COMPARED TO WHAT?

Poetry zine gives voice to Sand Point Housing youthCover of Compared to What? A publication of Solid Ground's Sand Point Young Artist Workshop

The youth who live at Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus do not see themselves as a continuation of their parents’ lives. “I get super annoyed when I am compared,” one girl says. “It’s just irritating because that is just saying that you don’t really know who I am if I am being compared.”

Thus the title COMPARED TO WHAT? was born for the zine that developed out of a writing and arts workshop series Solid Ground held last fall for the older teens living with their families at Sand Point, a neighborhood of 175 households at the old Naval Station of Puget Sound in Magnuson Park.

The workshops were based in the principle that everyone’s voice should be heard. Starting with writing sessions led by Seattle storyteller and educator Kathya Alexander, they continued with photography and design sessions led by Solid Ground staff. Through it all, young people found their voices. “Their growth was beautiful to see,” says Christina Shimizu, Annual Giving Officer at Solid Ground and one of the staff supporters of this youth-driven project.

Creative prompts helped unleash the power of the pen

Starting out with writing prompts and progressing to original poems helped the participants feel comfortable, not only with writing, but also with one another. Within this supportive group setting, the youth quickly gained confidence and began to share their personal experiences – an important outlet for previously homeless youth who have not had many opportunities to express themselves creatively.

One of the teens comments about the project, “This is the first time we are actually getting heard, with a different point of view. Our point of view. We think differently from the way adults think. We can also teach adults how we think, because our generation is so different than your guys’ generation. I feel like we know so much more.”

I am a rare solar eclipse
Gray and overlooked
A tough cactus
Midnight, calm and relaxing
I am needed like air
A glistening diamond
The illusion that the sky is blue”

Teen photographer After a few writing sessions, Sand Point Case Manager and experienced photographer, Bellen Drake, led a photography workshop focused on visual aspects of the storytelling process. She spent a day with the youth taking photos and teaching them to use their cameras to capture the essence of their experiences, which for most is shaped by poverty-induced instability. Although most of the poets moved into long-term housing years ago and no longer identify as being homeless, Bellen notes that “it was a valuable opportunity to reflect on a time that impacted them as children, and they have now grown out of. It was a time in their past; homelessness is not their current situation.”

There were multiple leaders within the group and it was an entirely collaborative effort to put the zine together and publish it in January. The poems and images bring to mind the vividness of young romance and deep angst, mixed with materialistic egos and happy innocence. The young artists reveal their dreams and aspirations of growing up, as well as their multidimensional approach to discovering the answers to “What is Justice?”

COMPARED TO WHAT? showcases this unique community and amplifies voices that too often go unheard.

Our published writers & artists are: Ayanle Abdikadir (Abdi), Mohamed Abdikadir, Nya Rambang, Marie, Sahvannah Glenn, Maar Rambang, Heaven, Ryahnna, Geo, Chris Gainey, Ben Dessalegne, Jen Matapula, Andrea R, Deiosha Sparks.

To get your copy of Compared to What? or learn more about how you can support the youth at Sand Point Housing, contact Christina Shimizu at christinas@solid-ground.org.

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When homelessness hits home

Chalkboard art by Sand Point Housing resident children

Chalkboard art by Sand Point Housing resident children

While all of us who work and volunteer for Solid Ground are deeply committed to ending homelessness and addressing its root causes, few of us have had to face the trauma of it directly – either through our own experiences or those of family or close friends. Solid Ground’s
Board President, Lauren McGowan, is one of those exceptions for whom homelessness has hit home.

Lauren lost her mother on Monday, July 15, after years of struggle with untreated mental illness that led to addiction and homelessness. The heartbreaking irony is that Lauren serves as Associate Director of Ending Homelessness at United Way of King County (UWKC), and despite her and her family’s ongoing efforts to connect her mother with the support she needed to be safe and well, the systems failed them.

