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.

seattle housing levy

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.

Copy of #SEAHomeless.png

*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

Making Change through Community: An Organizer’s Story

Our guest blogger Julia Moen, an organizer for The Sound Alliance, is working to inform the community about King County’s Proposition 1 or “Best Starts for Kids”  which aims to improve the health and well-being of children, youth, families, and communities in King County by investing in prevention and early intervention.

Julia shares how her personal experience of supportive communities led her to become a community organizer and speaks to the importance of building relational trust and uniting across our various institutional and social divisions to call out for change. 

Contact Julia with any questions about Best Starts for Kids:

Julia Moen
Organizer, Sound Alliance
julia@soundorganizing.org
940-595-1931


Making Change through Community

 By Julia Moen

Throughout my life the communities I have been a part of offered me support, challenged me to grow, and shaped my identity.

17585334183_74a145c884_oWhen I was about nine years old, my mom got really sick and no one could figure out what was wrong. It turned out that something inside her ear was upsetting her balance. She ended up hospitalized for almost a month and spent about six months after recovering with a walker. Two of my aunts flew to Texas to support us, but because we lived far away from extended family, it was our church community that offered the most day-to-day support. During the months of my mom’s recovery, the small group of women from my mom’s spirituality group provided my family material support, bringing food and carting me around to school and various activities.

As I grew up, our church community also offered me the safe space I needed to grow and question. For most of my childhood I attended my mom’s Wednesday night spirituality group, often bringing toys and books and playing quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) in the corner. At the same time I was empowered to think deeply about my own faith identity, to ask questions, and to make my own decisions about what living out my Catholic faith would mean.

During high school, I became even more involved in my church and began participating in a yearly retreat that created a tight-knit group of teens. High school was a vulnerable time for many of us and we supported one another through mundane drama and teenage angst as well as heavy personal experiences and challenges. Some of my best friends and deepest relationships came from this group.

These are just some of the communities I have been blessed to have been a part of. Other communities in my life have also supported me emotionally and materially and allowed me to be in communion with people who knew to hold and encourage me when I needed. My communities have challenged to be my best self.

Having a deep respect for community building, and having learned what people can accomplish when they work together drove me to my current work as an organizer with the Sound Alliance. The Sound Alliance serves as a vehicle for 30 faith, labor, education, and community organizations to act together in the public arena for the Common Good. Through this work, I have reflected on the relationships and trust I experienced in various communities in my life and have seen how that “relational trust” can be cultivated across diverse institutions. It is rewarding to build relationships and a sense of community on a broad level where we are also building power to take action. I have learned that when people come together, bringing their own unique experiences and institutional values and sharing with one another, every-day people can create meaningful change.

The Alliance is non-partisan and multi-issue and the issues we take on come from the stories, experiences, and concerns of our members. As an Alliance, we work on issues that cut across our institutions. When we did a listening campaign in January—holding conversations after church, in cottage meetings held in peoples’ homes, union halls, and classrooms—we heard issues around mental health, homelessness, barriers to kids’ ability to learn and reach their full potential in classrooms, and access to health care.

When we are isolated in our own communities, and especially when isolated outside of community, it can be difficult to imagine changing these immense problems. As an Alliance, our leaders come together to research and take action in concrete and winnable ways. Together we have immense power, and together we can encourage one another to have hope.

Our listening and research led to our current work around Best Starts for Kids. University students, faith leaders, school teachers, and union members are teaming up to have conversations in churches, schools, and unions about the powerful impact we believe this levy can have. It has been inspiring to hear so many peoples’ stories about how they have been touched by the challenges that this levy will put money toward preventing and alleviating, such as household mental illness and substance abuse, chronic disease, incarceration and homelessness.

Our members come together in their own communities—churches, unions, community organizations—and then build community across these institutions. By building this power, member institutions can work to change the issues they care deeply about.  

If you are interested in learning more about the Sound Alliance, or in hosting a briefing about Best Starts for Kids, contact me!

