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

To stay updated on HALA’s work, see

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.


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A Student Perspective: Homeless are Setting up Camp in Seattle

Seattle University sits in the center of the fifth fastest growing city in the country. We are also third in the nation for the number of people experiencing homelessness. Sadly, this gives our students plenty of opportunities to explore the crisis. Recently, we accompanied one student on a tour of Nickelsville to learn how encampments work, and if they are a solution.

(Originally posted in Seattle University’s student paper – The Spectator

By Lena Beck

Down on South Dearborn Street, a sign and pink picket fence marks the entrance into one of Seattle’s overlooked communities. Nickelsville is an encampment of tents and individual shelters packed onto a steep hill, a transitory home to homeless people and families in the area.

Last week, Seattle City Council, backed by Mayor Ed Murray, voted unanimously to allow three new tent encampments across Seattle. Each encampment is predicted to hold up to 100 people.

“The legislation passed unanimously,” wrote Councilmember Sally Clark in an email to the Spectator. “There was debate about studying potential locations in single family zones, but otherwise, all 9 members supported passage of the bill.”

City Council also passed two more measures which will allocate a total of $375,000 toward the improvement of certain resources for the homeless community. The funds should last a year.

According to Lisa Gustaveson, Program Manager of Seattle University’s Faith & Family Homelessness Project, it’s significant that the Seattle government is making these moves, because it shows acknowledgment of a problem that Seattle has been struggling to solve. But she is clear that installing new tent encampments is not a permanent solution.

The One Night Count this year found 3,772 people sleeping outside or in their cars—providing shelter for 300 of those people at any one time is not going to solve the problem, Gustaveson said.

Gustaveson added that these encampments should be considered a temporary solution—a transitory place where people can get the resources they need to move into real housing.

In other words, this should not be an attempt to solve Seattle’s homelessness problem by pushing the entire homeless population into one corner of the city.

“Warehousing people isn’t the way to solve homelessness; it’s affordable housing and services,” said Gustaveson.

“And so [tent encampments] can’t be a stand-alone solution.”

Right inside the pink picket fence of Nickelsville is a booth with an attendant. Once you sign in, you can walk between the wooden shelters and through to the outdoor cooking area. Those who ascend the steep hill can climb up to the top where the tent residents live.

One of Nickelsville’s longer-time residents is a man named Lee, who has been living there since July of last year. He said he was pleased with City Council’s decision to add more tent cities.

“I think it’s great because this place…it saves lives,” Lee said. “A lot of people that were on the street or don’t know how to handle themselves out there, a lot of them die.”

Lee has been saving money from his job at an IHOP in Aurora. He recently thought he was going to move into real housing but after filling out all of the paperwork, he was told that he didn’t actually qualify for the housing option because he made too much money. So he remains in Nickelsville.

A variety of people make up his neighbors, and they stay there for varying lengths of time.

“We have a couple of families; I live across the way from one,” Lee said. “Some people stay for a week or two, some people a month or two. Some people never leave.”

What he would like to see from future tent encampments is a multiplicity of available resources and improvements that will help to make these tent encampments the transitory spaces that they should be.

The next step, Gustaveson said, will be figuring out the budget.

“There’s no extra money laying around,” Gustaveson said. “Part of what they’re trying to do is divert some funds to help this, but that could possibly hurt somebody on the other end.”

According to Gustaveson, although this is not a permanent solution, it’s a big step forward. She said that it was public will that made this happen, and that people should continue to let their voices and desires be heard by Seattle’s government.

And it’s true that City Council and Mayor Murray are moving in a different direction than their predecessors. “Nickelsville” is not named in honor of pocket change, but rather it is a grim mockery of Seattle’s former Mayor, Greg Nickels, and reflects disdain of the ways he addressed the issue of homelessness.

Lena can be reached at

Lena Beck

Lena Beck is a freshman Humanities for Leadership major. She does best with ample access to coffee, and enjoys people-watching from the top of parking garages.

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Food with Spirit -Urban agriculture meets service to others with new program launched by SU students and staff

Food With Spirit: Seattle University Students Grow Food for the Homeless

Our SU students are doing some exciting things here in our First Hill neighborhood. Read below to learn how students have combined shared concerns for sustainability and social justice to serve those experiencing homelessness in our city. (Reblogged from

St. James Cathedral Kitchen Garden

St. James Cathedral Kitchen Garden, started in Spring 2014

February 2, 2015 — Seattle University students delivered 40 boxes of homegrown produce through spring, summer and fall of 2014 to feed the homeless at St. James Cathedral Kitchen in Seattle. The students grew the food right in the university’s neighborhood as part of a campus initiative called “Food With Spirit.”

“This is a great example of urban farming and how much food you can grow in such a small space,” says Karen Price, Seattle University’s campus sustainability manager.

Janice Murphy, Seattle University’s integrated pest management coordinator, was instrumental in launching the program. While attending a meeting of Food and Faith, an interreligious group, Murphy was inspired to learn that  various faith groups were growing and serving food to neighbors in need. “I felt we could do more in that direction at Seattle University, that we had the ability to contribute in a meaningful and organized way,” she says.

Murphy began talking to some students about growing food to serve the poor. About a dozen joined the effort under the umbrella of the university’s Sustainable Student Action club. With Murphy serving as adviser, the group partnered with the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability and Campus Ministry, which helped connect the students to the meal program at St. James.