Lauren shares her mother’s deeply personal story in a UWKC blog post, “Love you, Love you more,” published on 7/19/13. It provides insight into her commitment to end homelessness and her dedication to Solid Ground, and is a poignant reminder that there is much, much work to be done to fix the holes in our community safety nets.

Love you, Love you more

I first learned that my mom was going to become homeless while sitting in a hotel room outside of Venice. I was traveling across Europe with my best friends and celebrating my new job on United Way’s ending homelessness team. I thought it would be a temporary situation that I could quickly fix (I like to fix things)…little did I know that it would be almost 6 years before it would end. At the time I could not have imagined that it would end like this:

“A woman’s body was discovered behind 1 West Walk, in the area of Captain Thomas Boulevard and Campbell Avenue, at 8:51 p.m., police said. Police have identified her as Francis McGowan, 56, who was known to police and had no known address, according to police. Police said there was a liquor bottle near her body and no obvious indications of foul play.”

Tragic? Depressing? Heartbreaking? Yes. But her story isn’t unique. Too many people die on the streets each year as a result of inadequate services and systems to help people with chronic mental health issues and a breakdown of our social service system.

My mom, Fran, was a soft spoken CT native who would do anything for her family. She chaperoned school field trips, made the most amazing cupcakes, and designed elaborate Halloween Costumes for her quirky kids. Among them, a Pepsi Can, KFC Bucket, and Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall. My mom was a stellar list maker, creative problem solver, and an avid reader. She loved her kids and was our best advocate – at school, in the dance studio, and on the field.

Unfortunately my mom suffered from depression, anxiety and a host of other severe mental health issues. They went undiagnosed and untreated for far too long. She used vodka to cope with the pain and this grew into a chronic substance abuse problem. By the time she became homeless, she was already a “frequent flyer” in the emergency room for various incidents related to alcohol abuse.

While my mom was homeless she went through dozens of rehab programs She always excelled in them – she was a gold star student. But the transition to housing never went well. She couldn’t maintain sobriety as required by most transitional housing programs. She bounced from program to program, wait list to wait list, all the while using the jail and hospital systems as places to sober up.

I knew that she needed housing first. A program model that would provide her with a stable roof over head – even if she continued to drink. But CT doesn’t have enough of these programs and I met many case managers along the way who didn’t believe in the “housing first” philosophy. We were stuck with Band-Aids to a problem that required delicate surgery.

My mom spent too many cold winter nights behind a church because she hated the shelters. The bugs, the screaming, the fighting…she couldn’t deal with it. She felt safe outside as long as she could end the night with a text or a call to say, “Love you, love you more.”

At this point in the story many people ask, “What about the family?” We did what we could of course (although there is more I wish I had done). I always made sure she had a phone so we could maintain connection. My Springwire friends taught me that a connection is among the most important thing someone has when they struggle with homelessness. There were hundreds of hotel rooms, bank transfers, an apartment, and even a search party when she went missing one Christmas. But we were losing the battle against mental illness and substance abuse.

Early in 2013 things got pretty bad with my mom. The alcohol abuse had taken a toll on her and her loved ones. She was staying outside again. I called case managers and outreach workers with little success – “She doesn’t want help,” they said. I even tried but failed to have her committed to a Mental Hospital. (CT has very strong patient protection laws). She ended up in a Women’s Prison for several days because of outstanding warrants – largely related to being homeless.

It is too late for my mom but not too late for thousands of others who are living outside and struggling with mental illness. It is simply unacceptable for this to continue happening. We need to raise awareness and empathy for individuals and families who are struggling. We need to band together and fight for better policies and practices. I hope to start a dialogue and welcome your ideas.

The good news is that my mom spent the last few months of her life in a rehab program that seemed to go quite well. I saw her over Memorial Day weekend and she was tan, confident, and optimistic about the future. I was too. While that didn’t last, I am glad it is my lasting memory of her.

