Civic Boot Camp Rookie: Housing the Homeless

By Cecilia Knaub

The newest Civic Boot Camp dove into the homelessness and housing crisis to enrich Seattle residents’ understanding of the interconnected systems that cause homelessness and the barriers that stall resolution. From the heart of Pioneer Square, at Impact Hub Seattle, attendees heard from a range of speakers studied in Seattle’s homelessness issues and working daily to house the most vulnerable.

The path to understanding today’s predicament began with Sinan Demirel, who spoke to the history of homelessness in the city. His talk focused on the importance of single room occupancy hotels that housed seasonal wage workers in the early 20th Century. These buildings offered security and community to low-income individuals whose well-being was tethered to the ebbs and flows of employment and housing availability. Sound familiar? Eventually, vagrancy laws, changes to building codes, and development shut many down.

Equipped with a fuller knowledge, attendees set out to one of four sites, Union Gospel Mission, Chief Seattle Club, Downtown Emergency Services Center, and Compass Housing Alliance, to meet with respective leaders. My group went to DESC, a shelter that serves people who often have serious mental illness or chemical dependencies. The critical takeaway was the need for low-income housing for those on a fixed income without preconditions.

Back at Impact Hub, everyone shared their respective experiences, recounting the details of their site visits with people from different groups. The opportunity to discuss among attendees, which happened throughout the day, was a standout feature. Through collaboration, I learned more about the nuance of challenges impacting organizations I was unable to meet with personally, and we could identify solutions or next-steps as a community.

One of the most enriching segments of the day was the poets and performers from Path with Art. Three talented women, all who had experienced homelessness in the past, shared their work in a moving segment that served as an antidote to the statistics, figures, and data that consolidate the lives of the homeless into reports, discarding the full depth and nuance of their experience as human beings. Some shed tears, others were visibly moved, but everyone undoubtedly felt a shift. The artists infused humanity into a conversation that often lacks it.

Richard McAdams, outreach administrator at Union Gospel Mission, also emphasized the importance of empathy. McAdams was homeless for 10 years, leaving home as a young man to escape physical abuse and using drugs to cope with the trauma. He now directs the same Search and Rescue program that saved him years before.

We then heard from several programs in the area seeking to reshape the consciousness around homelessness and develop innovative solutions to spur change. Facing Homelessness, Millionair Club, and Samaritan have carved out niche strategies to help homeless populations.

Facing Homelessness seeks to invite community to be a part of the solution by engaging with those affected by homelessness with kindness. As they say, “Just Say Hello.”

Millionair Club offers great resources for people able to work, providing job placement, training, and some housing to those experiencing homelessness or barriers to employment.

The Samaritan app connects users with those experiencing homelessness and allows direct donations to individuals for real time contributions. Non-profit shelters distribute beacons to homeless individuals. The app alerts app users when they are near a beacon holder, offers their story, then allows them to donate. The beacon holder can spend those funds at partnered stores or nonprofits.

I implore people to confront the issue, let empathy color the statistics. As the levying and allocation of the head tax divides public opinion, remember 11,643 people are homeless in Seattle and 47.1% are unsheltered. These are people like you and me; they have a favorite food, enjoy the light at 6pm, need connection to derive purpose. The day made space for all of this. By presenting experts with historical background, hearing personal stories, and collaborating with compassionate community members, CBC: Housing the Homeless gave acute attention to this epidemic.

Interested yourself? Join us September 14th for Civic Boot Camp: Housing the Homeless.