Starting small, the first batch of vegetables was grown in community garden plots on campus in spring and early summer and given to St. James. Meanwhile, Murphy was approached by a neighborhood organization with a small plot of land it was looking to develop into a community garden. It turned out to be a perfect fit, and students constructed four raised beds there. Outside of the new garden, students also worked to build raised beds for others in the community.

Murphy calls the Food With Spirit initiative “a small but very positive action in a complex world. With food security and justice a global issue, one of the cornerstones of sustainability is an investment in urban agriculture. For college-age students, in particular, this is important work. It’s a tool for teaching others, a springboard for rethinking broken food systems, and an incubator for inventive ideas about food security for future generations.”

For student Chris Johnstone, the most rewarding part of the project  is “seeing people getting excited about growing food. I have heard so many people say, ‘Wow, what I put into the ground is actually growing like magic!'” [Source: Seattle University]

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The Moth Home: Lost and Found

Each time I hear a homeless family tell their story I become even more committed to our goal of making homelessness rare, brief and one time. Their voices – more than the written word – stick with me for a very long time. More stories that stick will, I believe, result in more people committing to ending homelessness for families. The question is, how do we find those stories and help people tell their personal stories well?

We’re excited to announce a new storytelling workshop right here in the Pacific Northwest!

Photo Credit: Jason Falchook

Photo Credit: Jason Falchook

Our partners at Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness are partnering with the national non-profit The Moth to bring their acclaimed storytelling workshop to local homeless advocates. Selected participants will gain valuable storytelling skills from the experts, while honing their personal story about family homelessness into a compelling five-minute narrative.

People with a personal story about family homelessness are encouraged to apply. It may be hard for you to tell your story if you’ve experienced homelessness as a child. Or, you might work or volunteer for family homelessness service providers, advocacy organizations or faith communities and want to share your passion for justice with others. These workshops are for you!

Applications are being accepted now through Feb. 6, 2015, for Home: Lost and Found,” a series of storytelling workshops in February/March in Seattle. (If you just thought, “I will never be picked… so why bother?” THINK AGAIN! Please do apply!)

The sixteen people chosen to attend will be coached on how to craft their narrative into a five-minute story. All participants will be offered an opportunity to share those stories at the end of the workshop.  “Graduates” will also be considered for a public Moth event in April.

Participants will take what they’ve learned back to their organizations and share their new skills with all the storytellers there, resulting in more powerful stories for dozens of organizations!

Photo Credit: Roger Ho

Photo Credit: Roger Ho

Curious? Listen to this 5 minute story about a boy who realizes he’s poor.

For more information and to apply, please see the project page , or contact Sarah at The Moth,, or Catherine Hinrichsen at Seattle U,

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Project Cool: Supplying a Brighter Future for Children who are Homeless

We love our colleagues at Seattle U’s Project on Family Homelessness. In the piece below, Krista Kent, new Digital Design Assistant for PFH, tells us all about how cool SKKCH’s Project Cool really is! She speaks to the power of community, of volunteering as a way to engage more deeply with your community, and points to the great need of the more than 6,000 homeless school-aged children in King County. Read on to learn more (and check out the “What you can do” box at the end for ideas of how to take action now)!

By Krista Kent, Digital Design Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness and senior at Seattle U

crayola-markers-164895a8e3f12fa0[1]As a child I always loved buying new school supplies, and there was perhaps nothing better than a brand-new case of Crayola markers. Having worked in a first-grade classroom this past year, I have seen that students are still excited to have new supplies. But for families who can’t afford to buy supplies, local supply drives play an important role in the community.

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in Project Cool for Back to School, which gathers supplies and creates backpacks for local school-aged children who are homeless. Volunteers came together at Columbia City Church of Hope earlier this month to help assemble and pack backpacks full of school supplies and dental kits.

Presented by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, Project Cool prepared more than 1,300 backpacks with the help of 130 volunteers over the course of five days. The backpacks will be distributed to nonprofit organizations in August, just in time to get them to students all over King County.

Continue reading on the Project on Family Homelessness Blog →


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Spark Change Essay Contest Winner: “Homelessness Can Happen to Anyone”

Our partners at Firesteel announced the winner of their Spark Change Essay Contest  last week. Read on for high school student Hannah Cheung’s take on how we stereotype people experiencing homelessness and why the most common sterotypes are wholly unjustified. We’re all guilty of making these quick judgments at one time or another, but it’s important to take a step back, learn the facts, and change the conversation.

Originally posted by Firesteel on June 13, 2014

We have a winner from our Spark Change Essay Contest for high school students! It was tough to choose among the great submissions; all the writers had clearly worked hard to expand their understanding of the complexities surrounding family homelessness. Hannah Cheung’s effective use of data, as well as her consideration of structural causes of homelessness, made her essay stand out. Congratulations to Hannah, and thanks to everyone who submitted essays!

Here’s Hannah’s response to the question, “What are some stereotypes about homeless people? What are some arguments against these stereotypes?”


Hannah Cheung chose this image to accompany her submission. Image found at

Written by Hannah Cheung, Shorecrest High School student

Homelessness is a very important issue that must be brought to the general public. However, much of society around me thinks that homeless people don’t deserve to find homes — mostly because people have heard false, alarming, and even hurtful stereotypes. We need to break these stereotypes because they aren’t true, and we need to make progress with this issue happening to thousands of people in the United States. Homelessness can happen to anyone, sometimes without warning.

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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.

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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→

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