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

*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?


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.


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?


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?


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.


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

Mad Men, ACEs and Child Homelessness – Escaping the Past Is Not So Easy (Firesteel)

In light of last night’s Mad Men finale (shhh, don’t tell – I haven’t seen it yet!), we thought we’d repost this gem of a blog post on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Diving into the booze-fueled, glamorous and tumultuous world of Mad Men, Catherine and Perry take the case of anti-hero Don Draper and show how childhood trauma can translate to myriad struggles and pathologies in adulthood. A higher ACE score generally means an indiviual is at higher risk of substance abuse and mental health issues as an adult (among other things). Read on to find out what Don’s ACE score is and learn what all of us can do to mitigate the effects of childhood traumas like abuse, poverty and homelessness.

Don Draper giving his most famous new business pitch, just before revealing a shocking secret from his past about a Hershey bar. Photo from AMC.Don Draper giving his most famous new business pitch, just before revealing a shocking secret from his past about a Hershey bar. Photo from AMC.

Written by Catherine Hinrichsen with Perry Firth, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness, for Firesteel

It’s been tantalizing and a little agonizing, in the final weeks of the landmark TV series “Mad Men,” to guess how it will all end – especially for the protagonist and last of the “difficult men,” Don Draper.

Will he jump off a building? (Absolutely not.)  Will he find the “sad tornado,” mystery waitress Diana? (It’s hard to care about this.) Will he escape to California and re-brand himself yet again? (Quite possibly.)  Is he D.B. Cooper? (Oh, come on.)

Mad Men has been a powerful force in television, and not only for its portrayal of the last breaths of the boozy ‘60s advertising industry. The acclaimed drama captures our attention because of its depiction of a supposedly powerful man’s attempt to outrun his traumatic childhood. Viewers have watched Don drink, womanize, hurt people and hurt himself. As my colleague Perry Firth describes it, “he is the living, breathing embodiment of the truism, hurt people hurt people.”

Perry is a grad student in school psychology, one of Firesteel’s most popular bloggers and my go-to person for anything related to childhood trauma. You’ll see her influence throughout this piece. Because she is not a Mad Men viewer (yet), she was the perfect person to work on this piece with me, and assess Don’s behavior from a more clinical perspective, as opposed to my position as a fan who desperately wants to see a realistic yet positive end to Don’s journey through self-destruction and redemption.

And you can’t write about Don Draper without addressing his terrible childhood, which crops up throughout the series.

Note: There may be spoilers in this post; however, one of the beautiful things about watching Mad Men is that even knowing what happens doesn’t diminish the pleasure of the viewing experience.

Don-blended-family-ustv-mad-men-season-6-portraitsDon’s blended family, dealing a generation later with his tumultuous upbringing. Image from


Don didn’t grow up in the kind of family that pulled together and faced adversity together, their love helping them survive. In fact, there wasn’t any love in that bleak home. Don was just another mouth to feed, a weight around the neck of the people who raised him out of obligation, not affection.

Yet, outwardly, Don has achieved the American dream. He came from nothing and became a millionaire, along the way marrying a gorgeous model, buying a beautiful house in the suburbs, raising three adorable children and rising to the top of the New York advertising world.

3-Betty_gunDon’s wife Betty in one of her finer moments, avenging her family. Image from AMC.

However, what keeps viewers hooked is less his success and more his inability to hang on to it.

Don is an alcoholic. His health is generally bad, and he contributes considerably to the success of his tobacco-industry clients. He has difficulty attaching to anyone emotionally and sustaining a mature adult relationship. He destroys his own marriages, and endangers those of friends, with his deceptiveness and serial womanizing. He treats women as conquests to be tossed aside, including a string of secretaries – the exception being his protégé, Peggy. He’s known to disappear without warning, leaving colleagues in extremely awkward situations.


In “advertising heaven,” Don ponders an escape yet again. Image from

One question the show is really asking, through Don’s adult actions, is: How much adversity is too much adversity? On a deeper level it asks viewers: Should the loss and adversity which drive someone’s actions dictate how we interpret them?