Love you mom. Love you more.

The humanity of homelessness

Several Solid Ground staff members participated in the annual One Night Count of homeless people in King County described in this post. Guest contributor Ray Lumpp is a writer for AllTreatment.com, a website devoted to helping individuals and families facing addiction and mental health issues in Washington State.Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness logo

In the early hours of January 25, 2013, over 900 volunteers for the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) spread out across the city and county, searching for men, women and children sleeping outdoors without shelter. Since 1980, SKCCH and Operation Nightwatch have organized the One Night Count. Today, it remains the largest community-organized count in the United States.

In 2013, at least 2,736 men, women and children were found sleeping in cars, riding late-night buses, or curled up in blankets under bridges or in doorways during the three-hour street count – a 5% increase from last year’s total. This number is always assumed to be an underestimate: It is impossible to count everywhere, and many people take great care not to be visible.

Estimated number of people found on the streets or sleeping in cars in Seattle/King Co., '06-'13 (chart by Ray Lumpp, 2013)

Estimated number of people found on the streets or sleeping in cars in Seattle/King Co., ’06-’13 (chart by Ray Lumpp, ’13)

This year, one group of volunteers, including Councilmember Sally Clark, discovered the dead body of a 60-year-old woman near the terminus of I-90 – a sobering reminder of what’s at stake for homeless individuals.

While the One Night Count provides a basic census for tracing the problem of homelessness in King County, another volunteer-based group assembled by the City of Seattle sought to dig deeper. One evening in April 2009, the Homeless Needs Assessment group surveyed 297 homeless people and recorded demographic information for an additional 89 individuals, providing a crucial glimpse of life on the street.

Think of homelessness as a local problem: Most homeless people in Seattle have been living without shelter for over a year and 23% have been living without shelter for over six years. Nearly two thirds reported living in Seattle, and 19% elsewhere in Washington, when they became homeless. Although 91% of people living on the streets would like to find housing, people often wait two years or more for affordable housing options to open up.

Racial disproportionality of Seattle's homeless population compared to the general population (chart by Ray Lumpp, '13)

Racial disproportionality of Seattle’s homeless population compared to the general population (chart by Ray Lumpp, ’13)

Compared to Seattle’s general population, there was a disproportionate number of African Americans (29%), Hispanic or Latinos (13%), and Native Americans (6%), which is similar to the disproportionate number of people with unmet addiction treatment needs. Limited access to information about homeless services is a continuing problem: 67% learned of available services through word of mouth or on the street, while only 10% reported learning of services from an agency or program. Coordinating an effective outreach effort among food banks, drop-in centers, and shelters may help increase access to services.

Food and hygiene programs are the most common services used by homeless people in Seattle. Seventy percent reported using a food bank in the last six months and 48% used meal programs. About half reported using hygiene centers, but only 37% reported staying in a shelter during the last six months. Most of these programs are run and supported by local volunteers, community groups, and ex-homeless people looking to give back and stay clean.

Another telling statistic is that 60% reported health conditions requiring professional care. Though the conditions may range from diabetes to alcoholism, many homeless people use emergency departments for their health needs instead of primary care physicians – wasting time, energy, and taxpayer dollars. In answer to this, DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center) focuses on the needs of homeless chronic alcoholics who are the heaviest users of publicly-funded crisis services. Exploring other alternative housing models may also help shelter more people in the future.

Interestingly, people who received medical care accessed services at a higher rate. Respondents with recent hospitalization or mental health treatment made greater use of meal programs, hygiene centers, shelter, and other services than those not receiving medical care.

While homelessness continues to be a growing national problem, there are many ways you can create a positive change in your community. Volunteer with a shelter or housing program. (Solid Ground’s Broadview Shelter and Brettler Family Place at Sand Point Housing both have volunteer opportunities.) Donate clean clothes (especially shoes), books, toys, diapers, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, blankets, old cell phones, or even gift cards to Starbucks or a grocery store. (Broadview Shelter and Sand Point Housing both also have in-kind donation wish lists.)