Photo/Art Credit (Blog Header): Mia Smith

Action Advocacy Faith and Family Homelessness Faith-based Advocacy

Social Media Advocacy: Whose Story Is It Anyway?

In case you missed it, we’re reposting recent Seattle U grad Paige McAdams’ blog post on the importance of filtering your good intentions through a critical lens when approaching social media advocacy. She critiques the recent  video sensation “The Homeless Read Mean Tweets,” questioning the ethics and effectiveness of a public service announcement that exploits vulnerable individuals’ suffering without giving these same individuals agency in sharing their narrative and their truth.

Paige also interviewed Rex Hohlbein, executive director of Facing Homelessness. The nonprofit’s Facebook page “Homeless in Seattle” has more than 17,000 followers and their “Just Say Hello” campaign has popped up all over the city, with its simple but compelling message:

“We can begin by simply acknowledging those suffering, trusting that we are all the same, all wanting to love and be loved. When we take the time to listen to another person’s journey, we begin the process of turning a stranger into a friend and opening our compassion for another human being” (from Facing Homelessness’s “Community” page).

Paige applauds Rex and Facing Homelessness’s compassionate and transparent approach to advocacy through partnership and solidarity with those experiencing homelessness as a model for all social justice advocacy.

Read the piece to learn more, and join us next week, on Wednesday, June 24th, at 7:00 p.m., for a remarkable interactive art experience, “Portraits of Homelessness & Multi-Media Exhibition,” that features Rex Holhbein as its keynote. This community event is part of the 3-day Global Street Paper Summit, an international gathering of more than 120 journalists, entrepreneurs and activists from street papers in 22 countries, hosted by INSP and Real Change. 

For tickets and to learn more about the powerful art and stories being exhibited, go to http://ow.ly/OrGnC.

*Featured images above are from the Facing Homelessness Page, Homeless in Seattle’s “Just Say Hello” campaign, and the YouTube video “The Homeless Read Mean Tweets,” respectively. 


Social Media Advocacy: Whose Story Is It Anyway? 

Written by Paige McAdam, project assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

Note: This post was originally published for Firesteel. Read the full post on Firesteel’s blog.

Social media has played a huge role in activism geared at ending homelessness. Sometimes it can spur us to action. Other times, it backfires. In fact, that was my reaction to the recent social media sensation, “The Homeless Read Mean Tweets.”

This video was inspired by Jimmy Kimmel’s popular “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” segment. In thisalternate version, created by homeless advocacy organization Raise the Roof, people who are either currently experiencing homelessness or who have experienced homelessness in the past read “mean tweets” about homelessness.

But what can we learn from this? What’s the right way to tell stories of homelessness?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Traditional mainstream news outlets often perpetuate the negative stereotypes associated with homelessness, and as my colleague Lindsey Habenicht found in her research on social media and homelessness, many people are now looking to social media as an unfiltered news source. Social media is in a unique position to advocate for ending homelessness in the information age, and many organizations have begun to use this opportunity. But there’s a right and wrong way to do it.

To me, the Mean Tweets video is the wrong way.

Even before I hit “play” on this video, there were knots in my stomach. Something about the entire premise just didn’t sit well with me, and as I watched, it only got worse.

While the video itself is only 1 minute and 20 seconds long, it dragged on agonizingly slowly. The utter devastation on the people’s faces as they read the tweets immediately brought me to tears. All I could think about was the blatant pain in the voices and eyes of these individuals who are already experiencing such a huge amount of personal hardship.

The first time I watched it, I had to stop halfway through and compose myself. The second time I watched it, I did not make it all the way through and had to turn it off.

As an advocate with a well informed perspective on the causes and issues surrounding homelessness, I felt that the tweets read by these individuals began to chip away at my belief in humanity. They were not simply mean. They were even beyond what I feel comfortable calling cruelty.

With tears in my eyes, I became determined to learn more about the ways in which advocacy can take a wrong turn.

THE BIG PICTURE AND THE BURDEN OF EDUCATION

While well intentioned, this PSA demonstrates a few issues beyond just my own emotional reactions.

