This Friday, United Way of King County will hold its annual Day of Caring.

To be honest, I’ve never been fond of that name. I know I’m over-simplifying, but to set aside one day to “care” makes about as much sense to me as offering up a box of chocolate on February 14th to make up for all the other times we’ve messed up in our relationships throughout the year. This will be my 12th DoC since coming to United Way, and to me, over the years this day has become a Celebration of Caring, a chance to recognize that ‘caring’ is something that we do, generally, all the time…whether it’s for ourselves, our families and friends, or complete strangers.

This year, it will also be a chance for me to reflect, because our Day also happens to fall on the 8th anniversary of September 11th. [For those of you not aware, it has been named a National Day of Service and Remembrance.]

Since 9/11, the proximity of these two dates (Day of Caring always happens on a Friday in September) has always created mixed emotions on my part. Back in 2001, Day of Caring occurred on September 14th. My work assignment for that morning was to stand in the parking lot at Seattle Center and guide volunteers to where they could park. As I stood there by myself, I watched the sky get brighter over the Cascades, and noticed a dot come out of the mountain shadows. It was the first morning that air flights were allowed to continue after the attack. And I remember tears. I didn’t want to be there, volunteering or otherwise.

I still get knots in my stomach thinking about that day. I still get moody and a little sad when I think about finding out later that I knew 2 people in the World Trade Center.

But this year, on this day, I get to assist homeless individuals and families at our Community Resource Exchange. I get to celebrate caring, celebrate service, and remember how lucky and grateful I am for the opportunity to do so.


videographyAt our Community Resource Exchanges (CRE), we really encourage our volunteers to engage with our guests and spend time talking with them. We have a big communal dining area and seating throughout the venue so that folks could just relax and talk. Our volunteers get to hear some amazing stories and it really changes their perceptions about homelessness.

As we’ve seen with sites like InvisiblePeople.tv, the internet really allows everyone to have a voice and share their stories to a broad audience. Homelessness is moving away from being marginalized and is spreading online.

We want to do our part in this movement, too. So for our upcoming CRE we want to set up a camera so that our guests, our volunteers, and our service providers can come and share their stories and experiences.

We have the space, the people, and the drive. Now, we need a volunteer videographer! Here’s our volunteer description:

Wanted: Volunteer Videographer to Record Stories of People Experiencing Homelessness

United Way of King County will soon be hosting its Community Resource Exchange – a large event to benefit people experiencing homelessness in our community. We expect to welcome 900+ homeless families and individuals to receive housing/employment support, medical care, haircuts, and more.

One other service we want to offer is allowing our guests, volunteers, and service providers to tell their stories and share their experiences. We will have a separate room for people to capture their moments on video.

We need a volunteer videographer with the time, equipment, and know-how to make this all happen.

Help us share these stories and raise awareness around homelessness!

When: Friday, September 11th, 2009. 7am – 3pm
Where: Qwest Field Plaza (800 Occidental Ave South)

If you’re interested or if you have questions, shoot me an email at ykim[at]uwkc[dot]org or an @reply/DM to @HomelessKC.

My co-worker Yuri wrote a great post yesterday about the Community Resource Exchange. I liked it so much, I want to refer to it again. Not only does this event offer people currently dealing with homelessness an opportunity to connect with a variety of different resources in one place on a single day, but it also offers something unique to those of us lucky enough to volunteer.

We get to talk with people attending the event. We get to walk with them, side-by-side, from service provider to service provider. We get to sit down and eat with them. We share stories about our lives (‘How’d you end up in Seattle?’, ‘Where’d you go to college?’, ‘I dated a guy named Patrick back in high school’, etc). We have a chance to remind ourselves just how alike we really are; how simple acts like listening to someone or sharing a meal really can have a significant impact on someone’s life.

And I’m not actually talking about the homeless person here. Although I like to think I’ve affected them positively, as well.

So what can you do? Well, we have the volunteers, and just about all of the logistics are set.

