Archive for March, 2009

city-inside-outUnited Way of King County and a bunch of other organizations like Seattle Works, Seattle Jobs Initiative, Northwest Harvest, and the City of Seattle were recently featured on Seattle Channel’s City Inside/Out.

The episode was about the various resources available to those struggling in these tough economic times. They hit on a bunch of useful resources such as UWKC’s own free tax preparation and the city’s utility assistance program.

The list is very thorough, so you should definitely check it out: http://www.seattlechannel.org/CityInsideOut/links.asp

And to watch the full episode, you can view it here: http://tinyurl.com/d6tay3


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I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a President say the word “homeless” out loud in front of a camera when he wasn’t running for something. Granted, the question did prompt him, but still…here’s a thoughtful blog string from Change.org about President Obama’s response from his press conference.

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How many of us have actually thought about what it actually means to be homeless, I mean really conceive it, get it, feel it.  Think about the absolutely horrible feeling of having no where to go when you just want to sleep, be warm, be dry, be away from everything.  With things the way they are in the world, it is much more of a reality for a lot of us now then even a few months ago.

I recently sat in on a listening session hosted by United Way of King County focusing on how people are doing right now, how has this “financial recession” hit you and those you are connected to.  It was a most sobering experience but at the same time, there was a sense of, dare I use the cliché word of the time, hope.  With as dark as the clouds are looking these days, the silver lining was hard to find, but it is not gone.  We have a chance to work towards making our communities stronger. 

Our “communities” are changing shape and individuals are becoming more and more isolated.  We might now have the tools to find long lost elementary school friends online via all the social media tools but how many of us really know our neighbors?  We can spend time connecting to people thousands of miles away and yet spend no time getting to know people that live right beside us. 

I say this to emphasize a point that was brought up in our listening session in regards to recent immigrants to this country.  A strong non-profit service provider brought a group of individuals to the listening session to talk about how the hard times are hitting them.  Over and over again we heard how they are isolated in their community, their family is largely back home and they came here to provide for them but find themselves alone dealing with very difficult times.  The feelings of being “alone”, “depressed”, “forgotten”, or “uncared for” are not ones that are limited to the new folks to this country.  Those sentiments are being echoed through out communities in our county and in our country. 

The hope that I mentioned earlier was in reference to the feeling as people left the room as the listening session in SeaTac City Hall was wrapping up.  Yes, it was heavy and people were still heading home to uncertain budgets and scary futures, but people felt like they were not alone, and that seemed to reassure folks.

Communities are not there to support each other in the ways that they used to be.  We are all sliding a bit closer to that “brink” but with the help of everyone right outside our door, we might not feel quite so alone.  I want to take this chance to challenge you all out there to say hello to a neighbor, passerby, person you have seen at the bus stop many times.  Take a step towards building a local community because who knows, you might be the next person to offer them a listening ear in their time of support or you may need one yourself!

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Wow. Not for the article, because to be honest I read it and didn’t find it surprising, insightful, or particularly biased in any way.

But then I read the comments (up to 170 and counting), from all over the world but mostly from western WA. The tone of these comments is what struck me–the absolute cruelty and venom in the written voices of folks saying things like ‘I hate rich people’, ‘I hate poor people’, ‘Get a job’, ‘These kids are spoiled’, etc. It’s not surprising, I guess, but it is rather unnerving (and the self-id’d health department employee who insists that 90% of homeless people are in that situation by choice is just beyond silly).

And like in so many cases, we’ve once again managed to almost entirely miss the point. It’s about empathy, as a few commenters do point out finally. I don’t really have an educated opinion on the merits of a program like SPU’s Urban Plunge, but I do think that something designed (perhaps even with many flaws) to create empathy and understanding of others IS a good thing. If I never even try to experience something, I can never begin to have empathy or want to do something to make a difference, nor would I even bother to care about doing so. The failure oftentimes isn’t in the attempt. It’s in the not even trying. I’ve heard that somewhere before. 🙂

Does it work? Well, that’s up to the students, and what they do with that brief and scripted experience on the streets (and what it does to them). I’m hoping they help change the world as it is, because we obviously need it.