First, when celebrities read mean tweets, they are reading something solely about themselves. They are not being relegated to a faceless mass of other individuals.

For many experiencing homelessness, these messages are one more reminder of the collective dehumanization that happens daily. Rather than being individuals experiencing homelessness, they are “homeless people” or worse, “the homeless,” who are walked by and looked away from every day with assumptions made about their moral character.

Secondly, the pain evident in the voices and faces of the people in the PSA strikes me as a result of being exposed to unnecessary cruelty for the benefit of attempting to educate those who treat them as sub-human on a day-to-day basis. Why does the task of humanization land on those who have been most dehumanized?

SHOCK VALUE OR PROGRESS?

The homeless read mean tweets screenshot (for Paiges 6-17-15 post)

A screenshot captured after Paul reads a “mean tweet” for the camera. Taken from YouTube.

As Perry Firth so memorably wrote, studies show that the part of the brain which empathizes and recognizes others as human does not register those that are most marginalized (particularly people who are homeless or struggling with addiction).

Is an 80-second PSA going to change the wiring of the human brain in such a way that leads to real change each time a person walks by someone who is homeless?For me, the video holds a stronger element of shock value than it does legitimate progress.

The video is heartbreaking, and the responses to it on the Internet are largely positive, lauding it as a progressive social move. Apparently, the shock value of the video is effective; as of today, the video has more than 1.3 million views on YouTube since its posting in March of this year.

The traction that it gained in such a short period of time is staggering, but like any media, the video must be viewed through a critical lens. It allows us to examine bigger questions around advocacy:

  • How do we truly fight something so deeply ingrained in the social aspects of our psychology?
  • Is it worth risking putting a person through pain in order to advocate on their behalf?
  • And most importantly, who is responsible for telling their stories?

THE IMPORTANCE OF INTENTION

I recently wrote a post regarding the power of storytelling and the exemplary April community showcase with The Moth. Storytelling provides an opportunity for individuals to own the agency of their own narratives—but often, this agency can be lost in cyberspace with the widespread use of social media.

When we can tell stories in 140 characters or less, click share on any photograph and have it viewed by hundreds of our friends, and upload just about anything we want on Instagram, issues of autonomy and agency need to be examined.

Leroy Ambrose portrait (for Paige's 6-17-15 post) - Facing Homelessness

A portrait of Leroy Ambrose from his profile on Facing Homelessness.

That is not to say that all social media advocacy removes agency from marginalized populations. Facing Homelessness is the new nonprofit organization founded by the creator of Homeless in Seattle, a Facebook page that introduces stories of individuals and allows for specific donations based on the immediate needs of those individuals.

Additionally, the Facing Homelessness community page features dozens of portraits of individuals experiencing homelessness. To read a person’s story, simply click on their photograph.

LESSONS FROM “HOMELESS IN SEATTLE”

I spoke with Rex Hohlbein, executive director of Homeless in Seattle, about how his organization conducts online advocacy. Homeless in Seattle is unique in that most of its participants approach them hoping to meet specific needs from benevolent individuals who might see their photo and request online.

According to Rex, the biggest thing to look for in any kind of advocacy is intention. If the intention comes from a grounded place and comes from love, the individual being affected by it should be able to tell. 

Continue reading on Firesteel→

Advocacy Art for Social Change Firesteel Project on Family Homelessness

“If you want to go far, go together”: Snohomish County Affordable Housing Conference

blind-men-and-the-elephant-parable

The ancient story of the blind men and the elephant still has many lessons for us today.

Do you know the story of the blind men and the elephant? It’s an old parable from India that speaks to the nature of truth and the limits of personal perspectives. It goes something like this: six blind men want to learn what an elephant is like, having never seen one. So, they approach an elephant and each touches a part of the animal, but only that one part (i.e. one feels the trunk, another a tusk, another a leg, another the tail, etc.). When they report back, they find that they are in complete disagreement as to what an elephant is. One says it’s like a snake, another like a spear, another like a pillar, and so on. The moral: each of our perspectives is valid (and warrants respect), but no one has a complete grasp of or monopoly on the truth. We can learn from one another, and only together, by integrating our perspectives, can we come closer to the truth.

