Is Today the Day?

By Lisa Gustaveson, Program Manager, Seattle University School of Theology & Ministry

On the first Tuesday of every month you will find a handful of Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry faculty, staff and students at the Emergency Family Shelter. We finish up our work day, grab our families if they are joining us, and meet down at the Belltown shelter with a prepared meal. Sometimes we bring homemade sauce, meatballs and pasta, other times we pull together something easy like a taco bar.

The food we bring is greatly appreciated – the families love the variety and recognize the time and money it takes to organize these monthly visits.

STM faculty, staff and grad students at EFS (August 2015)

School of Theology and Ministry graduate students, staff, faculty and their families at the Emergency Family Shelter.

The best – and most needed – part of our visit happens after we dish up the meal. That’s when we join the families at the tables and share stories about our day. We complain, or rejoice, about the weather and the joys and challenges of parenting. We laugh at the antics of children showing off for the visitors. We open our hearts to hear stories of heartbreak and frustration from mothers who just want to find a better life for their children.

The last time I was at the shelter I met Mary (not her real name). When I asked if I could join her she smiled brightly and welcomed me. There was something about her smile that put me at ease. I felt the stress of my day melting away, and I let myself relax.

“How are things going for you?” I asked. Over the years I’ve asked this question of people experiencing homelessness hundreds of times. Sometimes people shrug and say, “o.k.” This lets me know today is not the day for them to share their story with me.

More often than not the question is met with a smile and “good, and you?” This opens the door to a more personal exchange.

This time, Mary and I quickly connected and found ourselves laughing about the funny things that happened to us that day. Her two-year-old daughter took advantage of her distracted mom to eat a couple packets of butter (at least one with the wrapper still on) before we noticed. We laughed some more about how much trouble kids get into when Mom is focusing her attention elsewhere.

In a short time I learned that Mary was the daughter of a very young mother, and was placed in foster care at age 11. She bounced around from foster home to foster home until she turned 18 when she “aged out.” That means, at an age where many kids are still relying on their parents for support, Mary was left to support herself.

Without a supportive community to rely on, she fell into a crowd that wasn’t always on the right track. Somehow, Mary managed to stay out of big trouble. She told me she didn’t have her daughter until her 20’s because she knew how hard it was for her mom to raise her alone.

Firesteel-Blog - ACE Score and Relation to Adult Homelessness (Infographic)

Infographic created by Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness.

Like so many of the homeless women I’ve met, there was a man who came into her life that didn’t treat her well. She didn’t go into the details and, frankly, she didn’t have to for me to understand how instability, trauma and violence led her to the place she is today.

At this point in the conversation I asked her how her housing search was going. Mary was quick to tell me that the first thing she does every day is check the Capitol Hill Housing website to see if there’s an open unit that meets the requirements of her Section 8 voucher.

Like all homeless families, receiving that housing voucher was a big deal for Mary. For almost a year she’s held onto that voucher – bouncing between couches and shelters – searching, searching for that one break that will change everything. She told me that all she wants is a place to call her own where she can rest and play with her daughter after a long day of work.

One thing became crystal clear to me: Mary really wants to break the generational cycle of poverty. “If I had a job I would be so grateful. Even if it’s at McDonalds I would treat it like it was a 5 star restaurant.”

Suddenly, it was time to clean up for the Therapeutic Play program run by volunteers from Ballard Church on the first Tuesday of the month. (Watch for an upcoming post about this important program.)

I walked out to my car with Mary’s words running through my mind: if I had a job….

But I know the deck has been stacked against Mary since she was a child. She didn’t get a great education – each move meant she fell further and further behind in school. Bouncing from place to place made difficult to build trusting relationships, especially with caring adults. It’s never going to be easy for Mary.

What is so incredible to me is that Mary gets up every day, turns on her phone and looks to see if today is the day she gets a break. Is today the day everything changes?


  1. Watch All Home’s “I Am” video about local community responses to homelessness and visit to learn how you can use your passions and gifts to help your neighbors.
  2. Sign up to volunteer/serve a meal at the Emergency Family Shelter (as an individual or as a group) and get to know the families there, sharing stories, forming relationships and offering support and much needed respite childcare for stressed and exhausted moms.
  3. Read blog posts on Firesteel about homelessness, poverty and the brain – how toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) affect outcomes for children as they grow up.
  4. Learn about the One Home campaign and invite friends and acquaintances who are property owners/landlords to consider modifying their rental criteria to help families move out of homelessness. Consider hosting a Landlord Coffee Hour to reach out to landlords in your faith community. (Contact us to find out more.)
  5. Do something to help homeless individuals and families RIGHT NOW:
    1. Volunteer with one of Union Gospel Mission’s many shelters or meal programs – there are special opportunities for Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up.
    2. Volunteer with or donate to Mary’s Place, which serves homeless families through rotating and permanent shelter and a day center.
    3. Donate your time and resources to one of Seattle’s sanctioned encampments, two of which are opening at new locations this week – Tent City 5 in Interbay and Nickelsville in Ballard; or to one of the other many encampments in the greater Seattle area: Tent City 3 (currently at Bryn Mawr UMC in Skyway), Tent City 4 (currently at Hans Jensen campground in Issaquah), and Camp Unity (currently at Bear Creek UMC in Woodinville). All of these communities list their specific priority needs on their websites, so please check them out!
    4. Firesteel has other great ideas here (see the list at the end of the post).
All Home Faith and Family Homelessness Homeless Families School of Theology & Ministry Women