But, here’s something: you know that backpack or duffel bag sitting in the garage, attic, or trunk of your car? The one that is in fairly decent shape (not ripped apart at the seams), but you never use it anymore? Or maybe you just bought a new one for your kid as he or she gets ready to head back to school, and you figured you would just toss the old one?

Don’t. Instead, drop it off at United Way of King County, 720 2nd Avenue in downtown Seattle (corner of 2nd & Columbia). Or you can email me at pkelley@uwkc.org, and we can figure something out.

I’ve been ranting and raving about our  upcoming Community Resource Exchange, which is a big one day event to help people experiencing homelessness (I must’ve said/written that sentences a million times now).  I mean, I’ve written really detailed posts about it and I’ve been tweeting about it on our new HomelessKC Twitter account (follow please!) for the last month.

So continuing on this trend, let me share with you some of the amazing results that have come out of past CREs.  Remember, all of these things happened all in one place and in one day.   And also, we’re going to have another one of these great events on 9/11/09!

CRE 2009 April178

At any given CRE, we have…

…Over 800 homeless families and individuals come through our doors and receive care and services.
…Over 250 volunteers come together from the community to serve the homeless.
…Over 80 nonprofit organizations, schools, and community groups provide services for those in need.

Notable Achievements

  • Each guest and volunteer received a warm meal catered by FareStart.
  • $14,085’s worth of dental care which included 20 x-rays, 31 examinations, and 18 extractions. All done through Medical Team International’s mobile dental clinic
  • DSHS provided 40+ EBT cards (food stamps) in one day. Normally, this takes weeks to process.
  • 300 Haircuts provided by students from Northwest Hair Academy.
  • 200 Participants had their feet washed by members of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer
  • 250 Long distance calls made
  • 75 Voicemail accounts set up through Community Voicemail via Solid Ground
  • All guests left with care packages filled with travel-sized toiletries and other goodies

Really, that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of services that we have.  I could go on and on about the free legal service, health services, youth support, veterans support…. I’ll stop.

Suffice to say, I think the CRE is a really awesome event that makes a big difference on the lives of people experiencing homelessness in our community.   I’m really excited about our upcoming CRE on 9/11!

Our old friend Mark Horvath stopped in at Nickelsville earlier today. You can check out his photos and link to his Invisiblepeople.tv Road Trip stories. Anyway, I heard about this, and I got to thinking, [insert post title here].

[Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur asks the same question at the end of her heartbreaking article today about Philip Carrasco. I like to read Ms. Brodeur’s column regularly, but even if you don’t, check this one out. And thank you, Nicole, for telling stories “that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.”]

Now, back to Nickelsville…what do you think, Seattle? (Mike) “McGinnville” definitely has a better ring than (Joe) “Mallahanville”, but that could just be because it sounds like McMinnville (I guess it’s a place in Oregon?). I’ve gone through both official websites, and have to say sadly that I’m not all that impressed with either candidate’s stance on homelessness, poverty, or affordable housing. Mr. McGinn mentions ‘housing’ exactly once as far as I can tell, although he does spend quite a bit of time talking about how he will effectively reduce poverty by providing broadband Internet access to ALL, which I take to mean EVERYONE. Huh. Maybe Mr. Mallahan can help him out with that by getting T-Mobile to offer up free handheld, broadband-access devices to the tens of thousands of Seattle residents living below the poverty level. Because when we talk about ‘basic needs’, that’s right up there with food and shelter.

Speaking of Mr. Mallahan, his site does a slightly better job of describing at least some experience in working on these issues. But although he does provide some thoughts on homelessness in Seattle, he doesn’t really seem to say much more than ‘as Mayor, I’ll make sure these programs are funded and held accountable.’ Where haven’t we heard that before?

I kind of look at both of these guys and think things like, sure, traffic’s a pain in the ass. But I mostly take the bus, and the bus works just fine. And surprisingly enough, I can’t live on a bus, or eat one.