A little over a week ago, Lisa and I attended Homelessness & Hope: A One-day Affordable Housing Conference in Everett, and Captain John DeRousse of the Everett Police Department led the morning panel discussion with this parable. And what a fitting parable it was! In the world of homeless services, housing and advocacy, there are many such truths – we need more shelter beds, we need more affordable housing, we need to house homeless families more quickly, we need better mental health services, et cetera. And while each of these needs is very real, each is also just one part of the larger picture – none represents the complete solution in and of itself. Rather, we need to work simultaneously – and most importantly, cooperatively – from all of these different angles in order to fulfill our common goal of ending homelessness. As one speaker at the conference said, “complex struggles call for comprehensive responses.”

Some of these various responses were represented in the breakout sessions – from workshops on Housing First models like 1811 Eastlake, Homelessness and the Business Community, Landlord Engagement, and Local Ordinances that Work, to the success ofTiny House communities like Quixote Village, HMIS Data Dashboards & Tableau, a 2015 State Legistlative Session Review, and finally, a workshop on Engaging the Faith Community (with our very own Lisa Gustaveson, and Rev. Chris Boyer, Pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church). It was a rich and fruitful day of sharing lessons learned, best practices, and stories.

Lisa-presenting-in-SnoCo-(6-15-affordable-housing-conference)

Program Manager Lisa Gustaveson presenting at Homelessness and Hope: A One-Day Affordable Housing Conference in Everett on 6/5/15.

Some other takeaways from the conference include the following:

  • John Hull, Director of the Everett Gospel Mission’s Men’s Shelter and Day Center, encouraged us to reframe the way we talk about what constitutes “success” for our neighbors moving out of homelessness: “self-sufficiency” doesn’t exist, he says – all of us depend on others, after all, no matter our situation. Instead of self-sufficiency, the ultimate goal for people experiencing homelessness, and for all of us, should be to flourish and to thrive.
  • Middle class solutions don’t work for people in poverty. It’s important to be creative and to empower people who have or are experiencing poverty and homelessness to develop and contribute to solutions.
  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness in Snohomish County are people who have grown up around us – they’re our people, our neighbors, and we need to treat them that way. (Only 9% have come from outside of the county.)
  • Stories are incredibly powerful, motivating tools that keep us moving forward and remind us of why we do the work we do. Three amazingly courageous panelists shared their stories of abuse, addiction, homelessness, and heartbreak to a room full of service providers, policymakers and advocates. One of the panelists, Gina, a domestic violence victim who lost her children due to a meth addiction, is now working for the Snohomish YWCA, helping families in the child welfare system. Another panelist described his struggle with addiction and his brothers’ decision to lie about his involvement in a drug deal in order to save him because, unlike them, he didn’t have any felonies and “still had a good shot at life.” The last panelist shared her story of emigrating as a young mother from Africa to save her daughter from female genital mutilation and to save her family from retribution; she experienced horrible exploitation and psychological abuse once here, until she found help through Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, her current employer. We all felt privileged to have been allowed to share in these stories and bear witness to the tellers’ courage and resilience – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
Argelia-Grassfield-and-Gina-Enochs

Argelia Grassfield (left) interviewed Gina Enochs (right) for the StoryCorps Project, Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness

* An important note: One of the panelists, Gina Enochs, recorded her story as part of the StoryCorps project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness.” Gina’s story, and many others like hers are can be found at http://firesteelwa.org/storycorps/. Learn more about these stories and how you can use them here.

And finally, I’d like to share the wisdom of this African proverb, which Mary Anne Dillon (Sr. Regional Director for Snohomish County YWCA) shared with the group as a send-off:

If you want to go fast,

Go alone

If you want to go far,

Go together.


