacy Art for Social Change Faith and Family Homelessness

Voters Will Decide Future with 2016 Housing Levy

By Lena Beck, School of Theology and Ministry Social Justice Intern

Let’s play a word association game. Ready? When I say “Seattle,” you list the first things you think of. Ok. Seattle. Space Needle. Rain. Housing crisis.

It’s not as though the need is new—this city has long been lacking in sufficient access to affordable housing. Residents have voted to fund more low-cost units since 1981, and even though those levies exceeded their initial goals, Seattle remains in the deep end of an affordable housing crisis. With another opportunity to make change coming up on the August 2nd primary ballot, many voters are hoping that this levy could be the one.

Like Portland, San Francisco, and other rapidly expanding cities, average rent prices in Seattle are much higher than can be met by people with modest incomes. Over 45,000 households in the city have to use more than half their wages to cover their housing costs. According to the Seattle city government, the average one bedroom apartment in town costs $1,544 per month, and two people would need to be earning $15/hour full time to sustain that housing cost burden. With Seattle’s minimum wage currently still less than that, there’s a noticeable gap that makes it pretty obvious: Seattle is up to its neck in a crisis, and desperately in need of housing that is more affordable.

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Image credit: Seattle Office of Housing

Enter Prop 1, the 2016 Seattle Housing Levy. It is meant to both replace and build upon the levy that is currently on its way out, and its basic stats are as follows: It is a tax increase that will raise $290 million for the city to direct towards affordable housing over the course of seven years, costing the average homeowner about $10.17/month. This money will be invested into three main sectors. First, it will create and preserve 2,150 affordable apartment units within Seattle. Secondly, it will reinvest in 350 apartments that already exist. Last but not least, it will support the operations of 510 affordable units.

This levy comes as public attention to housing and homelessness issues in our region has increased dramatically over the past year or two. In September 2014, Seattle City Council and the Mayor’s Office convened a diverse 28-member stakeholder group to develop a strategy around housing affordability and availability, resulting in the creation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) in July 2015—a list of more than sixty recommendations for how the city can legislatively address the affordable housing crisis.  A few months later, Mayor Murray and County Exective Dow Constantine jointly declared a state of emergency on homelessness in Seattle and King County.  Throughout, we have rarely seen a day when housing and/or homelessness have not made the news in our city.

This newest housing levy has made it onto the ballot during a time when advocates and laypeople are actively looking for solutions.

The Seattle Times wrote a compelling editorial this week discussing the levy, highlighting both the city’s intense need for a proposition like this one, as well as encouraging voters to keep demanding similar changes with less overhead costs. The message is clear—the voter say-so in this case is going to have a huge impact on what our city looks like in a decade. While primary elections often slip by unnoticed, this is an issue that as it grows, affects all Seattleites. Whether you check yes or no on your ballot, be sure you have a say in how our city handles its affordable housing emergency.

For more information on the 2016 Housing Levy, visit http://www.seattle.gov/housing/levy

To stay updated on HALA’s work, see http://www.seattle.gov/hala/track


Lena Beck headsotLena Beck is interning with the School of Theology and Ministry this summer. A rising senior at Seattle University, Lena will be graduating in 2017 with a BA in Humanities for Leadership, as well as a specialization in Journalism and English.  She originally became acquainted with the School of Theology and Ministry’s homelessness initiative while working as a writer for the university’s weekly newspaper, the Spectator.  After interviewing Program Manager Lisa in the spring of 2015, she felt pulled by the work and eventually asked to come aboard in an internship capacity.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Lena feels at home in the Pacific Northwest and is currently living in Capitol Hill, Seattle.  She loves hiking, reading and getting to know the Seattle community.

 

Advocacy Data and Reports Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness

#SeaHomeless | A Day of Focused Coverage

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.

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*Participating news outlets include: 

Crosscut

KCTS9.org

The Seattle Times

KING 5

Q13FOX

International Examiner

YES! Magazine

Real Change

KUOW

Seattle Weekly

Geekwire

Seattlish

PubliCola at Seattle Met

ParentMap

South Seattle Emerald

Seattle Channel

Seattle Globalist

State of Reform

The C is for Crank

Outside City Hall

Animal News Northwest

Seattle’s Child

Action Advocacy Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness

NEW Bel-Red Family Resource Center

People are experiencing homelessness in every zip code in King County, including the Eastside. During this year’s One Night Count, at least 245 individuals were found to be unsheltered in the Bellevue-Redmond area alone – and this does not include the hundreds living in shelters, transitional housing, and on the edge of homelessness.

