The Power of the People: 2015 Parliament of World Religions

If I’ve learned one thing over these many years of working on social justice issues it’s that no one person holds the solution. It’s the power of people – the more diverse the better – that forces change. In the blog post below, our partner – and friend – Sandy Whidley from Associated Ministries writes about  her “epiphany of sorts” at The Parliament of World Religions.

Hey Sandy, I’m in!

-Lisa Gustaveson, Program Manager

Spiritual Expansion: A Life-Changing Conference

Sandy Windley and Tibetan Buddhist Monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery

Sandy Windley with Tibetan Buddhist Monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery

By Sandy Windley, originally published on 11/13/15 by Associated Ministries

10,000 people representing 80 countries and 50 faith traditions…all under one roof for five days (five days of sheer bliss for me!).  The Parliament of World Religions holds its interfaith conference once every 6 years or so, this years’ gathering being held in Salt Lake City.  Their mission:  “The Parliament of the World’s Religions was created to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.”  Over the course of the conference, people of faith from all corners of the globe discussed and explored topics around Income Inequality, War/Hate/Violence, Climate Change and Emerging Leaders.  This conference included the first ever Inaugural Women’s Assembly, presenting speakers and dialogues around women’s issues around the globe.AdobeStock_42684509-[Converted]

Speakers, presentations and conversations in the hallways and over langar lunch all pointed to one question:  how can people of faith create the change that is needed in the world, working TOGETHER to achieve better and sustainable living for all beings on the planet?  The earth and the beings living on it are at a crucial point in time.  Change must happen, and people have to work together, in harmony, to bring change to fruition.

Being in community with 10,000 diverse peoples over the course of five days, a moment arrived (an epiphany of sorts) when I realized with all my heart that it was true…we really could do this.  We really could stand arm in arm, differences embraced, and stand up as one people to do what is right and imperative.  The power of an individual’s good intention and action is amazing, but standing together, bringing our unique perspectives and energies, now that is where the momentum for global change lives.  Start at home in your local communities, embracing all diversity and faith traditions, and expand that love and momentum outward.

To be among 10,000 people from 80 countries and 50 faith traditions, and to feel the amount of love between people and their willingness and desire to learn more about one another and how our traditions can work together to create a better world…words can’t even explain it.  Eutopia…that’s what comes to mind.  I received a little piece, a little insight, into what this world could be like.  That it’s do-able.  Really do-able.  With work, persistence, truth, honor…and faith.  I’m in.  Are you?

Events Faith and Family Homelessness Faith-based Advocacy Social Justice

Nativity House: A Home of Humility and Grace


Nativity House Blessing & Dedication, June 4th, 2015. Photo Credit: Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.

A few weeks ago, on Thursday, June 4th, we had the privilege of attending the blessing and dedication of the new Nativity House in Tacoma. Nativity House, which has been offering homeless individuals hospitality and a safe space out of the elements and off of the street since 1979, recently transformed into what is now the largest and most comprehensive facility serving homeless and low-income adults in Pierce County.

The new Nativity House is home to services previously offered by three separate programs at three separate locations: Hospitality Kitchen, Nativity House, and Tacoma Avenue Shelter. The new location provides everything from hot meals, day shelter, and overnight shelter, to mental health and chemical dependency assessments and referrals, pathways to permanent housing, job training, and access to mainstream public benefits like Medicare and SSI. In addition, the Nativity House Apartments (just above the day shelter) offer 50 units of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless single adults with disabilities.

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Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Deacon Tom O’Loughlin at the Blessing and Dedication of the new space, June 4, 2015. Photo Credit: Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.

A couple of hundred people attended the building dedication on a beautiful June day and had the opportunity to tour the facilities after a program and blessing presided over by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, Mike Tucci, Sr., chairman of the capital campaign for the Nativity House, and Denny Hunthausen, Director of Catholic Community Services Southwest. It was moving celebration of a sacred space that provides housing, hospitality, and hope to those living on the margins.

Tom O’Loughlin, a public school teacher and deacon in the Catholic Church, has volunteered at CCS shelters for years. Five years ago, he began an internship at Catholic Community Services’ Tacoma Avenue Shelter as part of his formation to become a deacon, and he never stopped. Tom now works at Nativity House once a week. He participated in the recent dedication of the new building and reflects on his experience with Nativity House and its community below, speaking to the importance of building relationships of trust and companionship.

By Tom O’Loughlin


Nativity House Chapel. Photo Credit: Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.

Nativity House is a home of humility and grace. People arrive as they are, often feeling abandoned and alienated from their dreams of better options. Something, or often, many things have gone wrong in their lives, and they seek a place to recover, to settle, to reconnect – to do more than simply survive. Nativity House, like all programs that serve the homeless, seeks to provide skills and support to help all reach their dreams.

