Jeff Lilley knows people may disagree with him on how Seattle homeless individuals reached the point of living on the street. That’s why the Seattle Union Gospel Mission president often turns to one of his favorite quotes: It doesn’t much matter how they got there, it matters that they are there.
In other words, no matter how you feel ideologically, we’re all in this homeless problem together.
“It’s when the community comes together to say, look, we’re going to do something about this,” Lilley told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don. “It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you come from, it doesn’t matter who you voted for, it matters that there is another human being that’s in need and all of us should care about that.”
KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don will join Lilley and the Union Gospel Mission Wednesday night in one of the organization’s nightly Search and Rescue vans that traverse the city daily. The first goal, Lilley said, is to make sure people survive the night.
It’s an especially poignant goal in the wake of the four deaths in Portland that came from exposure in the city’s recent cold snap. Lilley acknowledged that those deaths keep him up at night.
“It’s why we do these vans. In fact, we just worked with Portland to launch their first van for this very reason,” he said. “You look at it and say these individuals they may be doing OK at one point in time but the weather over the last couple of weeks has been pretty nasty and Portland has been getting hammered with even worse. And at that point, even the best of us, you may think you’re prepared but at that point they may not survive the night.”
After keeping people alive, the mission moves to building relationships so that they can build trust and start moving them toward programs or housing.
“But in the meantime, making sure they have a blanket, a cup of hot chocolate and also to that they know they aren’t forgotten out there,” he said.
Lilley said the organization sends four to five vans out every night of the week, staffed primarily by volunteers. He said the biggest obstacles are addiction, the criminal justice system and mental health. Though, “For those that are unsheltered living on the streets, it sometimes is a blend of all three of those.”
Ron and Don Nation have collected more than 1,500 items thus far for Union Gospel’s mission.