The new Bel-Red Family Resource Center is a faith-based response to this crisis and is a beautiful example of the great things that can happen when churches heed the call to live out their faith and serve their neighbors and the wider community.


By Dawn Stenberg, Church Engagement Partnership Specialist at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission

Last year, Redmond city officials approached Evangelical Chinese Church (ECC) to ask if they would be willing to engage the issue of homelessness by opening up their building for use as a shelter.  ECC then began to ask themselves what more they could do to help their homeless neighbors.  They started exploring partnerships with area congregations and non-profit agencies to better understand the issue and how they could get involved.

ECC partnered with Creekside Covenant Church, Westminster Chapel, and Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission to explore how they could serve families experiencing homelessness.  They’ve been working together for nearly two years on opening the “BelRed Family Resource Center” or BRFRC and are ready to do a “soft launch” opening for the BRFRC.  Operations for a day center will begin in a facility owned by Creekside Covenant.  The long term hope is to operate a 24-hour shelter for single moms at a large house ECC owns on the property adjacent to Creekside Covenant Church.

In preparation to open this day center for single moms, the congregations involved have taken part in several training opportunities.  Working in partnership with Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, they hosted a Poverty Simulation Workshop at ECC.  More than 80 people attended up on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and we even had to turn some people away as the workshop reached capacity.  Other trainings offered were a Trauma Informed Care and Boundaries training at ECC that had about 180 in attendance.  Additionally, Westminster Chapel recently hosted a “Homelessness 101” workshop where people came and learned about the facts and myths about homelessness, and participated in an interactive training.

The congregations are very committed to serving families experiencing homelessness.  We hope to open the BRFRC at the end of May and have started recruiting volunteers from the congregations and the community.  For more information, and to see how you can get involved you can visit www.ugm.org/BelRed.

Faith and Family Homelessness Homeless Families Women

Addressing the Affordability Crisis: Homeownership and the Housing Continuum

Our latest guest blogger, Kathleen Hosfeld, is a current student  at the School of Theology and Ministry (pursuing a Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality) and the Executive Director of Seattle-based Homestead Community Land Trust. Like all community land trusts, Homestead is in the business of making communities more stable, sustainable, accessible and affordable.  Kathleen sees their work – “creating and preserving affordable homeownership opportunities for modest-income homebuyers in the Greater Seattle/Puget Sound area” – as an essential piece of a multidimensional and holistic response to the complex problems of homelessness and housing affordability/insecurity. It’s a way to both empower and stabilize individuals and families, and strengthen communities. Learn more about the what, how and why of their work at www.homesteadclt.org.


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By Kathleen Hosfeld, Executive Director, Homestead Community Land Trust

The facts are stark. As of February 2016, the Seattle Times reported that the median price of a home in Seattle had risen to almost $644,000 – a 24% increase over the previous year. To afford that home a person has to have an income in excess of $100,000 per year and a down payment of more than $100,000. That price is out of reach for 60% of the potential buyers in our community, where median income is closer to $75,000.

We live in a community where only the affluent have the opportunity to own their own home. As the Executive Director of a community land trust, I see teachers, non-profit employees, medical technicians, first responders and social workers denied this part of the American Dream. Modest-income people who try to own a home often buy more home than they can afford. Those who relocate for affordability often have longer commutes – transportation time and expense can bring their cost of living back to unaffordable levels, increase their environmental impact and take time away from their families.

Runaway real estate costs have created an affordability crisis that affects everyone. But for more than 100 years restrictive covenants, discriminatory federal policies, bank redlining and predatory lending practices have also disproportionately targeted minorities, creating more obstacles to homeownership.

Racial Wealth Gap (Pew 2013)
As a result, in addition to a growing wealth gap, there is an even wider racial wealth gap, with median-income white families having 13 times the wealth of median-income black families.  Homestead-CLT-logoCommunity land trusts like Homestead arose out of the Civil Rights era and the work of colleagues of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  They’ve shown that when communities work together, we can change these statistics and change lives for the better.