As it turns out, much of Don’s behavior is grounded in what psychological research has identified as adult consequences of childhood adversity and trauma. We know that serious adversity and trauma in childhood, especially when it is sustained over the child’s lifetime and isn’t buffered by protective factors, can have serious long-term consequences. It can even make it hard for people to make healthy decisions. In fact, the research areas of Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress explore these relationships specifically.

In “The Hobo Code,” a homeless man confirms the negative influence of Don’s father via a mysterious carving. Image from

In “The Hobo Code,” a homeless man confirms the negative influence of Don’s father via a mysterious carving. Image from

ACEs research looks at how adversity in childhood hurts adults, and how it shows up in behaviors like substance abuse, poor health and increased risk for early death. ACEs are actually broken down into different events, which can then be used to generate an ACE score, which can help to explain someone’s risk for negative consequences in adulthood, or partially explain why an adult is struggling. For example, childhood sexual abuse, emotional neglect and mental illness would yield a score of 3 ACEs.

About a year ago, Perry wrote about this fascinating research. More recently, to help me with my Mad Men analysis, she explained ACEs in the context of the show.

“The original ACE study included the following events as Adverse Child Experiences: physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; parent with mental illness; incarcerated household member; domestic violence; parental substance use; and parental divorce,” Perry said. “These are all events, especially when they accumulate, that we know cause toxic stress and potentially lasting mental and physical health consequences. Today, however, other ACEs that could be added to the list include poverty and childhood homelessness.”

Infographic from depicts three categories of ACEs. Don has experienced quite a few.

Infographic from depicts three categories of ACEs. Don has experienced quite a few.


Though we meet Don when he’s living the American dream in the 1960s, his story gradually unfolds to reveal some staggering hardships in his Depression-era childhood. Continue reading on Firesteel’s Blog→

Advocacy Faith and Family Homelessness Firesteel Project on Family Homelessness Youth

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,

Art for Social Change Faith and Family Homelessness Homeless Families Homelessness Project on Family Homelessness Social Justice Women Youth
Vince Matulionis and Catherine Hinrichsen, StoryCorps

“Stepping Into Homelessness”: Domestic Violence and the Power of Empathy

Check out this fabulous blog post written by Haley Jo Lewis for our partners at Firesteel. Haley edited and shares below a conversation between Project on Family Homelessness director Catherine Hinrichsen and Vince Matulionis of United Way of King County that came out of this summer’s StoryCorps project in Puget Sound. Read or listen to their conversation and learn about how domestic violence can push families out of their homes, as well as some of the ups and downs of working in the business of ending homelessness – what’s frustrating and discouraging, but also what gives Vince and all the rest of us the hope and inspiration we need to carry on.

Vince Matulionis and Catherine Hinrichsen talked about ending homelessness in their StoryCorps recording. Photo courtesy of StoryCorps.

Vince Matulionis and Catherine Hinrichsen talked about ending homelessness in their StoryCorps recording. Photo courtesy of StoryCorps.

Written by Haley Jo Lewis, Seattle University student and project assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness

Lisa Gustaveson vividly remembers a day in 1999 when she and Vince Matulionis were sitting in a cubicle at United Way of King County, talking about how to take on the issue of homelessness in our community. Fifteen years later, says Lisa, “Vince continues to work day and night to make a difference in the lives of those on the margins of society.”

That’s why our partner Lisa, who’s now leading the Faith & Family Homelessness Project at Seattle University, invited Vince to participate in our StoryCorps “Finding Our Way” project this summer at Seattle’s YWCA Opportunity Place.

Vince’s partner for his StoryCorps recording was my supervisor, Catherine. During their 40-minute conversation, Vince talked very movingly about domestic violence and its role in family homelessness.

So we decided to create an edited version of the StoryCorps conversation and share it here on Firesteel during the final few days of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Give it a listen:

The StoryCorps story of Erika and Kris Kalberer aired on National Public Radio in August. Photo courtesy of StoryCorps.

The StoryCorps story of Erika and Kris Kalberer aired on National Public Radio in August. Photo courtesy of StoryCorps.

You might have heard the first story to come out of ourStoryCorps project. On Aug. 22, National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” aired the amazing StoryCorps piece about the Kalberer family, who had been living in their car in Seattle.

This story with Vince is different from the Kalberer family story, because we edited it ourselves. StoryCorps allows partner organizations to edit recordings, and encourages them to share the stories widely. This is the first of what we hope are many more recordings that you can hear on Firesteel in the months to come.


