Seattle’s homeless population is the third highest in the United States, according to panelists Marty Hartman, the executive director of Mary’s Place, and Mary Steele, the executive director of New Horizons. As presented by the panelists, roughly 500 homeless families in Seattle will sleep on the streets tonight.
On Thursday, Nov. 10, Seattle Pacific University hosted a panel discussion entitled, “Engaging Homelessness,” which focused on the connection between shelter and healing for the homeless.
“Our city’s in a crisis,” Hartman said. “It shouldn’t be like this.”
In addition to representatives from Mary’s Place, Neighborcare Health and New Horizons, the panel also included Associate Professor of Sociology Karen Snedker and Professor of Sociology Jennifer McKinney, who both discussed research they had collected when SPU hosted Tent City 3 in 2015.
The panelists from Mary’s Place, Neighborcare Health and New Horizons discussed the various services offered by their organization and how they can provide solutions to homelessness, as well as create a healing atmosphere.
Snedker and McKinney discussed how hosting Tent City 3 benefited residents of the camp, and all panelists discussed how having Tent City 3 made residents gain a sense of agency and stability.
Tent City 3 is one in a series of portable and semi-permanent tent encampments for those experiencing homelessness in Seattle. The group moves around to various spaces that will hold them, and they occupied the SPU lawn outside the Student Union Building in 2015. last year.
“Tent encampments are a very new response [to homelessness],” McKinney said.
According to Snedker, residents of Tent City 3 shared that they felt like they had found identity after moving into the encampment. McKinney also said living in the encampment made residents feel safer, as they described the dangers they faced out on the streets.
“We are empowering all those families to reclaim their lives,” Hartman said.
Mary’s Place provides shelter for 900 families every night. The shelter also operates day centers that provide hot meals, showers, laundry facilities, and other services. Mary’s Place also works to connect people with housing advocates.
Hartman also added how Mary’s Place strives to make an individual or family’s time in shelter “as short as possible.”
Steele of New Horizons, a faith-based organization that serves homeless youth, described how the shelter provides drop-in services and job training programs.
Steele says youth homelessness is most often “all about family disruption … [since] home is not a good option.”
The panel also addressed the ways in which organizations and individuals can foster healing and community among homeless individuals.
Representing a faith-based institution, Steele explained how Revelation 3:20 influences the organizational mission. The verse says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
According to Steele, this passage was “a touch point of ministry” at New Horizons. She said the organization’s focus is coming alongside people experiencing homelessness in order to help them succeed.
Overall, the panelists placed an emphasis on building relationships with individuals first before real solutions to homelessness can be achieved.
Hartman said that many who are homeless are “craving relationship,” and stressed how relationships can change lives.
Snedker and McKinney, who conducted research on Tent City 3 with SPU students, commented on how it was “transformative“ for the student researchers to interact with those who lived within the community.
“Students had a connection to residents that was unique,” Snedker said.
Snedker also said that experiences like these were a “critical first start” in engaging in relationships with those who are experiencing homelessness.
“See people … care about the people you see in your daily lives,” Snedker said. “Show some humanity.”
These expectations and desires were echoed by other panelists, in addition to a sense of hope for the future.
“These are all of our neighbors,” Hartman said.