As we grapple with our crises of homelessness and housing affordability in the greater Seattle area, we must at the same time take a holistic view of the roles played by different forms of housing in lifting people’s financial circumstances. In Washington State we talk about the “housing continuum” – a progression of services that includes emergency housing, transitional and permanent supportive housing and subsidized rental. Each form of housing plays a critical role in creating a just community, where the most vulnerable are protected. And a holistic, systems view of housing recognizes that increasing access to affordable homeownership is a strategy that helps the whole continuum. Programs that support people in safely building equity reduce their risk of future housing instability.

Main image - We make it possible

Photo credit: HomesteadCLT.org

Alyssa’s story provides a great example. Six years ago, Alyssa was a single mother struggling with an unsympathetic landlord who refused to address mold issues that affected the health of her children. Alyssa had significant financial and credit issues. By working with Homestead staff over time, she was able to clean up her financial issues and in 2015 she bought a single-family home in West Seattle, close to bus lines, schools and grocery stores.

Without this opportunity, families like Alyssa’s could easily end up on the street. The changes that Alyssa made in her life to prepare for homeownership, combined with an affordable mortgage and a consistent housing payment give her and her family opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.

As I write this, the Washington State legislature is considering increasing the funding available to organizations like Homestead that make homeownership a reality for modest income people. People in Seattle are now being invited to discuss the Mayor’s proposal for renewal of our housing levy.  As you exercise your civic voice, consider the important role that access to homeownership plays in creating inclusive and equitable communities.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  1. LEARN how you and your faith community can partner with Homestead Community Land Trust to make homeownership possible for modest income families. Contact Homestead CLT at 206-323-1227 Ext 113 and speak to Kathleen Hosfeld for more information.
  2. WATCH 99 Homes, a 2015 film that explores the brutality of the Great Recession housing crisis.
  3. DISCUSS: Homeownership – its role in an inclusive, equitable community. Free panel discussion on Thursday, March 24, 6-8:00pm, Learn more and register here→
  4. ADVOCATE! Write letters to your elected officials, send Letters to the Editor at your local paper and talk to others about the need for affordable housing options and the structural causes of poverty and homelessness.

Sign up to get Action Alerts on social service and housing policy and budget issues from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance at wliha.org; Firesteel – YWCA at firesteelwa.org; and the Housing Development Consortium (Seattle and King County) at housingconsortium.org.

Data and Reports Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness

Shared Brokenness: A Reflection on “Nourish” and the One Night Count

FEBRUARY-NOURISH-CALENDARThis academic year, we at the School of Theology and Ministry are taking time each month to reflect on a theme as a learning community. Every month, a faculty or staff member offers up a personal reflection, exploring how that month’s theme applies to their life and work. (See here for an overview of these themes, which will also be highlighted in each month’s school e-newsletter.)→

The theme for our school community this February 2016 is “Nourish.” We choose to unite. We choose to nourish body, mind and spirit.

When I was invited to offer a reflection on this theme, I felt compelled to share my recent experience with the One Night Count in King County, and reflect on the personal and systemic implications of human brokenness, connection and compassion.


By Hannah Hunthausen, Program Coordinator, School of Theology and Ministry (Originally published 2/2/16 on the School of Theology and Ministry website)

Last Friday morning, around 4:00am, my flashlight roved over the park grounds and rested briefly on a human figure bundled up on the ground beneath a picnic shelter. I stared for a moment before turning out my light, and the image burned behind my eyes. A sharp pit gnawed at my stomach as we made a note and moved on.

It was the 2016 One Night Count of homeless people in King County, and our team had already seen and counted several people sleeping in their cars in grocery store parking lots and next to auto-repair shops (an all-too-common sight in neighborhoods like Ballard, SODO, and along sections of Aurora, where folks try to find a place to park where they won’t be harassed, disturbed, or ticketed).

One Night Count 2016 - 3

January 29, 2016, One Night Count in King County. Photo credit: Susan Fried, The Skanner News Group.

But it was the individual in the park who jarred and haunted me. There was something about that lonely figure in the still, silent night that magnified anew the raw human tragedy of homelessness. There – a fellow human being, totally alone, isolated and vulnerable on the cold hard ground of a deserted park in the wee hours of the morning.