Storycorps recording - Vince Matulionis and Catherine Hinrichsen

Each StoryCorps participant receives a CD of their recording.

I haven’t met Vince yet, but I learned a lot about him by listening to him on the recording. Vince is determined; he’s determined to end homelessness, determined to build a movement and determined to change the way people see homeless families and individuals.

As a young man, Vince set his sights set on a medical degree. Read more on the Firesteel Blog →

Action Advocacy Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness Project on Family Homelessness Women

“Heartbroken”: A Young Female Fan Reacts to Domestic Violence and the NFL

Emma Lytle and her boyfriend, Ricky Martinez, rock their 12thMan gear! Emma has been a big Seahawks fan since she was little. Photo courtesy of Emma Lytle.

Our partners at Firesteel launched the YWCA Week Without Violence last week with the following post from Emma Lytle of SU’s Project on Family Homelessness. Click here to read more posts in the series. To learn more about the strong connection between domestic violence and homelessness, check out two of our posts from earlier this year:  “Want to end homelessness? Then we need to address domestic violence” by Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune of the FaithTrust Institute, and “Self-determination, Safety, and Stability: Domestic Violence Housing First” by Linda Olsen of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV).

Today marks the beginning of the YWCA Week Without Violence, an initiative created by YWCA USA nearly 20 years ago to mobilize people in communities across the United States to take action against all forms of violence, wherever it occurs. In honor of the Week Without Violence, we invited our partners at Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness to examine the connections between domestic violence and homelessness. Emma Lytle and Perry Firth will also explore conversations about domestic violence that emerged when Ray Rice was suspended from the National Football League. Stay tuned for more posts Wednesday and Friday. Thanks to Emma and Perry for their contributions!

Written by Emma Lytle, Seattle University senior strategic communications major and project assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness

I have always been an avid Seattle Seahawks fan! My dad and I used to watch the games every week, and he would call them the “Sea Chickens” when they weren’t very good.

Emma and Ricky at Notre Dame
For this year’s first regular-season game Emma was with her boyfriend visiting his sister in South Bend, Ind. at the University of Notre Dame. They flew the Seahawks “12th Man” flag on campus! Photo courtesy of Emma Lytle.

Football has always held a special place in my heart; I grew up hearing about my dad’s experience playing the game, watching my brother play and dancing for my high school team every year. In high school I even got to dance at a few Seahawks halftimes!

As I have grown as a Seahawks fan, I have started to follow the National Football League (NFL) and learn more about the game of football in general.

That’s why when I see horrible things like substance abuse, insensitive language/gestures and even worse, the recent domestic violence and child abuse, I feel heartbroken.

Unfortunately, since I started my research into the NFL domestic violence problem, many domestic violence situations and other contract violations have been revealed. The video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in an elevator is just one recent example of how both the players’ actions and the league’s response to them have made me question my passion for the NFL. I have a hard time supporting a sport or league that tolerates any kind of abuse.

If you aren’t familiar with the NFL situation, I’ll talk more about it in Part 2 later this week.


I recently joined the Project on Family Homelessness and have learned that domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and children locally and nationally. Therefore, when I saw the Ray Rice incident unfold, I was not only shocked, but aware that many women and children end up having no place to go if they leave their abusers.

Stories like this have caused me to think about my own life and to wonder what I would do if I were in a domestic violence situation. I know I have loved ones who would support me, but not everyone does.

Do you know what you would do if you or someone you loved were in that situation?

This is a question worth asking, considering that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during their lifetime and most domestic violence incidents are never reported, says Safe Horizon.

These women are often exposed to a multi-faceted cycle of violence that is hard to escape, as this “Power and Control Wheel” illustrates.

This “Power and Control Wheel” illustrates how women experiencing domestic violence live with more than just physical abuse. They also may not have access to money, and their children may be used to keep them in the relationship. Image from

Facts like these drove me to write this piece, and increased my interest in the relationship between the NFL, domestic violence and our services in Washington state. To make sure I am able to get to all this information, this will be a two-part series.

  • For now, I will share what I’ve learned about the prevalence of domestic violence in Washington state and the United States.
  • Then in the second part of this series I will explore the connection between domestic violence and the NFL.

