King County is considering opening a new shelter at the former Public Health Clinic in White Center. This shelter will provide space for 70 people – single adults and couples – as well as pets. It’s hours will be from 5pm – 8am, including dinner and breakfast. The shelter will also have case management services. Learn more about it at this link. A community meeting was hosted on September 15th, 2016, the minutes for the meeting can be found here, a video of the meeting is on the White Center Now Blog. After the meeting community member, Stephanie Endres wrote the following friendly letter to her fellow White Center community members, which she agreed to let us share (You can print and sign a postcard in support of the shelter, share with your community and mail signed postcards to Coalition on Homelessness, 77 S. Washington Street, Seattle, WA 98104 – we’ll take them to King County Executive Dow Constantine and Council Chair Joe McDermott).
My name is Stephanie and I am a Homeless Outreach Case Manager in Seattle. I grew up in White Center. I’ve gone to Mt. View Presbyterian Church since I was a child, where I also attended youth group. I’ve been involved and volunteered for nonprofits founded in White Center; I attend and support events in the neighborhood year round I volunteer within the White Center community. I also run a nonprofit that I founded in 2011 that does outreach to homeless individuals in King County.
As I heard in the community meeting last night, most of you are concerned about a new shelter in your neighborhood. You are clearly concerned about the children in the neighborhood. You’re afraid of sex offenders or drug users being a danger to you in your homes, schools, and parks. You’re afraid children will become direct targets of crime because they walk near a homeless shelter. I have a 5 year old daughter and a 4 year old son who both attend school in the Highline District, so I understand worrying about your children’s safety and welfare. Before you get upset over a shelter in the neighborhood, here are some things to think about. Children in White Center walk by sex offenders, drug addicts, thieves, alcoholics, etc. in this community every day. These people are already here, in housing and without housing, and will continue to be here, whether or not there is a shelter. Our children see these people on a regular basis on the streets: in great need of help, whether they are high, drunk, dirty, hungry, or all of the above. I see people walk by every day like these people do not exist, or worse, yell at them, make fun of them, or shun them because of the current state they are in. What is this teaching our children?
I currently work at two organized homeless encampments in Seattle; one in the Central District and another on MLK and Othello. The community crime rates in those neighborhoods DID NOT go up at any point after homeless people moved into their tents. In fact, none of the community crime rates, where any of our homeless encampments have been built, have gone up since the encampments have been there. [Ervin & Mayo, 2004; Myths & Facts About Homelessness] Just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean they are a criminal. Sometimes the opposite is true. When a person is homeless and living on the streets, they are in survival mode. If they have a bed to sleep in and a meal to eat, other things can finally be concentrated on.
My children come with me to work all the time. My children are active volunteers in the homeless community in and around Seattle. Often times they go out with me when we are handing out toiletries and food to these very same homeless people in White Center. None of us, including my children, have ever been sexually or physically assaulted, kidnapped, raped, or the victim of any other crime by any of the homeless residents at these shelters, encampments, or on the streets. In fact, if you looked up the statistics of people who rape, abuse, kidnap, or commit other crimes toward children, the numbers will be overwhelmingly in homeless people’s favor.
Instead of using this shelter as an excuse to come together and rally against the organizations who are finally stepping in and trying to help people who are homeless in White Center, why don’t we take this as an opportunity as a community to educate ourselves on homelessness and addiction? In my opinion, it is something we should have done long ago. Being submerged in the homeless world every day, I can agree with the people who say the biggest need is being addressed with this shelter. There are very few shelters that allow couples and pets. There are already many shelters that allow families. And as far as the low barrier model for the shelter goes,, it is quite difficult to reach someone who needs helps when you are pushing them away because they use drugs or alcohol. Just as we saw and heard last night at the meeting, when someone is pushing something on you, you will automatically go into defense mode and push back. We can reach more people, gain trust, and increase effectiveness when we can interact with people at their lowest point, whether that is while they are using alcohol or illegal drugs, or whether they are in the grips of depression or other mental illness.
We should lead by example and show kindness and empathy to people who are at this very low point in their lives. We have no idea how they got there. I can tell you the biggest difference I have seen between someone who is homeless and someone who is not: the homeless individuals do not have a support system. Many of these people have made some of the very same decisions you and I have made but the difference is they had no one to pick them up when they were down, no one to help pay their rent or utilities bills when they were going to lose their housing, no one to support them in their long excruciating journey to get clean, or no one to just simply tell them that they are loved. Instead of rallying against letting these people go inside at night and have a safe place to rest and eat meals, try to remember they are humans too. They are someone’s child, friend, brother, or sister. They too need a support system. That is something they can receive when this shelter opens.
Don’t expect things to change overnight. With time and outreach, case management, meals and beds, people will be brought inside at night. They will stop using the bathroom, using drugs, and sleeping in your business parking lots and in the bushes in back of your home. They will choose the more secure, safe option at the shelter. And we will have a chance to gain trust and reach deep down with these people and ultimately help change their lives. Is anyone else doing anything to bring them off of the streets? I think we should at least give this a chance.