Members of HHT pass out food and supplies to local homeless, including Janelle Winstead and her children. (Photo credit/Carolyn Schneider)
With the mission of uniting people of faith to build stronger communities, Associated Ministries works very closely with a number of local nonprofits and organizations serving those who need our help. We continue to be inspired by each and every one, including a band of local do-gooders who call themselves “Helping the Homeless of Tacoma.”
This grass-roots collective provides food, clothing, toiletries and love to people experiencing homelessness. They also hold impromptu and informal events they call Pizza Love, Guac Love, etc. where they gather hot meals and distribute them to anyone in need.
“We’ve distributed food, tents, sleeping bags, tarps, clothing items of all sorts, lots of batteries, radios, flashlights, hand and foot warmers, diapers for infants and adults, vitamins, pet items and countless other items,” said Ana Maria Sierra, a founding member. “Pizza Love is simply a mobile pizza party for our homeless friends with a dash of love thrown in. It was started by a community of love and naturally, we had to spread this great idea around.”
They began their efforts simply by recognizing an opportunity in their community to do something good for their neighbors.
“Initially, neighbors, friends, and acquaintances responded to my Facebook posts about reaching out to our homeless community person-to-person, without intermediaries,” said Sierra. “Then, friends and neighbors offered to drop off blankets, food and other things on my front porch. Next, they asked if they could join me on the street. As the conversation grew, Carolyn Schneider said we should start a group and she started ‘Helping the Homeless of Tacoma’ group on Facebook.”
HHT also provides outreach in the form of local services which they recommend, including putting people in touch with AM.
“We listen to our homeless friends,” said Sierra. “If they express a need or desire for specific kinds of help such as housing, we refer them to AM and Nativity House. For education or work support we have provided them with Courage360 pamphlets.”
These individuals graciously recognize the city’s companies and nonprofits who are already contributing to the HHT mission.
“Someone had the idea to contact Harbor Greens and we know they have really yummy pizza,” said Sierra. “We just shared with them what we’re doing and asked if they could offer us a discount. And they did. They were very generous and those pizzas were very much appreciated.
“The Little Caesar’s on Pearl St. helped us out a lot. They provided a discount and we used coupons. They’re very nice people and made it as economical as possible. AM is our ‘hub’ for getting people help. They know everyone and everything about helping our [homeless] community. We’ve also taken donations directly to Nativity House, Saint Leo’s, the Rescue Mission and Courage360.”
The doors to HHT are open to any and all who wish to participate. Sierra asks that anyone seeking to help the HHT network to feel free to donate time or items to their ongoing pool by joining their Facebook group “Helping the Homeless of Tacoma” and creating a post or comment reaching out to members who can coordinate a drop-off location.
The most important assistance anyone can give someone experiencing homelessness, Sierra says, is to acknowledge them with a warm greeting.
A local person experiencing homelessness thanks a HHT member for passing out fresh pizzas during one of their Pizza Love events. (Photo credit/Carolyn Schneider)
“Look at our homeless friends without judgement, see a human being – not a problem – and just say ‘hello.’”
This group does exactly what it intends to do: spreading love and compassion throughout the community. After reading their stories and viewing their photos of these random acts of kindness, you may find yourself giving away extra snacks or toiletries you have on hand. You might eventually find yourself carrying a surplus around just in case you make a homeless friend of your own.
These inspiring locals are truly causing a ripple effect in Tacoma that continues to touch lives!
Featured Photo: Ana Maria Sierra, HHT founding member, and Beth Siltman, HHT member, gathering discounted pizzas from local restaurant Harbor Greens to pass out to local homeless as part of a Pizza Love event.
When Linda was referred to our Family Permanent Housing program, she was sleeping at the Salvation Army emergency overflow shelter with her 2-year-old daughter. When we first started to work with Linda she felt hopeless and scared for her daughter’s safety. Linda has severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder so she could barely speak without stuttering and was very timid the first time we met with her. She had clearly experienced trauma and was living in constant fear and crisis.
The love and compassion she had for her daughter was her reason to move forward in life. Even though she was experiencing homelessness and living in fear, that didn’t stop her from working a part-time job. Linda worked through a temp agency 5 days a week. She kept her daughter in the same daycare to provide stability for her during this tough time. Linda was also looking for housing when she wasn’t traveling on the bus to work or daycare.