You can also give money or gift cards to people experiencing homelessness on the street. Do not ignore them. If you have nothing else to give, simply smile and look into his or her eyes and let them know, even just by noticing them, that you recognize their humanity and that you care.

Tenant Tip: Community Resource Exchange, 4/22, 9am-3pm, Qwest Field

Individuals experiencing homelessness and those who have questions about housing search can attend the Community Resource Exchange Day of Hope & Help, Friday, April 22 from 9am-3pm at Qwest Field (800 Occidental Ave S, Seattle, WA 98134).

This free event is offered by United Way and will provide many resources all in one place, including health and dental checks, public benefits, legal assistance, services for veterans and other community resources. There will be information there about Solid Ground programs, including Tenant Services for individuals who want to know more about their rights as tenants and/or need help with housing search, and other information about renting. Also, staff from our Community Voice Mail program will be present to sign people up for free voice mailboxes.

Community Exchange flyer in English

Community Exchange flyer in Spanish

Thanksgiving for Homeless People

A cool new event with a heartwarming back story is happening Nov. 10 to bring people together to support Thanksgiving for Homeless People. The event features bluegrass music, refreshments and comments from some very special guests. Proceeds will benefit Solid Ground and the outreach/meal work of the Mosiac Community Church and Bread of Life Mission, who will distribute turkey sandwich meals at the Mission following the event.

  • What: Thanksgiving for Homeless People benefitThanksgiving greeting card
  • When: November 10, 2010, 4:00-7:30pm
  • Where: Labor Temple, 2800 1st Ave., Seattle
  • Cost: Individual donations are $10.00 and canned food items.
  • Hosted by: Tyler Accornero and Justin Simmons.
  • Guest Speakers: Urban League Director James Kelly & Former Homeless Resident Don Augustin.
  • Special Guest: Former Gov. Albert Rosellini.

Event co-host Tyler Accornero “grew up on food stamps for most of my young life,” he told Solid Ground in an email. “As i was growing up i made a promise to myself that if i ever made something of myself and became successful that i would help the part of the community that grew up like me or who were in harsher positions in life such as being homeless.

“Thanksgiving for The Homeless came about in the year 2009 when during Thanksgiving I delivered turkeys to local food banks in my Legislative District. I decided after thanksgiving of that year that i wanted to use my community involvement in the political arena and business world to make a bigger impact on the City of Seattle where i was born and help the city in the best way i knew i could, by the relationships I built over the past 7 years in the city.

“In June, I met with a good friend of mine Justin Simmons and we decided to organize and establish an annual event that would benefit the homeless and poor in which we could help the needy by raising money for shelters and also have a food drive for the local food banks on a holiday when there are currently 5,000 homeless on the streets each night in the city.

“When I was choosing a beneficiary for the event i started looking around at different non-profits in the area. Justin informed me that there was homeless advocate non-profit called Solid Ground. I looked more into the organization and found the community Solid Ground was building which will help more homeless families with their living situations. I decided that this would be the best suited  beneficiary for this newly established community event.”

The event is co-sponsored by:

  • Church Council of Greater Seattle
  • Metropolitan Democratic Club
  • Sons of Italy Seattle Fedele Lodge
  • Urban League of Seattle
  • Mosaic Community Church
  • Vietnamese Federation of the USA
  • King County Labor Council
  • Solid Ground
  • People’s Place
  • Bread of Life Mission
  • Doug’s Quality Meats
  • Big John’s PFI
  • Delle Femmine Enterprises
  • American Federation of Musicians Local 76
  • and many more.

All financial proceeds benefit Solid Ground and all food items go to local food banks and missions.