It was overwhelming.

Where was his mother? Is she out there somewhere worrying about her son? Does this person in the sleeping bag have friends to share her dreams and fears with, laugh with, and call on when she needs help? What gets him or her up in the morning and through each day? And what must it be like to try to find rest and safety alone in the open air on a cold January night?

When the numbers were announced a few hours later, I found out that he or she was one of 4,505 people sleeping out of doors in our county (a 19% increase from last year’s count).

Now, a few days later, I continue to reflect on what it says about our society, our communities and our neighborhoods that we allow our neighbors – siblings, parents, children, grandparents – to sleep in their cars, on the street, under bridges, in shelters, and in places where they can’t find the peace, safety and stability of “home.”

Homelessness is not just about a lack of housing and resources, or about bad choices or tough luck. I believe it’s a symptom of many layers of brokenness – the brokenness of a society that doesn’t ensure and provide for the wellbeing of all of its people, the brokenness among different groups and communities who don’t communicate with or adequately support one another, the brokenness of modern life that simultaneously connects us yet stymies and weakens social bonds, and the brokenness in each of us that prevents us from living fully into our humanness and compassion for each other.

One Night Count 2016 - 2

Photo Credit: Susan Fried, The Skanner News Group.

Nourishing and Flourishing

When I was invited to reflect on the word “nourish,” this pervasive brokenness that allows for social ills like homelessness came immediately to mind. The way I see it, homelessness is a symptom of various forms of malnourishment – and we humans need nourishing well beyond the biological.

I like to think of “nourishing” and the concept of “flourishing” together. These words conjure up a vision of the “good life,” speaking to the things that sustain human life and make it meaningful and whole.

We are, after all, social, relational, material and spiritual beings who can only truly flourish if we nourish mind, body, and spirit–in ourselves and in others.

I was reminded recently of the analogy of the oxygen mask in the airplane to explain the concept of self-care. The idea is that you need to make sure you’ve taken care of yourself before you can successfully take care of others.

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For my part, I’ve been working a lot more on self-care this year and I’ve noticed it slowly transforming my ability and capacity to be present to others and to seek and do more of what I find meaningful in this world. I’m about halfway through a nine-month long Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life retreat – nine months of making time and space for spiritual nourishment each day and actively seeking and finding God in all things. By taking this time for myself and for my relationship with God, I’ve opened up new spaces in myself for others.

One of the places I find God most often is in the faces, words and actions of the people in my life – in my fiancé, friends, family, the people I work with and the people I meet on the street. Ironically, I’m holed away in my office while writing this, but it’s true that my days are most enriched and light-filled when I’m intentional about making more time to nurture the relationships in my life, from a conversation with a coworker about their child to a couple of extra minutes talking about weather and politics with a Real Change vendor.

I think if we all took a little more time to nourish ourselves and our relationships with others, we just might be able to acknowledge, move beyond and maybe even heal some of our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world.

I saw a thought-provoking video recently on YouTube called “Everything We Think We Know About Addiction is Wrong.” (You can also watch the original TED Talk on the topic, here.) The video reviews many of the things I’ve already mentioned–that we are innately social beings who crave relationships and interaction with one another and are most fulfilled when we are nourishing healthy connections with others. The narrator explains that when we are deprived of these connections because we are “traumatized, isolated, or beaten down by life” we turn to other things to fill the void – it might be drugs or alcohol, or it might be our smartphone, video games, or gambling. Hence, the video’s moral: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

We are all broken in our own ways. In spite of and because of this, we all need connection, and are deserving of love, mercy, and justice.

JustMercy_BookCover.pngI just finished reading, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson, and his are the words that sparked my ruminations on brokenness. I want to leave you with his words now:

I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity. (Stevenson, p. 289)

HH_HHAD2015.jpgIf we’re going to bring about a more just and humane world and end homelessness, we need to embrace and engage the brokenness at its root. Then, together, and from a place of compassion and love, we can go on to nourish and build the healing relationships and systems that will transform the world.

If you’re interested in learning and doing more, watch this great video by All Home and be part of the community (our community) that’s working to end homelessness!