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


The ancient story of the blind men and the elephant still has many lessons for us today.

Do you know the story of the blind men and the elephant? It’s an old parable from India that speaks to the nature of truth and the limits of personal perspectives. It goes something like this: six blind men want to learn what an elephant is like, having never seen one. So, they approach an elephant and each touches a part of the animal, but only that one part (i.e. one feels the trunk, another a tusk, another a leg, another the tail, etc.). When they report back, they find that they are in complete disagreement as to what an elephant is. One says it’s like a snake, another like a spear, another like a pillar, and so on. The moral: each of our perspectives is valid (and warrants respect), but no one has a complete grasp of or monopoly on the truth. We can learn from one another, and only together, by integrating our perspectives, can we come closer to the truth.

A little over a week ago, Lisa and I attended Homelessness & Hope: A One-day Affordable Housing Conference in Everett, and Captain John DeRousse of the Everett Police Department led the morning panel discussion with this parable. And what a fitting parable it was! In the world of homeless services, housing and advocacy, there are many such truths – we need more shelter beds, we need more affordable housing, we need to house homeless families more quickly, we need better mental health services, et cetera. And while each of these needs is very real, each is also just one part of the larger picture – none represents the complete solution in and of itself. Rather, we need to work simultaneously – and most importantly, cooperatively – from all of these different angles in order to fulfill our common goal of ending homelessness. As one speaker at the conference said, “complex struggles call for comprehensive responses.”

Some of these various responses were represented in the breakout sessions – from workshops on Housing First models like 1811 Eastlake, Homelessness and the Business Community, Landlord Engagement, and Local Ordinances that Work, to the success ofTiny House communities like Quixote Village, HMIS Data Dashboards & Tableau, a 2015 State Legistlative Session Review, and finally, a workshop on Engaging the Faith Community (with our very own Lisa Gustaveson, and Rev. Chris Boyer, Pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church). It was a rich and fruitful day of sharing lessons learned, best practices, and stories.


Program Manager Lisa Gustaveson presenting at Homelessness and Hope: A One-Day Affordable Housing Conference in Everett on 6/5/15.

Some other takeaways from the conference include the following:

  • John Hull, Director of the Everett Gospel Mission’s Men’s Shelter and Day Center, encouraged us to reframe the way we talk about what constitutes “success” for our neighbors moving out of homelessness: “self-sufficiency” doesn’t exist, he says – all of us depend on others, after all, no matter our situation. Instead of self-sufficiency, the ultimate goal for people experiencing homelessness, and for all of us, should be to flourish and to thrive.
  • Middle class solutions don’t work for people in poverty. It’s important to be creative and to empower people who have or are experiencing poverty and homelessness to develop and contribute to solutions.
  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness in Snohomish County are people who have grown up around us – they’re our people, our neighbors, and we need to treat them that way. (Only 9% have come from outside of the county.)
  • Stories are incredibly powerful, motivating tools that keep us moving forward and remind us of why we do the work we do. Three amazingly courageous panelists shared their stories of abuse, addiction, homelessness, and heartbreak to a room full of service providers, policymakers and advocates. One of the panelists, Gina, a domestic violence victim who lost her children due to a meth addiction, is now working for the Snohomish YWCA, helping families in the child welfare system. Another panelist described his struggle with addiction and his brothers’ decision to lie about his involvement in a drug deal in order to save him because, unlike them, he didn’t have any felonies and “still had a good shot at life.” The last panelist shared her story of emigrating as a young mother from Africa to save her daughter from female genital mutilation and to save her family from retribution; she experienced horrible exploitation and psychological abuse once here, until she found help through Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, her current employer. We all felt privileged to have been allowed to share in these stories and bear witness to the tellers’ courage and resilience – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!

Argelia Grassfield (left) interviewed Gina Enochs (right) for the StoryCorps Project, Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness

* An important note: One of the panelists, Gina Enochs, recorded her story as part of the StoryCorps project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness.” Gina’s story, and many others like hers are can be found at Learn more about these stories and how you can use them here.

And finally, I’d like to share the wisdom of this African proverb, which Mary Anne Dillon (Sr. Regional Director for Snohomish County YWCA) shared with the group as a send-off:

If you want to go fast,

Go alone

If you want to go far,

Go together.

Things you can do:

  1. Listen to and share StoryCorps stories recorded in Snohomish County:
  1. Visit the Project on Family Homelessness’s webpage for more action items: StoryCorps and 10 Things You Can Do to End Family Homelessness




Advocacy Data and Reports Events Faith and Family Homelessness Housing First

Domestic Violence, Homelessness and the Church

By Lani Kallstrom, founder of Christian Coalition for Safe Families

Christian Coalition for Safe Families (CCSF) formed in early 2011, bringing together advocates, therapists, professionals in the criminal justice system, survivors of violence, pastors, and interested parties who are committed to the goal of raising awareness about Domestic Abuse in the Body of Christ.

In her post below, Lani reminds us, as people of faith, we are often the first responders to the crisis of domestic violence. She gives us concrete steps we should take to be ready to serve when violence strikes a family in our congregation.

The faith community – that is, the church – can do a great deal to help families avoid the all-too-common consequences of domestic violence: destruction of the family unit, housing instability and homelessness.

For families in domestic violence crisis, the faith community needs to be a place of safety, understanding, support, guidance, and resources that will help heal the problem, and certainly not add condemnation, judgment or poor advice to an already devastating situation.

To adequately respond to the needs of their congregation, faith community members and leaders should question and reflect on how they deal with domestic violence situations, asking questions of their community such as:

  • When a family in crisis brings their brokenness into the church leader’s office asking for help, is the church leader prepared to respond appropriately?
  • Is the church leader afraid to deal with the messiness of relationships?
  • Does the church leader have knowledge of community resources for the many needs that may present (shelter, food, clothing, bills, healthcare, counseling, DV advocates, support groups)?
  • Does the church leader understand the wisdom that when a couple is suspected to be in a domestic abuse situation, that church leader should never counsel the adults together?
  • Is the leader confident and wise enough to encourage separation, if necessary, to allow for safety and a period of healing?

Or does the church leader pull out the partial scripture “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16) or “Wives, submit to your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22) and send the couple home with an admonishment to work harder on their marriage?  (Can you imagine how damaging it is to be sent home feeling like you are the problem, guessing that there must be a secret formula that will end the abuse, without having been given any insight or clarity about what is actually going on?)

And the children don’t miss a beat. 

They see it all; they hear it all. Even if the children aren’t home or are “asleep,” they know.  So they often become disillusioned by the church that won’t help, the church that didn’t help.  Or they may wonder, who is this God who is supposed to be their “father in heaven”?  Do all fathers act like their earthly father – even their heavenly father?  And why would God allow the abuse to continue? Why would their pastor allow it to continue?

So, how can the church help to strengthen the family? Church leaders and all members of the congregation need to take some important steps:

1)     As a church staff, learn about domestic abuse – what it is, in all its nuances, and what it is not. Visit to find out more.

2)      Learn what resources are available in your community; keep a list of resources on hand. Download the King County Domestic Violence Handbook, “Why does she stay?,” “Symptoms of Abuse,” “Responding to Domestic Violence,” and other resources at Visit the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website at to find resources as a survivor, advocate or someone currently in crisis.

I will commit to using my voice to advocate (hand from NCSO)

3)    Take a stand against domestic abuse and advocate! Talk to your neighbors, friends and family, members of your faith community, and use social media and take part in awareness campaigns to advocate. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website is a great place to get ideas and start supporting survivors and those experiencing abuse right now.

4)    Address the issue of domestic abuse with confidence and authority from the pulpit. The church pulpit is often the place where society’s struggles are addressed, and most churches talk about God, His values, His character, and His desires for His people.  God absolutely does not want & never condones abuse in families. However, very few sermons directly address the issue of domestic violence. And when family relationships start to deteriorate, many churches don’t know what to say or do to help the families.

When a church leader addresses DV from the pulpit, several things happen.  When the abuser hears the message, the abuser begins to understand that he cannot use scripture or hide behind scripture to abuse.  He hears that the church leadership is wise to his tactics of abuse and that the church DOES know how to respond to the abuse.  When the victim hears the message, the victim hears that the church is a safe place to seek help, that she or he will be believed and that there are resources to help her or him.  This gives the victim HOPE.

Most importantly, the faith community can respond with wisdom, compassion and resources to families in domestic abuse situations.  This may sound like a straightforward fix, and yet it may take generations to heal the wounds and trauma of abuse. Even still, by addressing domestic violence openly, by providing a safe space and support to families before they break apart in crisis and become homeless, and by supporting those survivors who have lost their homes with counseling and financial support, the church can go a long way to help heal the problem of homelessness.