In memoriam: ‘Through our deepest time of need’

When former Solid Ground King County Housing Stability Project client Patricia Birgen-Redwolf shared her story with us last winter, her situation was looking up, and she was excitedly moving forward with her life goals. Sadly, Patricia passed away in late July 2010 from complications following surgery related to her Multiple Sclerosis. We spoke with her former case manager at Vashon Youth & Family Services, Debbie Rieschl, who said that Patricia would have liked to see her story published so that it might help others.

Patricia Birgen-Redwolf

Patricia Birgen-Redwolf

I am a single mom to autistic twin teenage boys. In addition to the stress of raising high-need teenagers, I myself struggle daily with the physical and emotional pain of Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, hypothyroidism, a heart condition and health issues related to the MS. Although recently awarded SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) from the 20+ years that I have been a small business owner, and the taxes paid into the system, that same system penalizes me financially with high medical co-pays due to the hours I still work – yet I need to continue to work in order to survive, regardless of my physicians’ requirement that I stop working. It has me in an endless cycle of declining health and stress.

In late December of 2005 I found myself the victim of domestic violence when I left a relationship and ended up in the hospital with a concussion, fractured ribs, multiple contusions, and the police and victims advocates telling me I needed to move and move fast, as this man had eight prior felony convictions and (unbeknown to me) had been in prison four times, once for running a girlfriend over with her own car.

So, I ran. I came back to King County as that is where my support system is, friends – some whom I’ve known for up to 20 years.

I tried desperately to find an affordable home and within a week I found a house. Although it was outside my price range, it was available immediately, so I took it rather than having my boys and my ADA-assist dog remain homeless and living on friends’ couches and my car in the middle of winter. Also, I was deeply concerned as my autistic twins were beginning to have severe stress reactions due to the lack of stability of a home.

I paid the hefty deposit with loans from friends and first month’s rent from my own money, but when the rental agent came back to tell me that I had to pay an additional, HUGE deposit in order to move in because of the restraining order I had on the man who attempted to kill me (because he was still on the run from the police), I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. I couldn’t go back home, even though I had paid my rent through the end of the month because of the fear of this very dangerous man. I had laid down an electronic trail to make him believe I was in a different state altogether, and later when friends and I went down to move, this was indeed smart as he came to the house with a shotgun in his truck, and we had to get the police to protect me while I hid in my car up the road.

After many, many calls to resource networks, I finally discovered Solid Ground and the King County Housing Stability Project. I needed to get into my new house so I could get back to work and try to get life back to some semblance of normalcy. After nearly two weeks of constant high stress and homelessness while trying to heal from serious injuries, seek housing and calm my boys, my prayers and those of my friends were answered when Solid Ground approved my application. They paid the funds needed to help me secure stable safe housing in a neighborhood that is safe and somewhat difficult to find, even for locals.

I don’t know how I can ever repay what they gave as it wasn’t just about the money, it was also knowing that a community of strangers who did not know us or the details of our story cared enough to step in and ensure that a hardworking single mom with an enormous amount of stress and life struggle – and her two children – would have a safe place to call home. I will be forever deeply indebted and appreciative of this gift, and in all my works will continue my own personal mission to ‘pay it forward’ when I see others in need.

Thank you to all the invisible Angels out there who were responsible for ensuring that this program had the funding to help my family through our deepest time of need. Bless you all! ~Patricia

Note: Patricia’s boys are safe, living with family friends, and receiving ongoing support.

To find out if you or someone you know might qualify for assistance through the King County Housing Stability Project, please call the Community Information Line at 2.1.1 or 206.461.3200.

Rooms with a view at Brettler Family Place

Marpac Construction is rapidly framing up Solid Ground’s 52 new townhouses and apartments for formerly homeless families at Magnuson Park/Sand Point. The following slideshow includes the first ever images from inside the project, giving a more intimate view of the construction and a taste of the views residents will enjoy when they start moving in next summer. If you want to learn more or give your support to the project, please go to our website.

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Flowering future

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