When it comes to elections, I have kind of a whacky way of choosing who I vote for. I’m generally not interested in knowing what a candidate will do for me. I’m usually more interested in knowing what they’ll do for someone who doesn’t have what I have. In this case, I’m talking about a roof over my head that I can afford and enough food to eat. And right now in that regard, I’m just not seeing either one of these candidates much differently than the guy we just kicked out. That could definitely change.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, I want to admit that I did not vote for either Mr. McGinn or Mr. Mallahan. As a matter of fact, I volunteered for one of their opponents (not the incumbent guy). But I do have close friends who are intricately involved in the campaigns of both of these men. And by all accounts, they are both men of intelligence, fairness, and integrity, insofar as human beings can be. I wish them both the best of luck in the general election, and hope beyond all doubt that, no matter the outcome, neither man does anything that would lend credence to having a homeless encampment named after him. Because that would be weird.

Here’s a quick update on a few folks I’ve written about previously. I’ve tried my best to follow the stories of Mark Horvath and David Ashby. They’re both doing amazing, inspiring things to raise awareness around homelessness…but it’s really the stories that they’re hearing that I find inspiringly heart-breaking.

  • Mark, the creator of invisiblepeople.tv, is in the middle of his road trip around America to chronicle the lives of homeless people in this, the wealthiest broke nation in the history of the world. He’s visited shelters and tent cities from LA to Florida, and his work has quickly become a “social media phenomenon”, as pointed out in this recent article for the Social Media Club of Seattle. He’ll be back in Seattle for the Gnomedex 9.0 conference on August 20th to talk about using social media to create change. Definitely check it out, if you have a chance!
  • As for 14-year old David, he is closing in on his destination of Washington DC, having walked over 740 miles so far on his journey. He recounts some of the stories of the homeless youth he’s met on his trek on his blog. David should arrive in DC sometime next week, where I hope President Obama takes the time to meet with this young man. It’s not clear whether or not that will happen, and David’s pretty clear about that not being the point of this experience. But if you want to see it happen, you can sign a petition on Change.org’s website before August 15th.
  • “More and more, we’re hearing about homeless people being attacked for no other reason than that they’re homeless, and we’ve got to do something about it.”

    That’s a quote from a recent article in the New York Times, addressing again the push to protect homeless people in our country by passing hate crime legislation (I talked about this a while back). The quote is from a Democratic Representative from the great state of Texas, Eddie Bernice Johnson. Rep. Johnson introduced a bill last week in the House seeking to label attacks on homeless people as a federal hate crime, which would mean increased penalties for anyone convicted of such crimes. As I read the Times article, I was struck by this statistic: 58% of assailants implicated in attacks on homeless people in the last decade were teenagers. Primarily, we’re talking about teenage boys out for a “thrill”.

    So, the problem, as I read it, is that an already-stigmatized (poor, unemployed, mentally ill, probably minority, etc, and all or any of the above) segment of the American population is being targeted based solely on their housing status by a smaller but much more violent segment primarily made up of teenage boys who no longer find video games or Miley Cyrus posters to be stimulating enough anymore.

    Our leaders’ solution, the “something” that ‘needs to be done’? “Protect” the stigmatized segment of our society by imprisoning these young psychos for longer periods of time, after they’ve already proceeded down the yellow brick road of sociopathology, and severely injured if not killed at least one other person. Where they’ll get fed, clothed, and housed every day until they get out. (Yeah, I know, it’s not the Hilton. But you’d be surprised).

    In other words, we could potentially end up housing the offender(s) for a very long time at taxpayer expense…for committing a hate crime against a homeless person.


    If we actually housed the homeless, got them off the streets, instead of ‘protecting’ them with after-the-fact legislative maneuvers like this, would that actually solve something in this equation? Or would that bored band of teenagers lurking on the corner at night just look for something else to destroy?

    Honestly, as I sat here and wrote this, I don’t know which group I have greater empathy for–the people on the streets who live with this kind of fear every night, or the people who somehow come to the conclusion in their minds that such incomprehensible acts as this one could be “fun”.