Later this week, my colleague Perry Firth will share her reaction on this blog. She will use the NFL domestic violence scandal as a catalyst to examine domestic violence as one component of violence against women.


The National Network to End Domestic Violence, a “social change organization” committed to ending violence against women, takes an annual census, which provides a snapshot of domestic violence statistics across the nation on one day. It does this by tracking services provided to adults and children during a 24-hour window.

In the 2013 national census, 87 percent of domestic violence programs participated in the survey, revealing that they served 66,581 victims in one day (36,348 victims accessed emergency shelter, while 30,233 adults and children received non-residential assistance like counseling and legal help). Further, in that one 24-hour window, 20,267 victims experiencing domestic violence called local and state hotlines. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, a national hotline, took calls from another 550 people.

Screen Shot National Network End DV
A screen shot of the first thing you see on the National Network to End Domestic Violence website, with some valuable information for safe reporting of domestic violence.

In the Washington state section of the census, 54 out of 68 domestic violence programs participated (79 percent). These providers served 2,082 victims – 575 children and 476 adults! They also answered 837 calls from the Washington hotline – that’s around 35 calls every hour, or more than a call every two minutes, just in our state.

As you can see, domestic violence is surprisingly common. However, there is more to understanding domestic violence than numbers. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend you explore The Joyful Heart Foundation website, which has some great information on who is affected by domestic violence, as well as signs of abuse.


Another great resource is the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV). This local organization partners with other domestic violence programs to help keep those experiencing domestic violence safe. From rental assistance and counseling for survivors, to advocacy and policy change, WSCADV and its partners work to remove the barriers that keep (mostly) women and children in abusive situations.

Because WSCADV is doing such wonderful work, I wanted to talk to someone who works with the organization. That is why I am so happy I got to meet with their communications director, Kelly Starr. Kelly is also the lead on the Refuse To Abuse campaign (see below).

Kelly Starr image
This is the wonderful Kelly Starr, who helped to educate Emma about the resources we have here in Washington. Photo courtesy of Kelly Starr.

Kelly and I talked about a lot of things, but what jumped out at me was when she said that compared to other states, “Washington falls on the national average across the board.” I was surprised that we don’t have a lower rate of domestic violence here. This means we still have a lot of work to do in our home state!

Kelly also said that she and other domestic violence advocates have noticed that over the past few years there has been a shift in culture: The public understands that domestic violence is wrong, whereas it may have been more accepted in the past. The recent public outrage during the Ray Rice scandal has confirmed this cultural evolution. We have awareness, she said; now we need action.

She believes people are now asking, What can I do to help? Who do I call? What are the signs that someone I know is in an abusive situation?

Kelly said that learning what a healthy relationship looks like is an important first step for many young women. She told me about some great WSCADV tools, including:

Keep reading for more tips!


But if you can’t prevent domestic violence, you have to try to prevent women and children from becoming homeless as a result of it. WSCADV has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and 13 pilot programs on the Housing First Project. Because so many women in abusive relationships become homeless with their children when they leave the abuser, this project gets survivors out of dangerous situations and into safe environments through tailored services, mobile advocacy, housing search support, landlord education and temporary financial assistance.

Check out one example – the award-winning YWCA of Kitsap County Housing First project, “Home First”!

I was also glad to hear about a different type of professional sports team fighting domestic violence. WSCADV partners with the Seattle Mariners pro baseball team and the community in the Refuse to Abuse campaign.

Mariners campaign image
One of the amazing advertisements from the Refuse To Abuse campaign in 2014, featuring “King Felix.” Image credit: Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Since 1997, the coalition has partnered with the Seattle Mariners baseball team on the Refuse to Abuse campaign, which helps get fans involved in fighting domestic violence. Stars like pitcher Felix Hernandez take a leadership role. This campaign is based on the Mariners’ iconic 1995 “Refuse to Lose” slogan during their run to the American League Championship Series; I was just a small child at the time, but most people who lived in Seattle then remember that season very well. The campaign now includes a 5K run, and was cited in a New York Times article recently as an important part of the Mariners’ culture when it comes to domestic violence prevention among players.

These are just a few of WSCADV’s efforts to end domestic violence.

