Moving From Fear to “Us”

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


Luke headshot

By Luke Hoffmaster, Serve Seattle Intern

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

I was afraid. I didn’t understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve Seattle House

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

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

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

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

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


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

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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

Global Street Paper Summit Comes to Seattle University

This week marks one month since we hosted INSP’s Global Street Paper Summit here at Seattle University. The Summit was an inspiring few days populated by an international group of journalists and street newspaper staff, fabulous art and photo exhibits by Rex Hohlbein, Kyle Kesterson, Dan Lamont and local artists as part of the Real Change Portrait Project, and incredible speakers from near and far (including former Seattle Times journalist, Mike Fancher, journalist and author, Eric Liu, and our own Director of Marketing, Hannah Crivello, among many others). We felt immensely privileged to be part of such an important and energizing event.

On the first night of the conference, Dean Mark Markuly welcomed the attendees to the “Portraits of Homelessness” exhibition, which featured Rex Hohlbein, local architect, photographer, activist and founder of Facing Homelessness, as keynote. In his remarks (featured below), the Dean spoke eloquently about the School of Theology and Ministry’s work in convening and educating people around issues of poverty and homelessness and applauded the many journalists in attendance for “stand[ing] squarely in the tradition of the power of the pen to give voice to those who are not allowed a place setting at the world’s table.”


By Dean Mark S. Markuly, PhD, Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry

Reblogged from the Dean’s blog, Soul Improv / Spiritual Meaning in a Time of Constant Change

2015 INSP Global Street Paper Summit flyerOn June 24-26, Seattle University hosted the Global Street Paper Summit. This annual conference put on by the International Network of Street Papers brings together hundreds of representatives from street papers all over the world to engage in networking, discussion, and education. Street papers are publications that serve two purposes: to spread awareness about poverty-related issues as well as provide employment for people experiencing homelessness. The conference serves as a way for people engaged in this important work to meet, share, and learn from one another. This was the first time the conference has ever been held in the US. The School of Theology and Ministry welcomed participants and facilitated workshops throughout the week. The workshops covered everything from programs developed to serve Seattle’s homeless population to low cost marketing strategies to utilizing social media.

Here are some remarks I shared with the attendees during the conference:

It is a great honor to have you with us this week on the campus of Seattle University, for the first-ever INSP summit in the United States. I hope you are getting a chance to walk around our beautiful campus, spend a little time outside in the sun, and maybe explore the city or take a ride on a ferry. You may have heard that we get a little rain in Seattle sometimes. While that is a bit of a caricature, it doesn’t always look like this in Seattle at this time of the year, and when the sun comes out like this, Seattleites emerge from their homes and buildings like moles leaving their holes, squinting at the bright light in the sky.

In case you haven’t felt it, yet, you are meeting on the campus of a Jesuit university that is a kindred spirit with the visions and missions of your newspapers. Within Roman Catholicism, the Jesuit tradition has two distinctive qualities – a commitment to the intellectual life, and a dedication and passion for educating future leaders to work for peace and justice, whether the motivation of that work is from a faith-based perspective or not. From the university’s engagement with poorer neighborhoods around the university through the Seattle University Youth Initiative, to our equally creative engagement with coffee growers in Nicaragua and the Jesuit university located in Managua, to the countless student internships and immersion experiences that are occurring throughout the city, the state, the nation, and many countries in the world: we are a university that tries every day to live up to our mission to focus our intellectual resources on the promotion of activities that will lead to a more just and humane world.  

Mark Markuly and Rosette Royal - INSP Global Street Paper Summit (6-24-15)

Dean Mark Markuly (L) and local writer and activist, Rosette Royale, at the INSP Global Street Paper Summit’s “Portraits of Homelessness” event which featured photo exhibits by Kyle Kesterson, Dan Lamont, and Rex Hohlbein of Facing Homelessness.

In the past few years we have had an exciting and dramatic university effort to respond to the realities of homelessness, especially family homelessness in the Pacific Northwest. In the true Jesuit tradition of the Italian Renaissance, which promoted the fine art of rhetoric and persuasion: we want to persuade everyone we can that it is unacceptable to have fellow humans beings living lives of quiet desperation, particularly in a city with the educational and industrial achievements and unprecedented levels of wealth as this one.  As you heard this morning from Dean David Powers, our communications department in the College of Arts and Sciences has engaged the journalism profession directly on the issue of family homelessness. 