The time came for her to exit the Salvation Army. She had tried to find housing and was turned down time and time again. Things that may seem normal to you and I were overwhelming and near impossible for Linda. She suffered years of abuse and trauma which made it difficult for her to hold a conversation, and filling out a housing application was a barrier for her. Speaking to landlords was no easy task either. Keeping her daughter safe and warm at night was her main concern. It’s hard to focus on the big picture when you are living in trauma.
She was unable to find anyone willing to work with her even though we were willing to pay her move in costs. She ended up going back to her abuser because sleeping on the street was not an option for her. Choosing the lesser of two evils is a choice no one should have to make. Her abuser ended up taking her daughter and kicking her out of the home. She was devastated.
That is when I called Loretta at Garden Park Apartments. I asked Loretta if she had anything available and told her Linda’s story. She told me that she would get her into a unit right away.
Loretta and the Garden Park apartments literally saved this family’s life. They looked past Linda’s barriers and treated her like a human being. That is not the experience she received from other landlords.
“It is hard enough to be homeless, and in fear for my life,” said Linda. “I already felt less than. To be treated like an alien when I go look for a place to live is degrading.” Loretta took her in with no questions asked.
Within a week Linda was able to get her new home furnished by Northwest Furniture Bank.
“I feel safe for the first time in months,” said Linda. “I am getting my daughter back this weekend and we get to start our lives over.”
The look in her eyes and the change I witnessed in her over the last couple of months was a miracle in itself. She is able to speak clearly and advocate for herself. It feels like I am talking to a completely different person.
Here at Associated Ministries we do more than just help clients that come to us looking for housing and other assistance. Each staff member and intern who deals with case management and intake, also offer hope as well as encouragement to those who so desperately need it. This sometimes comes from a place of experience as multiple staff and interns have experienced homelessness themselves in the past.
One such person, who we will call “Alicia Jones”, has agreed to be interviewed and share her story in the hopes that it will help to educate on what we do here at AM on a daily basis.
Chelsea Gitzen: How did you become homeless?
Alicia Jones: “I became homeless because I walked out on domestic violence. The violence began four days into living together, but I stuck it out for 6 months until the end of my lease. It was bad and I decided being homeless was better.”
CG: What were the first days of being homeless like?
AJ: “I will never forget that experience, especially the first few days. I was moving my car every hour or two and wasn’t sleeping at all. I was and still am always looking over my shoulder looking for his car.”
CG: Where did you find help?
AJ: “There’s too many people needing temporary housing therefore it doesn’t exist anymore. There are so many more people that need housing than what is available and the prices keep going up every week. The staff at Nativity House were the most helpful where they have 3 meals, an art room, games, a place to hang out and air conditioning, the WorkSource staff helped me get a job and new skills, as well as the Metropolitan Development Council building where I could get a hot shower, do laundry and receive medical care – it was the greatest thing.”
CG: Why are you sharing your story?
AJ: “While the resources I were able to access were incredibly helpful, there are gaps in services and lack of availability. There are simply not enough to go around based on the need of our community and I am hoping to help spread the word of the needs of people who were in my situation. Another issue that people experiencing homelessness can have to deal with is injury. During the time I was homeless I was injured and discovered the world is made for people who do not have difficulty walking. It was very eye-opening and shows me we’re still a long way to making places really accessible for people with disabilities.”
CG: Can you share more of what life was like before you became homeless?
AJ: ““I would describe my life before as really solid and safe. I lived in subsidized housing for almost a decade and before that I had owned a house. I was working in customer service and finance and my job skills were up-to-date and I had a great deal of work experience.
CG: What is life like now?
AJ: “I am thankful to have a temporary job and gaining updated and new job skills and experience through my internship with Associated Ministries. The program I am in has allowed me to take some computer, finance and other classes through Goodwill. I am enjoying the work I do, helping identify affordable housing for clients who are looking for a second chance just like I was. I also reach out to landlords who are willing to work with people who have barriers that are keeping them from finding a place to live. I am also learning about more resources we have to offer through the different programs of Associated Ministries and in our community. And I am now living in a place of my own!”