However, the Coalition can’t fight domestic violence alone! They need the public’s help.

Ultimately, domestic violence won’t end unless everyone works to create a safe world for families and children.


  • Show your colors during Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Go Purple with the YWCA! (We’ll talk more about this in the next post.)
  • Read about economic abuse and social isolation on the Firesteel blog, and learn the signs of domestic violence.
  • Call the confidential, 24-hour/7-day-a-week Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-562-6025 for domestic violence information and assistance referrals.
  • Visit the WSCADV website to find a list of domestic violence programs that cover everything from research and advocacy, to lists of safe housing for survivors.
  • Last, but not least: Simply have open conversations about domestic violence with your community. You might be surprised by what you learn. Remember, talking is power!

Stay tuned to read more about the recent domestic violence scandal in the NFL, how other NFL fans and I have reacted to it, and how widespread media coverage is shaping fan perceptions of violence against women. I’ll also talk about how one NFL superstar is taking a stand.

Are you a young female football fan, like Emma? Have you learned more about domestic violence because of the NFL situation? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Action Domestic Violence Faith and Family Homelessness Firesteel Project on Family Homelessness Women

Public Education System: An Intro to Firesteel’s Homeless Student Blog Series

Introduction by Lisa Gustaveson, Project Manager for the Faith & Family Homelessness Project at Seattle University

553830_10200650804746093_599565699_nThe beginning of this summer, my family, friends and I committed to volunteering once a week at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and Mary’s Place Emergency Family Shelter. Our posse of volunteers take turns bringing the evening meal, and stay for an hour or so afterwards to help with the children while the moms set up their sleeping areas.

Each Monday, I find myself looking forward to our time at the shelter. The time spent with the families has changed me in subtle and startling ways, and the love and respect I have for the families and the dedicated staff who care for them has grown. Hanging out with the kids is fun for all of the volunteers; on the outside, the children seem a lot like housed kids – energetic, silly and sometimes naughty.  They thank us when we bring them strawberries and watermelon, and run to the library after dinner when they can read a little and play a lot with the teen volunteers.

Looking deeper into the eyes of the children, I can see how living in turmoil, chaos and crisis affects them. I know that every night they sleep on the floor, every meal they miss and the hours in school that are wasted because they can’t focus, will likely add up to a lifetime of struggles.

This seven part series by our partners at Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness for Firesteel gives us a glimpse into how difficult it is for children living in poverty and homelessness to succeed in school. The data and stories the author, Perry Firth, shares helps us to understand the special needs of homeless students, and offers ways WE can be the catalyst for change. Please take a few moments out of your day to read this first piece, and subscribe to Firesteel for the next six posts. You won’t be disappointed.

Children know when they are falling behind academically. As they continue to struggle, they can develop both low self esteem and a dislike of school. That is why it is so essential that children who need extra help get it.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Image from

Children know when they are falling behind academically. As they continue to struggle, they can develop both low self esteem and a dislike of school. That is why it is so essential that children who need extra help get it. Image from

As the new school year starts, teachers face many challenges. So do children who are dealing with homelessness and poverty. And this couldn’t be truer than for impoverished children who are also in need of special education services. With parents focusing on day-to-day survival and too busy to consistently advocate for their needs, children who are homeless may fail to receive the services they need to succeed in school.

The result is that children already harmed by their living circumstances can fall even further behind. Therefore, adults who work with children in poverty and homelessness need to understand how this environment influences academic skill and emotional development, and how it relates to special education needs.

So, we present this seven-part series on how homelessness and poverty affect the development of children, and how this can show up in the education system. Thanks to Perry Firth from Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness for contributing this important series.

Written by Perry Firth, project coordinator, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness; Seattle U School Psychology graduate student

Hungry and tired, the boy squirms in his seat. Surrounded by classmates studiously working, he stares out the window, one leg anxiously thumping the side of his desk. In second grade, he has already experienced the types of stressors that dull the colors and geographies of childhood into shades and valleys of gray.

His teacher, a young enthusiastic woman standing at the front of the class, observes him. His book is opened to a happy story, but neglected. There are dark circles under his eyes, and he startles easily.

She has noticed that he seems both alienated from his peers and clearly desperate to fit in. Unfortunately, the basic social skills required to gain social acceptance don’t come easily to him.