Mark M. and Fr. Ryan

Fr. Mike Ryan and Dean Mark Markuly participate in one of the School of Theology and Ministry’s poverty workshops at St. James Cathedral.

My own School of Theology and Ministry began a faith and family homelessness initiative four years ago, due to the generosity of the Gates Foundation. In the past few years we’ve had a team of people from the school logging hundreds of hours as they have worked across the region to assist religious congregations and organizations in the deepening of their faith communities’ commitment to alleviating homelessness. Our primary effort began by working intimately with 14 Jewish, Muslim and Christian congregations, assisting their more than 18,000 congregants to organize their own community efforts to reduce the number of families living in shelters or on the streets.  In the process, we’ve also created a near educational cottage industry with a “poverty immersion workshop.” After getting featured in an Op-Ed in the Seattle Times, this workshop, which allows people to have a life-like experiential encounter with the frustrations and burdens of poverty and homelessness in the United States, became our school’s most popular extra-curricular activity, with hundreds participating across the region. We’ve had some remarkable results in this effort, and have in some ways had an opportunity to change the conversation about the potential of faith communities to move society’s needle on this complicated social problem. If you are interested in this effort to “breathe” the importance of working to end family homelessness into the Seattle area’s religiously plural population, you can talk to Lisa Gustaveson, the program manager for our school’s efforts.

Lastly, let me applaud you for the way you are spending your life as journalists of street newspapers. As a former journalist, with a degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism, I think street papers are one of the most important evolutions in news reporting. When you look at journalism as a field, most people miss that the industry is not a dispassionate organization in search of the truth. It is a business, and often a complex one, requiring a substantial cash flow that requires all kinds of compromises between corporate and journalistic values. The larger media outlets have to dance to the tune of many pipers, and this can mute, if not extinguish, the deepest nobility in the profession of the Fourth Estate. Your newspapers stand squarely in the tradition of the power of the pen to give voice to those who are not allowed a place setting at the world’s table. 

2015 INSP Global Street Paper Summit poster with hashtagI love the title of your conference: INSPired together. This is, indeed, the only way humanity will make a substantive change in the world’s plight of homelessness. We have to do it together. But, I’m sure most of you also know that etymologically “inspire” comes from a Latin root (inspirare) meaning to “breathe or blow into.” Originally, the word referred to the blow of a divine or supernatural being into someone, in the sense of “imparting a truth or idea.”  

By nature of your missions, you stand with the populations in your cities and nations that have no discernable voice in the fast-paced, competitive and chaotic world of the second decade of the 21st century. In doing so, you breathe into your societies a truth about an issue many contemporary people do not want to explore, let alone understand, let alone change.  You go beyond good journalistic ethics to pursue the truth: you live, and move and have your being in the unsavory truths of modern societies, where poverty and homeless and marginalization exist in the shadows of unprecedented human wealth and privilege. Many of you represent the best in the tradition of the Progressive Era’s muckrakers, and the best of the tradition of a Charles Dickens, who gave voice and image and feeling to the lives of the poor of their era, or Rachel Carson, who convinced her generation to ban the pesticide DDT and create the Environmental Protection Agency, which made her one of the first people to capture the imagination of westerners around the issue of the environment. Carson gave voice and image and feeling to nature, to our Mother Earth. You, too, are giving voice and image and feeling to the lives of the poor and homeless.

Keep up the good work. We are delighted to have you here and I hope and pray you find new ways to collaborate with each other on your “inspir-ed” mission and vocation.

Read more about the summit on the school’s website, here.

Art for Social Change Faith and Family Homelessness Real Change Seattle U Social Justice

Holding the Paradox: The Band-Aid and the Long Haul

Margeby Margie Quinn

Margie is a native of Nashville, Tennessee and  graduate of the University of Georgia. After graduating with a Women’s Studies/French degree, Margie moved to Seattle to begin a one-year “Justice Leadership Program” through the United Church of Christ (UCC) church.

Margie made many happy when she decided to stay with us in the Pacific Northwest after completing her program. She is now the Program Manager for Facing Homelessness, a national effort to build a new awareness about our relationship with homelessness. She also manages Homeless in Seattle, a local effort to raise awareness for those living without shelter and other basic needs through the sharing of photos and personal stories that highlight their beauty.

This is Margie’s second post for our blog. Her first, The Power of Interruption: A Call for Advocacy  remains one of the most popular posts on our site.