CG: You have persevered through it all, do you have additional thoughts you would like to share?
AJ: “I will never forget the lessons I learned during my time experiencing homelessness. My words of advice to anyone experiencing domestic violence and/or homelessness themselves is being positive will lead you to better things. If you keep being sad your world will get smaller. So keep yourself up because great things are going to happen, you just have a little while to get there.”
It is rare in today’s society to see leaders of multiple faith communities coming together except during times of tragedy. It seems to be something we forget that is vital to our growth as individuals and as a community.
Last month four experts from different religious congregations did just that; met in a time of peace to discuss that very topic. Joshua Christy representing the Baha’i faith, Reverend Joseph Hickey-Tiernan representing the various branches of Christianity, Doctor Turan Kayaoglu representing Islam, and Reverend Kojo Kakihara representing Buddhism all served as panelists during the first public interfaith dialogue in Tacoma.
The discussion was led by Dr. Amanda Feller, Associate Professor in School of the Arts and Communication at Pacific Lutheran University. Her teaching, scholarship and practitioner work combines communication theory, conflict management and pedagogy. She particularly focuses on the method of dialogue in learning and peacebuilding. Each expert was asked to comment on what peace means to their respective faith. While each individual response was quite different, the message ultimately was very similar.
“When I think of Islam and peace the first thing that comes to my mind is the term ‘Salam’ which comes from the term ‘peace,’” said Dr. Kayaoglu. “Peace with ones’ self, peace with God or the creator, and peace with fellow beings.”
“Enlightenment which is what we Buddhists aim for is the state of perfect peace, serenity and joy,” said Rev. Kakihara. “To give others peace is to bring us peace. In peace, there is the feeling of safety; no fear, no hatred, no suffering and no delusions. In Buddhism, wisdom and compassion are the basis of all teachings. We understand and respect each other, and acknowledge that we are different. In the eyes of Buddhism, we are not all the same, but we are one, even in our differences.”
“My understanding of peace comes from the Baha’i teaching that says ‘When a thought of war comes oppose it by a stronger thought of peace, a thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love,’” said Christy. “That is to say that peace is not a passive state that is derived from the mere state of lack of problems and disagreements. In contrast, peace comes from an active, more powerful state of love. Peace is not derived from avoiding disagreements or pretending like there are no problems. Peace comes when there is the genuine spiritual state of love and unity that brings together hearts, communities, and nations. A lot of the work of the Baha’i community is bringing together people of various backgrounds to work together in service to their communities.”
“For Christians, long before we construct an ethic of peace, we already live in awareness that peace is already given,” said Reverend Hickey-Tiernan. “We seek it in others, created in the image of the other. We find it hidden in ourselves, a treasure to be discovered and shared. Peace is the way to peace; living life fully, with awareness and attention, engaging with those who struggle and suffer, feeling kinship with all who are devoted to truth and compassion connects us. We understand one another within our understanding of what Jesus saw in us and in the world. We accept that others have come to the same place through other paths. We are at peace.”
The audience was asked to break into groups to discuss multiple topics to inspire thought and conversation. These subjects included some hopes and fears people may have in sharing their beliefs, individual peace building efforts, religious backgrounds in different peoples’ names, and various personal experiences in discrimination or judgment.
“I love those lessons of learning what that feels like,” said one audience member of the Baha’i faith who shared an experience she had with discrimination. “It makes me more empathetic to people who face that on a daily basis.”
The various beliefs of audience members was even more diverse than the panelists, ranging from Unitarian Universalists, Jews, Catholics, Evangelists, Agnostics and even some who solely believed in science.
During the course of these group talks, audience members grew closer to one another. Some who were quieter at the beginning began to open up and talk more. Others who did not have any experience with people of different religions began to make connections to their own in the basic foundation of beliefs. Others still shared future dates, times and locations for services within their faith – inviting their new friends to participate even exchanging contact information.
“This event helped me a lot because I don’t usually talk to people about my religion and other people’s religion,” said one audience member of the Jewish faith.
This dialogue left each participant feeling uplifted and hopeful towards a future of peace within our community.