All Home Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness School of Theology & Ministry

Moving From Fear to “Us”

Meet Luke! Luke is doing a year of service through Serve Seattle and is currently interning with the Faith & Family Homelessness team at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. In the piece below, he shares about the evolution of his perspectives on homelessness and the journey that brought him to Seattle and to us at the School of Theology and Ministry!


Luke headshot

By Luke Hoffmaster, Serve Seattle Intern

I remember walking through downtown Chicago with my parents when I was young. Covering my mouth and nose to avoid the smell of smoke, I was deathly afraid we’d be mugged or hurt. Walking past people slumped against buildings holding signs I thought to myself, Those signs must be lies. I thought they were lying in wait for us to notice them so that they could spring up and steal whatever we had.

I was afraid. I didn’t understand.

That was my first experience with homelessness, and I don’t think my reaction was unique. My thoughts and fears were a product of the culture  we live in, where the homeless are so often demonized and simply ignored. One could perhaps make the argument that I was a very ‘jumpy’ child, or that the fear of the unknown that accompanies youth was to blame; but it was more than that. My reaction was emblematic of the way much of American society fears that which it does not understand.

It wasn’t until the summer of my junior year in high school that I was exposed to a differing — and ultimately more accurate — viewpoint. I had the opportunity to go on an urban mission trip to Los Angeles with the youth group at my church. I wasn’t very involved in my church at the time, but my parents pushed me to go and the trip ended up being transformative.

The moment when my walls were ripped down and the veil was torn away was profound. We were doing a brief outreach/scavenger hunt activity in groups of four or five, and the first thing my group did was talk to someone sitting on a bench in a plaza. Until then, I had never taken the time to dialogue with someone experiencing homelessness. I was afraid. To my surprise, he was just like you or me. He had his own passions, interests, and beliefs. He wasn’t going to lunge at us to hurt us or rob us. He was just a person. He was human.

Being afraid was appropriate, but I realize now I should have been afraid for a very different reason. The realization was a harrowing one, because the implications were immense. If it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone. Humans were sleeping outside – humans with opinions, passions, ambitions… And yet, society walked by without so much as a cursory glance. Where was the humanity in that?

The L.A. experience was amazing, but after coming down off of the ‘mission high’ I was left without a clear direction for what to do about these newfound truths, and such concerns were quickly buried by matters of college plans and my future as I began my senior year. Ultimately, I decided to shelve college until I was ready, and, without any real plans for this year, I felt lost.

But then, over this past summer, I had the opportunity to participate in a six week program called Serve Seattle. I had signed up for it because I had no plans for the summer, and I figured it would be a great first step into independence — seeing as how it was a long ways away from my home of Wisconsin, and I had never been away from home for more than a week. I had no idea what I was really getting into, and no idea how much that decision would alter the course of the path I was on.

Serve Seattle House

The Serve Seattle House in Capitol Hill. Photo Credit: Rae Love

Serve Seattle’s summer intensive was a six week program focusing on intentional community, biblical discipleship, and selfless service. Over the course of the program I was able to directly serve with the homeless population of Seattle, and it was a chance to deepen my understanding of the issue and those affected by it. The program was transformative for me, so much so that I decided to sign up and commit to the year-long program offered by Serve Seattle.

The opportunity to engage with the issue head-on, while also living in a welcoming and unique environment in a city half a country away from where I call home was one that I couldn’t pass up.

Not only is it a rare experience, but it’s a meaningful one. In a world that so often turns a blind eye, I am able to be immersed in a community fully pledged to meeting eyes and joining hands with the ignored, broken, and lost — because we acknowledge the truth that we are all broken in our own ways and we could easily be the ones slumped against that building or sleeping under that bridge. I was told over the summer by a guest at the Union Gospel Mission’s kitchen, “It’s not about me, it’s not about you — it’s about us.

It really is about us: us as a people. As brothers and sisters, the ones with and the ones without, it’s really just a matter of recognizing that there is no us and them. There is only us.


Luke just graduated from Waunakee High School in the state of Wisconsin. Living in Seattle for a year of service, he’s passionate about writing, helping others, and petting cats. He aspires to a degree in communications, and dreams of being a journalist and author. He is currently interning at the School of Theology and Ministry, working with the School’s Faith & Family Homelessness Project team.

Faith and Family Homelessness School of Theology & Ministry Social Justice Stereotypes