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We are a verb-heavy generation. Helping, doing, serving, saving. “We are not human beings, we are human doings!” we shout, determined to accomplish it all. So naturally when I took a job at Facing Homelessness in the fall, I prepared for an active role, one that would allow me to help people in need every day and see them benefit from our work.

Our organization began from a Facebook project, Homeless in Seattle. While we have reached outside of this community to do other projects, we still use our Facebook page as our main awareness-raising and people-helping machine.

Here is how our Facebook page works. Every week, we post photographs and stories of people in need with the intention of showing the beauty of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle. We then invite our community of over 17,000 people to help these individuals by providing them with a tent, a pair of boots, or even a month’s rent to get them through a rough spot.

It is a rewarding feeling to post about someone in need and, within two hours, see that need filled by a number of caring people. The phrases that ring through my head are, “Instant gratification!” “Wow, that was fast!” “We did it! One down, 3,771 to go!” While I want to honor how quickly our community comes forward with compassion, I have to admit that my “fix-it” mentality is a slippery slope.

It’s tricky, this fix-it game. I can become so overjoyed when we help someone that I close the book on their story, assuming that they are now on an upward trajectory toward healing and hope. I know, I know. Total Millennial. But it takes a lot to fight against that part of me that longs for the happy ending, every time.

I met a man in the fall who changed the way I see homelessness. Let’s call him Jim. Jim would come to our office almost every day and help me sort donations or hand out socks to people on the street. Despite being homeless himself, Jim was diligent about doing street outreach with us in his spare time. We made a post about Jim a few months into knowing him, just announcing what a beautiful person he is. He’s a got a big heart.

A few months ago, Jim called our office and told us that he had gotten into housing. He would be moving from his shelter that weekend and couldn’t wait. He was elated and so were we.

I can’t explain the joy I felt the day Jim got housing. Enthusiasm, relief, victory. Jim had become a close friend of ours and his success felt personal in a new way for me.

What I couldn’t have known at the time is that Jim’s mental illness and psychological issues would not go away as soon as he got housing. In fact, as Jim transitioned into a single room in a big building, I started to hear from him less and less. He would send emails sporadically, saying that he was going out of town for a few weeks or that he couldn’t come by the office. Clearly, Jim was going through something and I couldn’t help him.

Here is what I am trying to say: I want the happy ending. I want to know that Jim gets better and stays better. I want to know that Jim is a happier man now. And so do many of our Facebook friends. When people drop off donations in our office, they ask about many of the people with whom we post. “How is she doing? Did she make it to that recovery appointment?” “How is he doing? Is he back on his feet yet?” I love it when my answer is a positive one, and it often is. But in the times when I have to say, “I don’t know, we haven’t seen him in a while,” or “He is back on the street,” I feel heartbreak.

Craig-3xWe talk about local minister Craig Rennebohm (pictured left) a lot in our office. Craig did street ministry in Seattle for a number of years and introduced a new way of helping people, in which you recognize that you yourself need help, too. He calls it Companioning. (read our 2012 post about Craig’s work here and  learn more about the Mental Health Chaplaincy here.

Companioning is not fixing. It is walking with someone through their suffering. Companioning is not telling someone what to do. It’s listening deeply to their wants and needs.

Companioning is not giving someone a dollar and wishing them luck. It’s showing up in someone’s life, time and time again, to bear witness to their existence and humanity.

This is the paradox, isn’t it? It’s finding how to celebrate the small victories and the acts of kindness pouring forth without forgetting the slow work of God. Because sometimes, God’s work is slow. Real slow.

Lately I’m trying to hold the paradox: The beautiful, quick fixes that our community provides for people in need with the slower, deeper process of walking with someone experiencing homelessness. There is no right or wrong here. Both the Band-Aid and the friendship are necessary in changing someone. But more importantly, both are necessary in changing ourselves.

♥ To join the Homeless in Seattle community visit their Facebook page.

♥ Want to start a movement in your community? Learn more at Facing Homelessness.

Action Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness Seattle U Social Justice

Nativity House: A Home of Humility and Grace

Nativity-House-blessing-(Denny-plus-crowd)

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.

blessing 168

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

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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

Storytelling, Human Connection and Advocacy: Transforming Numbers into Faces

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

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

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

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

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

Lynie and Dinkus

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

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

For that, we need stories.