Regulating his emotions is also a struggle. Prone to outbursts, he doesn’t communicate his needs in grade-appropriate ways.

He accumulates school absences and tardies the way other students accumulate new clothes.

Having noticed that he is also struggling in reading, she is beginning to wonder if he may have some sort of disability.

Truth is, the boy is homeless.

This account is a fictional, yet realistic, description of how a child’s homelessness may manifest in the classroom. Indeed, these struggles and outcomes related to homelessness could typify any of the more than one million homeless school children living in America today, or the 30,000 school children who are homeless in Washington state.

This scene also captures the confusion that teachers may encounter as they attempt to pinpoint the reasons that a child is struggling in school without understanding their housing situation. The teacher in this story — like many real ones — is confronted with a difficult challenge: How to differentiate whether a child is struggling because he is homeless, or because he has a disability (or both).

Classroom indicators of homelessness infographic

This problem of differentiation brings up many questions:

  • Does the child struggle to read because she’s missed so many school days, or because she has a learning difference? How has homelessness and poverty impacted her cognitive and emotional development in general?
  • How does this influence her success in the school environment?

These are all good questions. Yet, as we often encounter when seeking to tease apart environmental and genetic influences, the answers are layered, nuanced and ecological.

Homelessness in Classroom-Eco Systems Model graphic
Human beings develop within systems. From this ecological perspective, child development is influenced by everything from family functioning and genetics, to community norms and broad societal beliefs. Image from

What to expect in this series

This seven-part blog series seeks to answer the last question: the impact of homelessness on academic success. We’ll explore how homelessness and poverty affect the cognitive, emotional and behavioral development of children. Given that success in school is so essential to a child’s future, poverty’s influence on academic success will also be a major theme.

We’ll pay explicit attention to what school professionals and child advocates need to know, including:

  • The harmful factors that accompany homelessness and poverty, like frequent school moves and low quality housing.
  • How homelessness and poverty can create toxic chronic stress, and how this stress impacts the brain and can impair a child’s ability to develop normally.
  • How the stress of homelessness influences academic achievement and learning.
  • The unique issues school professionals face as they evaluate and try to provide services to children who are homeless.

Intersection between special education and homelessness

We’ll also delve into to the special education category “Emotional Disturbance.” Children receiving services under this category struggle with many issues, like emotional-behavioral disorders and high drop-out rates. In turn, this hinders their ability to find secure employment as adults.

Unfortunately, children who are homeless and/or living in poverty are more likely to need special education services – but don’t always get them. Therefore, we’ll highlight how trauma, scarcity and stress can affect special-education placement, and contribute to the cycle of poverty.

Useful strategies and connecting to policy

In the last two posts in the series, we will provide practical strategies that school professionals can use to ensure that homeless children get the special education services they need. Finally, we’ll give an overview of important policy and legislation that can influence how schools provide these services.

Photo: Teacher with book in classroom
Understanding how poverty and homelessness affects academic success isn’t enough; strategies which enable school professionals to meet the needs of their most vulnerable learners are also essential. Image from

Coming up next, on Sept. 3:  “Hungry, Scared, Tired and Sick: An Overview of How Homelessness Hurts Children.” This post will provide a foundation in some of the problems that can accompany childhood homelessness, from increased mobility and school changes, to poor-quality housing and poor physical health.

What you can do

  1. Share these posts with your friends and colleagues to increase their impact.
  2. Read related Firesteel posts, likeNo One Would Have Known I Was Homeless,” in which a young woman gives a first-hand account of what it was like to be homeless in high school.
  3. Download the brochure on helping homeless students, “Understanding Homeless Students’ Educational Rights,” newly updated for 2014-2015. This is a fantastic resource for students, parents, teachers and social workers, published by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.
  4. If you’re a McKinney-Vento Homeless Liaison, teacher or school staff member in Washington state, attend the upcoming training sessions hosted by Washington state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Oct. 8 in Spokane or Oct. 9 in Seatac (registration required).
Advocacy Data and Reports Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness Firesteel Homeless Families Homelessness Data Project on Family Homelessness Seattle U Social Justice

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 →


Action Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness Project on Family Homelessness Youth
%d bloggers like this: