NEW Bel-Red Family Resource Center

People are experiencing homelessness in every zip code in King County, including the Eastside. During this year’s One Night Count, at least 245 individuals were found to be unsheltered in the Bellevue-Redmond area alone – and this does not include the hundreds living in shelters, transitional housing, and on the edge of homelessness.

The new Bel-Red Family Resource Center is a faith-based response to this crisis and is a beautiful example of the great things that can happen when churches heed the call to live out their faith and serve their neighbors and the wider community.


By Dawn Stenberg, Church Engagement Partnership Specialist at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission

Last year, Redmond city officials approached Evangelical Chinese Church (ECC) to ask if they would be willing to engage the issue of homelessness by opening up their building for use as a shelter.  ECC then began to ask themselves what more they could do to help their homeless neighbors.  They started exploring partnerships with area congregations and non-profit agencies to better understand the issue and how they could get involved.

ECC partnered with Creekside Covenant Church, Westminster Chapel, and Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission to explore how they could serve families experiencing homelessness.  They’ve been working together for nearly two years on opening the “BelRed Family Resource Center” or BRFRC and are ready to do a “soft launch” opening for the BRFRC.  Operations for a day center will begin in a facility owned by Creekside Covenant.  The long term hope is to operate a 24-hour shelter for single moms at a large house ECC owns on the property adjacent to Creekside Covenant Church.

In preparation to open this day center for single moms, the congregations involved have taken part in several training opportunities.  Working in partnership with Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, they hosted a Poverty Simulation Workshop at ECC.  More than 80 people attended up on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and we even had to turn some people away as the workshop reached capacity.  Other trainings offered were a Trauma Informed Care and Boundaries training at ECC that had about 180 in attendance.  Additionally, Westminster Chapel recently hosted a “Homelessness 101” workshop where people came and learned about the facts and myths about homelessness, and participated in an interactive training.

The congregations are very committed to serving families experiencing homelessness.  We hope to open the BRFRC at the end of May and have started recruiting volunteers from the congregations and the community.  For more information, and to see how you can get involved you can visit www.ugm.org/BelRed.

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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.

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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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Faith in Action at All Saints Parish

A shout out to our partner parish in Puyallup, All Saints, whose advocacy and work with homeless families was just recognized in an article in Northwest Catholic last week! Read the full article below to learn more about how the parishioners are putting their faith into action. (And look for a word from School of Theology & Ministry Dean Mark Markuly!)


Helping homeless families

Puyallup parish works through interfaith project at Seattle University to fight homelessness

By Kim Haub

All Saints Puyallup parishioners at Olympia capitol
Members of Puyallup’s All Saints Parish traveled to Catholic Advocacy Day in Olympia, where they asked legislators to streamline assistance programs and reduce the waiting time for homeless families to receive aid. Photo: Courtesy All Saints Parish

For All Saints parishioner Veronica Kaipainen, helping the homeless is a family affair.

The Kaipainens participate in Faith and Family Homelessness Project events at the Puyallup parish, where they learn ways to help and advocate for the estimated 319 homeless families in their community.

“I am drawn to the idea of faith in action,” said Kaipainen, a public school counselor. “This really seemed to be an activity that I could apply to my professional life as well as my spiritual life.”

All Saints is one of 14 Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations — and the only Catholic one — participating in Seattle University’s Faith and Family Homelessness Project. All Saints received nearly $10,000 in grant money through the program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Poverty Immersion Workshops Build Understanding (Seattle University)

Poverty Immersion Workshops Build Understanding

Written by Lisa Gustaveson, Seattle University Faith & Family Homelessness Program Manager for Firesteel

(Updated on 11/10/14)

“What’s the best way to learn about complex social issues like poverty and family homelessness?” This question forms the basis of my work as program manager for Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry Faith & Family Homelessness project.

When asked, I’ll usually suggest a review of the many poverty-related studies and reports published in both local and media outlets to get started. Socio-economic data released by the US census bureau just this past week confirms what social service providers know: poor families in every part of the country are struggling to survive, with little hope for the future. Sadly, if you are a poor, single mother with little education, your chances of economic recovery are very low.  Another study suggests simply being poor impacts one’s ability to make decisions.

After reading an article about how poverty damages decision-making, I commented to my Facebook friends, “I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for parents worrying about how to feed or house their children… Of course poor decisions might be made! I’ve made some of my worst decisions in moments of stress.” Although I have faced financial crises during childhood and as an adult, my experiences are nothing like families living in poverty today. It’s hard for me to imagine what it’s really like for struggling parents to get help in an often confusing, disconnected system. Seeking a Deeper UnderstandingReading data and reports is one way to learn about poverty; however, it is more difficult to really know what it is to be poor. 

Over the past 18 months we’ve been working with the 14 Faith & Family Homelessness Project sites in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties to identify the best faith-based educational activities that can help us more deeply understand and take action to stop the cycle of generational poverty and homelessness. Early on, the Temple Beth Or and First Presbyterian Church teams in Everett wanted to plan a large-scale simulation to help their members learn what pushes poor families into homelessness. They understood how challenging it would be to use a simulation or immersion experience to educate their members about such a difficult topic. One of the planning team noted, “If we were to spend days and nights on the streets we’d never fully know what it means to be homeless. When you know you have a home waiting for you, it’s different.” They knew that an exercise in “pretending” to be poor could be seen as insensitive.

The team also realized that creating their own simulation from scratch would consume most of their time and resources set aside for the project. An Internet search brought up a handful of options – ranging from online tools like Playspent, to short “equity” exercises in which participants are assigned varying levels of resources. A trend emerged, with most searches containing the widely acclaimed Missouri Community Action Poverty Simulation. Further research led the team to local expert Ezzy Salazar and her team at Hopelink, who were trained in the Missouri model and graciously agreed to help put on the simulation.

Poverty Immersion Workshop

Poverty Immersion Workshops Build Understanding (Seattle University)

Poverty Immersion Workshop participants deepen their understanding of the complex factors that force poor families into homelessness. The workshop will be offered at Temple de Hirsch Sinai (Seattle) on November 16, 2014. Photo courtesy Lisa Gustaveson.

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