Some of the best moments are hearing the stories of pain, loss, and hope that some of the guests share. It takes time and trust for those stories to unfold. The stories are sacred and, even though everyone has them, only some will share them over time. Others are hesitant to share their stories because they don’t want that part of their life known or they don’t want to be betrayed as they’ve experienced all too often before.

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Nativity House Chapel. Photo Credit: Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.

The grace is in the listening: listening with an attitude of openness to what the person shares and who the person is. It’s not judging what is shared or who is sharing. It’s realizing that I can’t fully understand what’s been experienced by someone on their journey with homelessness, but I can be there as a person of support and care.

Relationships of trust are built through knowing guests’ names, ribbing guests’ favorite sports teams or players, laughing through different incidents that happen at the shelter or elsewhere, and grieving with others during struggles, sickness, injury, or death.

A few years ago one of the older guests who had been sick for a while died on the street. His body had shown signs of shutting down for a while; he had been in and out of the hospital a number of times. He was a friend of some at the shelter but no one was doing a memorial or service for him. I spoke with some of his friends and we held a memorial service for him at the Hospitality Kitchen. Several of his friends and CCS staff showed up to remember and honor him. People shared humorous and moving stories about how they knew him. We had some quiet time for prayer, read aloud some readings that seemed to capture his spirit, and joined in some music. It was a sacred moment to recognize the gift of his life and the gifts of all lives at the shelter.

Tom O’Loughlin is a public school teacher in Port Orchard. He’s married to Jennifer and they have three wonderful grown children. He is a deacon at St. Theresa’s Church in Federal Way. His family also attends their home parish, St. Leo Church, next to Nativity House in Tacoma. Tom received a Masters in Pastoral Ministry from the Seattle U ITS program in 1986-1987.

Events Faith and Family Homelessness Rapid Rehousing Social Justice

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


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.


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 (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 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

Is the Golden Rule the Key to Ending Homelessness?

Golden RuleThe 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.

  1. Learn more about the One Home Campaign
  2. Invite all the landlords you know to the Landlord Appreciation Reception (below) where they’ll learn more about the One Home Campaign.
  3. 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.

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. 

Download: PDF version of the Landlord Appreciation Event Invitation   ♦Landlord Appreciation Event Poster for your bulletin board ♦ JPEG Notice (also in GIF format) for your congregation bulletin

*Note: we can provide printed copies for you upon request: Email gustavel@seattleu.eduLandlord Appreciation Reception Flyer (5-6-15)

RSVP by May 1st to Michelle Valdez at or fill out the form below

One Home: A Landlord Partnership to End Homelessness, One Unit at a Time

Citizen Events Faith and Family Homelessness

One Night in a Car, Our Family’s Story

One Night In A Car

Image courtesy of Helping Hand House, Puyallup WA.

Diane is a devoted wife, mother of two daughters and grandmother of three. She and her husband are entrepreneurs and have owned their own business for over 30 years. Diane has participated in 60-mile cancer walks, Kiwanis, Lions, and has volunteered with St Jude’s and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She is a passionate advocate for better programs to prevent and eliminate family homelessness.

This is her family’s story.

One Night in a Car

Over the past year I’ve dreamt of being involved in an event where others can learn what it is like, just for one night, to sleep in your car. If nothing else, the event would increase community awareness around the many children who call the family car home. These kids wake up in their car and head off to school to return to a car that may or may not be in the same place. My family has first-hand experience with homelessness, and I believe it’s important that we join together to help homeless families move out of their cars and into permanent, affordable housing.

Inspired in part by my family’s story, One Night in a Car is a unique opportunity to taste the reality lived by hundreds of school-aged kids across east Pierce County – and the means to change it. More than an experience, One Night will directly impact kids’ lives in the context of community. Partner organizations have assembled a one-of-a-kind experience – a thought-provoking simulation of family poverty with a twist. Funds raised will directly help families out of homelessness. PLEASE join us Friday to Saturday, Aug. 22-23, at Meridian Habitat Park in Puyallup. Learn more and register at

Our Story

Many years ago, a CEO at a local mission told me that whenever you see a homeless person panhandling, he or she is there by choice because there are plenty of programs for people experiencing homelessness. With this understanding, though my husband and I have always been involved in our community, I never considered volunteering for any organizations that served the homeless – it just didn’t hit home for me.

