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!


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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.

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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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Walking In Their Footsteps: A poverty simulation’s call to solidarity

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Two participants assess their family’s resources and try to plan next steps. When pushed into “survival mode”, people living in poverty often experience a toxic stress that can lead to poor decision-making,

Participating in a Poverty Simulation Workshop can be emotionally draining and surprisingly stressful. Living a simulated month in poverty means experiencing the feelings of inadequacy and anxiety that come from not being able to provide for your family, secure necessary resources and services, or cope with and plan for life’s challenges. Justin Almeida, a student in the chaplaincy track of the School of Theology & Ministry’s M.Div program, recently encountered some of these troubling feelings and experiences from “the other side of the table” as a volunteer in a poverty workshop for JustFaith graduates. He reflects on the experience below.

SU’s Faith & Family Homelessness Project team has to date facilitated or helped facilitate 8 Poverty Simulation Workshops with such various partners as the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, Tacoma Housing Authority, Puyallup Church of the Nazarene, and many more. (For more information about what the workshop consists of, read the “About” section at the end of this post.)

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Waiting in line… People in poverty often spend a good portion of their time shuttling from agency to agency, trying to get services and resources that may or may not be available.


By Justin Almeida

I’ve never personally experienced poverty. It’s an obstacle that inherently separates me from people living on the margins. I’d like to think I’m in solidarity with the poor because of the way I vote, the money I donate and the time I volunteer. I’ve built houses in Mexico, volunteered at food banks, and even served two and a half years in the Peace Corps in Romania. I’ve spoken with people living with dirt floors and tin roofs and have shared meals with families with no running water or electricity. I even work at a peace and justice non-profit organization. But I’ve never lived on the margins.

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Some families are evicted from their homes over the course of the simulation.

Which is why participation in the poverty simulation offered by Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry made a difference. It brought me one step closer to personally understanding the stigma, barriers, and hurdles people on the margins face on a daily basis just to have access to food, shelter and healthcare. I was reminded that our “welfare” system is a punitive one, punishing people for needing help.

I played a small part; a day care provider. However, I was forced to turn people away because of overcrowding, funding, and health issues. Participants needed a safe place for their children in order to go to work and pay their bills. I wasn’t able to help everybody, even though I wanted to. I watched as participants became increasingly frustrated with their experience. In the end, everyone had a small glimpse into what daily life is like for our brothers and sisters without food, shelter or resources.

Justin Almeida, who played the role of a childcare provider, shares reflections on his experience with the rest of the participants at the JustFaith Poverty Immersion Workshop

Justin Almeida, who played the role of a childcare provider, shares reflections on his experience with the rest of the participants at the JustFaith Poverty Immersion Workshop

Afterwards, we unpacked the experience. There were plenty of opinions on how to “fix” the welfare system. Two comments stood out. One participant mentioned that when we give to the poor, we should ask their forgiveness. It is the poor and marginalized who have been failed by our society and system and we’re all part of the problem. Another person said we need to stop judging people for being poor; we need to change our system to make it easier for people to get the help they need. As much as possible, we should eliminate the piles of paperwork, agency signatures, hoops and rules we make people go through. Sure, some people might take advantage of the system, but how many more people would be helped and brought back into self-sufficiency.

These opinions made me rethink my behavior. I’ve never thought of asking a person for forgiveness when I hand them a dollar outside a supermarket. But it makes sense. By asking for their forgiveness and blessing, I’m reaffirming their inherent worth and dignity by treating them with respect; I’m asking them for something only they can give. And I need to stop caring how they ended up being homeless. It’s not my place to judge and I’m not qualified to ask.

All I know is that as a man of faith, it’s my responsibility to respond with compassion. This is the hard truth of faith; this is where conversion of the heart takes place. When we stop punishing and start forgiving. When we stop blaming and start helping. When we treat our neighbor as ourselves. This is why I’m grateful for having been able to participate in the poverty simulation. It reminded me yet again of the humanity of the poor, allowing me, if only for a brief moment, to walk in their footsteps. That is where solidarity begins.

Justin AlmeidaJustin Almeida is a Unitarian Universalist graduate student studying chaplaincy at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. He is the Operations Manager for the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center (www.ipjc.org), a Seattle-based human and environmental rights non-profit. In his spare time, you can find him blogging about faith, spirituality, peace & justice, and life in Seattle at whatsmyage.wordpress.com


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Families wait in line for services at the JustFaith Poverty Simulation.

About the Poverty Immersion Workshop

The Poverty Simulation (or Poverty Immersion Workshop) developed by Missouri’sAssociation for Community Action, typically involves up to 88 participants who assume the roles of 26 different families facing poverty, and 20 volunteer “staffers” who fill the roles of community agencies and organizations who serve them (e.g. bank, DSHS, supermarket, pawnshop, police officer, homeless shelter, etc.) The families represent a variety of experience: some are newly unemployed or recently deserted by the “breadwinner,” others are homeless, recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families),  senior citizens receiving Disability or Retirement, or grandparents raising their grandchildren. The task of the “families” is to provide for basic necessities and shelter during the course of four 15-minute “weeks.” Throughout the simulation and during a post-simulation reflection and group-share, participants and volunteers are called on to examine their preconceptions and understanding of poverty in America and then reflect on how their experience during the simulation has impacted their views and future actions.

If you’re interested in hosting or participating in a Poverty Immersion Workshop, Contact Us for more information!

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

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

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

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


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

For more about the Hackathon, read our recap.

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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?”


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

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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