PS–The next time you have the urge to say “Get a job” to somebody on the street, stop. Think about what you did the last time you went to ‘get a job.’ I’m guessing you probably tried to get a good night’s sleep the night before. Maybe you took a shower (I hope). Ate a little something, enough to be alert but not enough to make weird noises during the interview…where exactly did you do those things? Did you do them at home?

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weingart_homeless_11When it comes to raising awareness and funds for those experiencing homelessness, finding innovation is key. It is so easy for people to ignore the problem that merely getting people’s attention is a seen as a good thing.

For example, LA’s Weingart’s Homeless Center found a unique way to display the importance of homelessness at upscale malls in the area:

They photographed a dozen of the 70.000 people living on the streets of Los Angeles. They gave each of them a blank cardboard sign and had them write the same message: Before you turn away, put yourself in my place. Followed by the URL, weingart.org. Then they took those images, blew them up life-size, removed their faces and made them into photo-realistic cardboard cutouts. (via adgoodness)

While this is seen as a great way to grab eyes, can it go too far? Where is the line between raising awareness and exploitation drawn?

I recently found two different cases where the ideas are unique but has raised some controversy:

Pimp This Bum

In Houston, a father and son team created a website to raise funds for a Timothy Dale Edwards, a man experiencing homelessness. What makpimpthisbumsmalles this special? The site’s name is PimpThisBum.com

Sean and Kevin Dolan, the creators, wanted to make something controversial:

“We knew that the same campaign with a sincere appeal and a Web site like helpthehomeless.com would be ignored,” he said. “We knew that if we insulted people’s sensitivity or appealed to their humor ­ on a subject as sensitive as this we would get their attention.”

As it turns out, their plan worked. In less than two months, they were able to raise $50,000 in donations and pledges for Edwards.

While this worked in this one case, critics argue that the site amounts to exploitation and doesn’t do much in terms of helping the underlying problems of homelessness.

[via CNN]

Urban Plunge

During spring break, instead of going somewhere warm, 18 Pacific Seattle University students decided to participate in the school’s “Urban Plunge” program, where they would spend their week living as if they were homeless. The 20+ year old program is designed to “confront issues like materialism and public service.”

The students only take a journal, a bible, a toothbrush, and the clothes on their back and survive on the street for the week.

To address the issue of using resources, the school reimburses a church to provide shelter and gives money to any organization that feeds the students.

While some groups see this as a positive learning experience that will hopefully lead to increased volunteerism, others “have requested the students stay away, in order to keep the focus on the genuinely homeless.” [via Examiner]

What do you think? Do you feel like these methods of raising awareness and funds are effective or exploitative? I’d love to hear your opinions on this.

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Who: You
What: Seattle Homeless Needs Assessment
Where: Various locations throughout the City of Seattle
When: Monday April 13th, 8:00pm-12:00am
Why: To provide important insight into the needs and barriers to housing facing people who are homeless in Seattle.

On April 13, 2009, community groups and volunteers in coordination with the City of Seattle, United Way of King County and the Committee to End Homelessness will come together in an effort to better understand the needs of people who are homeless. Teams of volunteers will receive required training, and conduct surveys as they walk through specified areas of Seattle that evening. Read this to find out more and sign up!

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Last night, I had a chance to facilitate a table at our second Community Listening Session. These sessions (more are being planned) will help inform United Way of King County’s overall plan to address the rising needs of food, housing, and other basic essentials in this economic downturn. My co-facilitator, Tracy, and I asked a series of questions to a table of representatives from area service providers. And then we shut up and listened. Notes are being compiled as I write this, but these are the highlights of what I heard:

  • We are all surrounded by messages of despair in the media, in our neighborhoods, on the faces of our clients and co-workers…and that makes it very difficult to wake up each morning and come in to try to do the right thing, when we know the right thing isn’t going to be enough for some people.
  • Volunteerism is way up, which is great! But it’s mostly up perhaps because so many people have been laid off, which is not so great. And it’s hard to manage this influx of help when co-workers that use to handle that are themselves being laid off.
  • Things will get better, and the economy will improve. We know that. But in the meantime, United Way should invest (and partner with others to do so) in getting people housed and keeping them housed, and providing food. Keep people from losing their basic needs, and then we [the other providers] can be more successful in helping them with other challenges and opportunities.
  • I am grateful to everyone who was in that room last night. Once the official write-up is completed, I will post it here for all to read and reflect on.


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