“It was a really nice opportunity to meet with different people,” said one participant of the Buddhist faith. “We’ve lived here maybe a year and a half and haven’t had the chance to get out there and meet as many people as we want to so hearing about people’s different experiences and what their life has been like has been a truly refreshing experience.”
The event ended with a prayer from each expert, with some audience members of the same faith participating in the tradition and words they knew all too well.
“The religion of God is for love and unity,” sang Stephanie Christy, wife of the Baha’i expert, as a closing prayer. “Make it not the cause of enmity or dissension.”
Guests discuss the commonalities in their religions as multiple faiths gather together for the Pacifica Institute’s public Iftar dinner. (Photo credit/Chelsea Gitzen)
As the month of Ramadan nears an end next week on Tuesday, July 5th, it’s a time for the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world to finish their month-long dedication to prayer, charity and other acts of good deeds while seeking forgiveness as well as guidance. Many are currently celebrating the last 10 days in a total disconnect from the world to pray which is called Iʿtikāf (retreat). Others are using the holiday as an opportunity to come together to build lifelong relationships with their neighbors in the local community. This past week on Tuesday, a large group of nearly 100 local Muslims and people of many faiths were brought together by the Pacifica Institute, University of Puget Sound, and Associated Ministries to enjoy an Iftar dinner breaking the daily fast at sundown.
“As we all gather here tonight coming from different backgrounds, I see some faces that I know and those that I don’t know that I hope to meet,” said Tezcan Inanlar, Pacifica Institute’s Northwest Regional Director. “I want to encourage all of us to take our time and try to connect which is the way to bring our communities to a solidarity so we can build a capacity, foster relationships and mutual understanding. It’s already happening here in Tacoma and I’m very hopeful for that.”
Guests watch a video together on the meaning behind Ramadan and details about the custom of fasting as well as breaking the fast each night. (Photo credit/Chelsea Gitzen)
The room was filled with nearly 100 guests and practicing Muslims from the local community. Some were attending to learn more about the Muslim tradition of Ramadan and Iftar, others were seeking to form new relationships with people of a different faith, while others still were celebrating the end of their fast as well as the company of newcomers. As the second annual event, many were returning this year in hopes of showing their support.
The event was also educational, including a video on Ramadan and what it means to those who celebrate it. Guest speakers included members from different faiths who commented on the religious virtues related to togetherness and peace.
“In one of the verses in the Quran, Allah says to all human kind that he created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you might come to know each other,” said Dr. Etga Ugur, Professor in the Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences School at University of Washington Tacoma. “In the Quran, Allah also says if he wanted he could have created us as a single community but he chose to create diversity of tongues and colors so that we can strive as a community or race and strive in virtues and seek unity in diversity.”
Dr. Etga Ugur, University of Washington Tacoma professor, speaks at the 2016 interfaith Iftar dinner celebration at the University of Puget Sound. Dr. Ugur commented on the tradition of Ramadan and the Quran’s teachings to appreciate the diversity of the human race. (Photo credit/Bunyamin Sisman)
It is accurate to say the entire room of attendees felt unified as they grew closer to one another, and learned that we are not as different as one might think. The recurring theme that we all hold the same virtues dear within our respective faiths and want the best for our fellow mankind was present in both the presentations as well as the individual discussions at each table.
“This country, though far from perfect, is as great as it is because of the contributions from refugees from all over the world over the years,” said Rabbi Bruce Kadden of Temple Beth El. “Let us open our hearts and open our doors to refugees who need our love and support. May all who are refugees find love, support and care. May the wars which ravaged their homelands be resolved so that those who wish may return home. And may all who suffer come to know peace and justice.”
Featured Photo: Members of different religions share dinner and discussion at the 2016 interfaith Iftar dinner at the University of Puget Sound. (Photo credit/Bunyamin Sisman)
Sherika, her husband and 4 children were living in a garage when they came to Associated Ministries for assistance. They were misplaced from their home because the landlord they previously rented from lost his property in foreclosure. They had decent income between the two of them and just needed help getting into a new place to live.