Florida Outreach Program Helps Homeless Families Cope

Photo courtesy of Seattle University School of Theology & Ministry

 A year ago everything changed; our youngest daughter, a single mom with three children, became homeless. She had been working as a medical administrative assistant for more than five years when she became ill. Not able to work, she tried taking a two-week unpaid leave of absence. After two weeks, she still couldn’t work, so she lost her job. Without pay, she lost her home and eventually lost her car. Like many families, we didn’t have the space or resources to bring them into our home. On Mother’s Day 2013, I helped her pack up her stuff, reassuring her that I had learned that if we call 211 they would be able to help us.

Citizen Ending Homelessness Events Faith and Family Homelessness Homeless Families Homelessness Data Women

Hack to End Homelessness: Tiana’s Take (New Video)

Posted June 19, 2014 by Catherine Hinrichsen for Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness

What was the role of Seattle University faculty, students and staff in the Hack to End Homelessness? They were planners, community liaisons, hackers and volunteers.  This awesome new video by our project assistant, Tiana Quitigua, tells the stories of the many folks in red at the Hackathon.

(Note: Watch for Faith and Family Homelessness staff Hannah Hunthausen and Lisa Gustaveson in the film!)

Tiana is one of the stellar Seattle U students graduating this weekend, and this is one of her final projects for us.  Thank you, Tiana, for capturing this experience and telling it from the SU perspective, and for all your great work for us.

For more about the Hackathon, read our recap.

Art for Social Change Citizen Ending Homelessness Events Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness Data Project on Family Homelessness Seattle U Social Justice Stereotypes

StoryCorps and Gates Foundation Launch “Finding Our Way” Project

By Catherine Hinrichsen, Program Manager for Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness

Every Friday morning at around 7:30 a.m., millions of people around the country are entranced by a weekly public radio segment in which everyday Americans tell the stories of their lives.  It’s the beloved StoryCorps, and it’s coming to our region this summer to find stories about families who have experienced homelessness. StoryCorps Tierra Jackson John HoranCaption: One of the most memorable StoryCorps segments for the family homelessness community is the story of Tierra Jackson, who with her former principal John Horan reflected on what it was like to be homeless in high school.

While only about 50 of its stories per year make it onto National Public Radio, StoryCorps has actually recorded more than 50,000 stories in its 10 years. The stories are archived in the Library of Congress.

This July and August, people in Western Washington who have experienced family homelessness will be able to tell their own stories as part of the new StoryCorps project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories about Family Homelessness.”

The project is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who asked our Project on Family Homelessness to serve as the local coordinator.  We’ll be working with local host partners to find stories from among their current and recent clients, and also reaching out to the public to find people who have experienced family homelessness in their past.

The stories will also be available for our advocacy efforts to end family homelessness in Washington state.  Find out how service providers can help us find the stories and use them to advocate.

How can stories help end family homelessness? Firesteel explains.

Program Kickoff June 3

Nearly 150 community members gathered at the Gates Foundation Visitor Center for the project launch Tuesday night, June 3, to find out how to become part of this new advocacy initiative.

The purpose of “Finding Our Way” is to develop a collection of up to 90 personal stories about families in our community who have experienced homelessness.  StoryCorps will work with local host partners YWCA Seattle ǀ King ǀ Snohomish and Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, along with Seattle University, to recruit participants for 40-minute recordings this summer.

In his welcome, senior program officer Kollin Min of the Gates Foundation mentioned a relevant quote from Bill Gates, Sr. on one of the walls of the Visitor Center: Though data drives results reporting, “These numbers are our neighbors.”

“These data points reflect the experiences of people like us through storytelling,” Kollin said.

084june 03, 2014_gatesfoundation_storycorp_hi_res

Caption: Kollin Min, a StoryCorps fan, said the moving stories are known to cause reactions ranging from sniffling to bawling. Some, however, are also good for a laugh.

Guests were able to meet the main project crew from StoryCorps — Michelle Bova, Abby Lesnick and producer Eve Claxton.  On her first visit to the region in late April, Eve began recording at United Way of King County‘s Community Resource Exchange April 30 and will lead the recording process this summer.

StoryCorps Launch SC with CCS

Caption: StoryCorps staff with the CCS team.  L-R: Michelle Bova and Eve Claxton of StoryCorps; Jonathan Ross, Denny Hunthausen, Tanya Mendenhall and Alan Brown of CCS. 

During the overview, Abby said the purpose of StoryCorps is to give voice to the voiceless and that its audio-only format is something that founder David Isay strongly believes in.

Continue reading on the SU Project on Family Homelessness blog→

Art for Social Change Citizen Ending Homelessness Events Faith and Family Homelessness Gates Foundation Homeless Families Homelessness Project on Family Homelessness Seattle U