Action Domestic Violence Faith and Family Homelessness Faith-based Advocacy Women

Highlights: #NAEH15 Ending Youth & Family Homelessness

Our region sent an impressive delegation to the national Youth and Family Homelessness Conference in San Diego last week. Twitter helped us stay in touch during the busy two days – follow our journey through a sampling of the tweets that are captured by this Storify.

Click on the image below to be directed to the Storify page. 

Storify NAEH15

Ending Homelessness Faith and Family Homelessness Homelessness Data Youth
2015 One Night Count Volunteer Breakfast

From the Director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County: Turn the One Night Count into Positive Momentum!

One Night Count 2015On or around January 23, 2015 most regions of the country – and every county in Washington State – completed local Point in Time Counts. These manual counts of people who are experiencing homelessness give us a snapshot of how the homeless system is performing. Last week King County reported a 21% increase in the number of people they found living in places not fit for human habitation. Clearly, we need to make changes to the way we are doing things to reach the outcomes needed  to make homelessness rare, brief and one time.

In press release, Alison Eisinger, Executive Director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, which organizes the count, reports a substantial increase over those found without shelter last year. “This year’s Count is heart-breaking evidence that we cannot cover our community’s most basic needs. Clearly, the crisis of people homeless and without shelter is growing, and clearly we must respond by using every resource we have. Everyone needs a safe place to rest.”

Courtesy of Dan Lamont

Photo by Dan Lamont

Even more shocking, the One Night Count numbers don’t include the more than 500 “literally homeless” families who are on the wait list for emergency shelter in King County (there are over 200 who are staying in emergency shelter, and are in the queue for housing.) These are the families who have burned out their social supports and are in their cars, on the street or in tents.

These are more than numbers… we are talking about very poor men, women and children who have no place to go tonight. Every night they spend homeless adds to the time it will take for them to recover.

Mark Putnam, Director for King County’s Committee to End Homelessness, shares his thoughts about the 21% increase in the number of people found outside. Take a look at his ideas of ways YOU can get involved in local efforts to end homelessness… it’s up to all of us to make change happen.

Good afternoon,

If you’re like me, the results of last week’s One Night Count are still weighing heavily on this sunny Monday. The increase did not surprise me, or most people I talked with, because of what we see all year long. All felt very somber about it. Some felt enraged. I feel some of both, with some measure of optimism, resolve, and conviction mixed in as well.

There should be no more denying that homelessness is a crisis in King County. We can do better and we should not accept 3,772 unsheltered people on a night in January as a part of our culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. We could instead choose to fund our safety net through investments such as ensuring there are enough psychiatric beds for those in need. We could choose to prioritize affordable housing, and renter protections. To ensure we are providing what people need, we need to shift the way we work to be more flexible and creative. We need everyone involved, from congregations to businesses to landlords. And as individual residents we could choose to be more compassionate to our homeless neighbors, to pay it forward by helping them today, tonight, in any way possible.

This mailing list is 1,500 strong, and each of you have networks of friends, business associates, and allies. Reach out to them, and tell them what they can do to support our efforts to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time in King County. A friend of mine asked me on Facebook this weekend how he could help. Here are my ideas, and I’m sure you have many as well:

First, you can learn about the issues and advocate. The state needs to fund affordable housing and mental health services, and increase renter protections, among many other things. Read our legislative agenda here and get advocacy alerts from our partners like the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and Housing Development Consortium.

Second, you can give money to nonprofits that are providing housing for people who have been homeless. We are lucky to have dozens of really strong organizations building housing, and providing shelter, job training, and meals in our community.

Third, if you’re part of a faith community join in the conversation at

Fourth, if you’re a landlord, rent a home to a homeless person! More than 1,000 people who are homeless have the money to pay for rent (courtesy of government programs) but can’t find a place willing to rent to them — usually because of competition with other renters, past evictions, or criminal histories. Fact is, people need second chances. CEH created a campaign called One Home and you can learn more and sign up here:

Fifth, share the stories of homeless people in your community by liking Homeless in Seattle on Facebook or sharing the StoryCorps project. Crowd funding projects like Homeless in Seattle are doing an amazing job of connecting people who want to help to people who need help. They post stories almost daily of people who need help, and give concrete ways you can provide help, by crowd-funding, or asking if anyone can provide a sleeping bag, or a room to rent, etc.

Finally, review CEH’s Draft Strategic Plan. This set of new strategies includes ideas from other communities that have made more progress than King County as well as many more changes we know we need to make to get people off the streets.

Add or edit this list, and send on to your networks.

Make sure each of the 3,772 remain on your minds, today, tomorrow, and all year. Thanks for all you do,

Mark Putnam,

Director, Committee to End Homelessness in King County

Faith and Family Homelessness
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
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