Things you can do:

  1. Listen to and share StoryCorps stories recorded in Snohomish County:
  1. Visit the Project on Family Homelessness’s webpage for more action items: StoryCorps and 10 Things You Can Do to End Family Homelessness

 

 

 

Advocacy Data and Reports Events Faith and Family Homelessness Housing First

Storytelling, Human Connection and Advocacy: Transforming Numbers into Faces

By Hannah Hunthausen, Program Coordinator, School of Theology and Ministry Faith & Family Homelessness Project

Often, when we talk about homelessness, we talk numbers. Numbers convey information powerfully and provoke instant (hopefully productive) outrage. Take this little taste of regional homelessness by the numbers: in January of this year, at least 3,772 people were living without shelter in King County; last school year, Washington state school districts identified 32,494 Washington students as homeless; and, as of this March, over 800 families were homeless in King County – on a waitlist for housing while living in emergency shelters or in places not meant for human habitation.

Affordable Housing in King CountyWhen we talk about the affordable housing crisis in our region, we consider the almost 300,000 households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing and the sad reality that a single parent would have to make over $27/hour in order to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in King County.

These numbers pack a punch. (The idea that over 30,000 children are homeless in our state is particularly distressing; more so when we consider research on the lasting effects of childhood trauma.) And yet, numbers don’t give us a face, a human to connect to. People experiencing homelessness might easily remain “the homeless” in our minds if we approach them exclusively through statistics and infographics. For those of us who have never experienced homelessness, they’re a group of people whose lives can seem remote and profoundly different from our own.

And data won’t tell us their stories. Numbers can’t force us to recognize and honor the human dignity of the grizzled guy with the cardboard sign on the side of the road or consider the day-to-day struggles of a single mother and daughter living in their car.

Lynie and Dinkus

Lynie and Dinkus sharing a moment of friendship on the bench by the canal. Photo Credit: Rex Hohlbein, Facing Homelessness

Our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness have been increasingly and systematically devalued and dehumanized in our society (see also), and, while data paints a picture, it can’t rebuild our lost human connection.

For that, we need stories.

As Paige McAdams wrote recently in a blog post for Firesteel, stories are bridges. They bridge the gaps between us – our real and perceived differences, but also our gaps in awareness and empathy. Storytelling allows all of us to enter into the reality of another person or group of people, if only for a moment. As we listen to or read about the personal experiences of others, our humanity recognizes the humanity of the tellers, and giving voice to a story can lend both the storyteller and her listeners incredible strength and agency. As Franklin Gilliard, a formerly homeless Tacoma husband and father, recently said at a community event celebrating the StoryCorps “Finding Our Way” project, “Giving people my story makes them stronger. They know that people can relate to them, and people are not always looking down.” Storytelling makes us feel closer to one another and gives us purpose.

Gilliards

Sherry and Franklin Gilliard. Photo: StoryCorps

Many of us who are advocates have felt this particularly strongly in the last few months. Powerful personal stories of experiences with homelessness have been in the air quite literally – streaming and playing on the airwaves of KUOW. It’s been a season of stories, first with The Moth’s “Home: Lost and Found” showcase in April, and more recently, at community events at the WA State Conference on Ending Homelessness in Tacoma and at the Gates Foundation celebrating the incredible StoryCorps project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness.

And stories like those of the participants in the StoryCorps and The Moth projects not only fill our hearts, they serve as powerful tools for advocacy. When you can share with a city council person or a legislator the story and challenges of someone who has experienced homelessness in their city or district, you give the startling data and statistics they already know a face. You humanize the issue(s) and begin to bridge those gaps.

Firesteel now has a website that puts this power at our fingertips. At firesteelwa.org/storycorps, advocates can access dozens of oral interviews recorded through the the StoryCorps “Finding Our Way” Project. Some have been edited down to 2 or 3 minutes, others exist only in their full 40-minute form. All can be accessed and used upon request and searched for by subject, key words, and by legislative district. Visit the site to learn more and to explore this incredible advocacy tool.

When we tell and listen to stories, we give faces to the numbers, and we come to find that people aren’t “the homeless” – they’re just people without homes. People who, like us, have a fundamental right to housing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Advocacy Faith and Family Homelessness Social Justice