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

Gilliards

Sherry and Franklin Gilliard. Photo: StoryCorps

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

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

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

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

WHAT YOU CAN DO

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Dean Mark Markuly: Seattle can solve the homeless puzzle by learning from other cities

In case you missed it, we’re reposting School of Theology and Ministry Dean Mark Markuly‘s recent Seattle Times Op Ed.  He asks some important questions about what it will take for our city and region to solve the problem of homelessness and speaks to the need to make the crisis more personal for all of us.  Something to ponder: what would you do if one of the 32,000 homeless students in WA State was your niece or nephew?


By Mark Markuly, originally published by the Seattle Times on 2/19/15

The 35th annual One Night Count of homeless people in King County last month demonstrated that one of the wealthiest, most literate, gifted and altruistic cities in the country is also hosting one of the most rapidly growing metropolitan homeless populations in the nation. Given the significant number of people, organizations and resources our region dedicates to the issue, the 21 percent increase of homeless people should haunt us.

Why is the problem of homelessness so vexing for Seattle?

In my view, we have not mustered the political will and right combination of contextual responses. Other cities have. According to NationSwell.com, the state of Utah discovered it is $5,670 a year less expensive to provide an apartment and a social worker to a homeless person than it is having society bear the cost of emergency-room visits, law-enforcement interventions and jail.

By putting a roof over the head of the homeless and providing a trained coach or mentor, Utah has reduced homelessness by 74 percent since 2005, and saved money as well.

New Orleans announced last month that it was the first city in the nation to end one demographic of homelessness: veterans. Through a coalition of nonprofits, homeless-service providers, U.S. service members, veterans and federal, state and local agencies, the city has permanently housed 227 homeless veterans. Phoenix has also made significant improvements in veterans’ homelessness.

Many cities have found solutions to homelessness by galvanizing inspiration, citizen involvement, agency coordination and political determination through participation in programs like the 100,000 Homes campaign.

Nashville, Tenn., placed an average of 19 homeless people per month into permanent housing in 2013, but is now housing 47 monthly. Since 2011, Jacksonville, Fla., has lowered its homeless population by one-third, and its chronic homeless population by two-thirds.

In many cities, including Seattle, religious traditions are an essential ingredient in the recipe, often providing space for “cross-sector” collaboration.

In Shreveport, La., an ecumenical group of churches called FaithWorks brought together 32 organizations serving the homeless to discuss a collaboration that is beginning to move the needle on the issue.

In Seattle, the Road to Housing program, a collaborative venture between the city and faith-based organizations, provides safe places to park for those living in automobiles and access to essential services such as bathrooms, meals and clean clothing.

The Downtown Emergency Service Center is a similar state-church partnership, begun in 1979 between the Greater Seattle Council of Churches, the City of Seattle and Washington Advocates for the Mentally Ill. Plymouth Church’s Commitment to Social Justice’s Housing Group, and Healing Communities are two other highly effective faith-based responses to homelessness.

So, why are Seattle’s homeless numbers going up while those in other cities are going down?

We’re still trying to figure out the Rubik’s Cube of issues. We certainly lack the housing stock of Utah, continue to struggle with coordinating our service providers (unlike Nashville and Jacksonville), and cannot muster the political will to dramatically impact the issue (as in New Orleans).

Because homelessness is so complicated, with a blinding array of intersecting causes, we also have failed to integrate the right resources from government, industry, nonprofit agencies, private citizens and religious traditions in the correct intensity and chronology.

However, I think our biggest challenge to this problem is something more fundamental: For most of us, homelessness isn’t personal enough.

As part of its interfaith Faith & Family Homelessness Project, the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University conducts workshops in schools and congregations that allow participants to experience a small taste of the challenges that homeless people face every day.

By role-playing scenarios that represent the common setbacks in the lives of very poor people, participants experience the frustration and Catch-22s that suck the motivation, creativity and hope from people on the verge of homelessness. The workshop makes the issue of homelessness more personal, and instills in participants the human values, virtues and resolve needed to go the distance with this stubborn social problem.

Ending homelessness in a nation as wealthy as ours is not impossible, but it is apparently more difficult than the kinds of problems our highly gifted region is conditioned to solving. The One Night Count should frustrate and anger us and it should invite real humility in our past efforts. It should also drive us back to reassessing the nature of the problem and our collaborations to fix it. Let’s just hope it doesn’t convince us to give up on the problem. As a community, we’re better than that.

Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness Media Alert Moral budget School of Theology & Ministry Seattle U Social Justice