“When you have a family of 6 and are homeless it is impossible to come up with the first month’s rent, the last month’s rent and a deposit. Being homeless is expensive,” Sherika said during our intake appointment. During the foreclosure process they ended up with an eviction on her record making it nearly impossible to find a landlord willing to rent to them. They tried to locate the landlord to make payments to clear up the judgment. They were unsuccessful in doing so. Landlords will consider renting to someone with an eviction if the previous landlord was paid off. It is hard to find a 3 bedroom home or apartment to rent with that mark on your record.
Once they entered our Rapid Re-housing program, Sherika contacted over 25 landlords within the first month. That is a full time job in itself, let alone working full time and raising 4 kids in a garage. I saw the hope and excitement she had in her eyes once she found someone who said they may work with her. More often than not, landlords asked her to fill out an application and pay the screening fee even after explaining her situation to them and quickly got denied. If they were willing to rent to her, the judgment had to be paid off first.
She was exhausted and ready to give up about a month and a half into the program. When she came in to meet with me, she broke down from exhaustion and her hope had vanished. The confidence to protect her family had diminished.
“I am letting my family down; no one will give me a chance. I work 40 hours a week, do my best to take care of the kids and stay strong. Giving up is not an option but no one will give me a chance.”
That is where landlord Yong Kim comes in. She let me know about a 3-bedroom duplex that would be available in a couple of weeks. I told her about Sherika and she was willing to rent to her family. Her husband, who is a subcontractor, fixed the unit up within days. Sherika was able to move out of the cold garage and into a warm, safe home. Mrs. Kim is always willing to look past our clients’ barriers and gives people a chance when no one else will work with them. She has also taken on many families with no questions asked.
Housing is a right – not a privilege, and with landlords like Mrs. Kim and her husband, we are one step closer to ending the homelessness epidemic.
by Klarissa Monteros,Program Manager
Pierce County’s homeless and housing system is making an exciting shift from what has been an Anti-Poverty System to what will be a Homeless Crisis Response System. This system will change from a “first come, first served” approach to a system that prioritizes housing for those people who are literally homeless and most vulnerable. It will operate like an emergency room: Services will focus on finding solutions that address the immediate crisis of homelessness. In traditional systems, providers wait for families to be “Housing Ready” before providing housing resources to them. Examples of “Housing Ready” are once a full-time job has been established or after drug and alcohol treatment has been completed. The new Homeless Crisis Response System will follow a “Housing First” model and regard everyone as “Housing Ready” despite their circumstances. Everyone is deserving of the very basic need of housing FIRST. Once that basic need is met, the family or individual is connected to resources that address longer-term needs like substance abuse and/or employment can be made.
A key shift in this new approach is to change our Centralized Intake System to a Coordinated Entry System. Associated Ministries’ Access Point 4 Housing (AP4H) has been delivering Centralized Intake to the community for the past 4 years. During this time we learned more about what homelessness looks like in Pierce County than ever before. By instituting AP4H homeless services were systematized. With a centralized point of contact for services, we were able to gather very useful data. We learned characteristics such as who was actually experiencing homelessness, who was being served by community, and who was falling between the cracks.
Data showed us that those who are most vulnerable were not being served by the community. Assessment of the information we gathered greatly influenced the system to change to the emergency room analogy that was mentioned above. We are so excited to say that systems change and improvements are actually happening! In 2016 the most vulnerable persons will be the first to receive resources. Associated Ministries has been proactive in expediting the change by meeting people who are experiencing homelessness where they are; we are now going to them instead of them coming to us. Access Point 4 Housing is now located at 12 different sites across the County. The locations include New Nativity House, Salvation Army, Tacoma Rescue Mission, Adams Street Family Campus, Sumner Family Center, New Hope, St. Francis House, TACID, REACH, OASIS, Gig Harbor FISH, and the Associated Ministries Lakewood office. Shifting from a Centralized Intake Model to a Coordinated Entry Model will mean we will be able to reach populations we were unable to reach before because we are going directly to the places they are seeking services. And we are still able to learn from the data we collect and improve the services we provide as a collaborative coordinated entry system! If you would like to learn more about the benefits of a coordinated entry system you can visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness website. You can also read the Executive Summary of the assessment made of the Pierce County Homeless System by Focus Strategies and learn more about the vision of Coordinated Entry.
By Michael Yoder, Executive Director
It’s been an invigorating first month for me at Associated Ministries! There are so many great people to meet, and so many life-changing programs to learn about; as much as anything else I’m excited by the powerful potential that exists as we learn to partner even better with the faith community, funders, civic institutions and other organizations.
Helen McGovern-Pilant is one of the amazing people I’ve been privileged to meet since joining the AM team. Helen has served as the Executive Director of the Emergency Food Network since 2009. EFN is doing outstanding work in Pierce County and AM is proud to partner with them (we even helped start EFN back in 1985!). Helen has been active in the Lakewood community for many years, including being elected to the City Council and appointed Deputy Mayor. Over the past 25 years Helen has served on more than 20 volunteer boards and councils, and she has a proven record in bringing together diverse interests and establishing partnerships that result in meaningful solutions. What a privilege it is for us to partner with committed people like her and outstanding organizations like the Emergency Food Network!
In addition to launching EFN, Associated Ministries has been bringing awareness to the issue of hunger in our community for many years. That’s one of the primary reasons we produce the Hunger Walk event every year: to raise funds for hunger relief in Pierce County and beyond. 2015 was our 35th year of staging the Hunger Walk to unite and mobilize our community in the fight against hunger.
Every year we host as many as 1,000 walkers and their families from every walk of life, businesses, civic groups, schools and communities of all faiths on the first Sunday in October. Our goal this year was to raise $200,000, which will provide nearly 1.2 million meals for children and families.
But even if you didn’t make it out to this year’s Hunger Walk, we’ve extended our efforts beyond the walk itself by launching the “35 Days…35 Ways” hunger relief campaign. This new initiative runs through Oct. 16 and consists of many creative suggestions for ways you can support hunger relief that don’t involve walking. I’m hopeful that you’ll be part of our “35 Ways” campaign and show your support for urgent hunger needs in our area. It’s easy to make a difference, and the need has never been greater.
Thank you so much for your support of Associated Ministries; how encouraging it is to partner with you to build a stronger community. If I didn’t get to meet you at the Hunger Walk I hope I can do so at our “Lead the Way Home” breakfast on November 5; confirm your reservation now and I look forward to seeing you there!
“A miracle come true” is how homeowner Karen describes the experience of having her home painted through the Paint Tacoma-Pierce Beautiful program. In one week in July, volunteers from Habitat for Humanity’s AmeriCorps program was able to transform not only the outside of Karen’s home, but lift her spirits.
During this summer we had hundreds of volunteers come together from throughout the Pierce County community to help paint the homes of 24 low-income homeowners. Crews were formed through faith communities, workplaces, unions, schools and military service to name just a few.
When asked why they volunteered, many responded that they do so for the camaraderie, sense of community and the joy it brings to the homeowner. We are fortunate to have many volunteers return year after year and 2015 was no exception. This was the 25th year that Spanaway Lutheran Church has painted a home, and the 31st year for the Exchange Club of Tacoma who painted the very first house back in 1985!
We are thankful to our partners including Habitat for Humanity, who provided the paint for the homes, to Gray Lumber and Sherwin Williams who made sure that the volunteers had the materials they needed to complete the projects. We are also grateful for the City of Tacoma, Sequoia Foundation, and Florence B. Kilworth Foundation for providing the funding, along with many individual and congregational donors. And of course, the program would not be possible without volunteers! Homeowners continue to express their thanks to the wonderful volunteers who helped this year: “You really brightened my day and made me smile (still smiling). I’m really enjoying the great new look – what a difference it has made having the foundation painted! Thanks again for the wonderful service PTB does for us lower income seniors! God bless you.”
Associated Ministries is grateful to all the volunteers who painted, assessed homes and helped spread the word to homeowners and the community about the need. Paint Tacoma-Pierce Beautiful relies on community members to come together and help their neighbors. Through their work they help maintain affordable housing, eliminate blight, reduce isolation for vulnerable homeowners, and increase community connections for homeowners and volunteers alike.
Although volunteers won’t be painting again until next spring and summer, it’s never too early to sign up! “Both individual volunteers and volunteer groups are welcome,” says Amy Allison, PTPB’s Director. “Whether you can serve for just one day, or you can take on a project from start to finish, we value your support!” To apply, visit www.PaintBeautiful.org.