RON AND DON

Big companies in Seattle are investing in the other faces of homelessness

Dec 1, 2016, 8:25 AM | Updated: Dec 2, 2016, 10:40 am
Mary's Place...
Starbucks donated $3 million to the Mary's Place homeless shelter in 2016. (Contributed via Starbucks)
(Contributed via Starbucks)

The faces of homelessness that most people see in Seattle are of young men standing or sleeping on street corners, begging for money or in the throes of drug withdrawal. Those are not the faces that Mary’s Place serves on a daily basis.

And that’s the reason KIRO Radio’s Don O’Neill says the nonprofit is getting a major financial lift from Starbucks and other local businesses.

“You have to follow the rules and there is accountability and I think that’s one of the reasons why you see a company like Starbucks come in, who wants results,” O’Neill said.

Seattle businesses make stand against homeless

Starbucks president Howard Schultz has pledged to raise up to $3 million with the help of other areas businesses for Mary’s Place’s annual “No Child Sleeps Outside” initiative. Mary’s Place is a 17-year-old emergency shelter. Its organization has six locations throughout King County that operates primarily with private funding. The nonprofit says it serves 115-120 families per night, which is nearly 40 percent of families experiencing homelessness across King County. Starbucks’ donation will help expand capacity at Mary’s Place as 20 families a day are turned away.

Executive Director Marty Hartman describes Mary’s Place as the gap from when families leave their home until they find their “forever home.” She told Ron and Don that the families at Mary’s Place are not the ones most people expect.

“The face of families can always be different,” Hartman said. “For us, it’s that child who is struggling with a life-threatening illness like cancer and their parents are just trying to help them get well and to heal. And they’ve sacrificed everything – they’ve sacrificed their home, their cars, just to make sure they can be with their child through all of the chemo and the dialysis and those families have moved into their cars.”

“We see newborn babies coming to us directly from the hospital,” she said. “Where a family thought they had a place to take their child home and it didn’t work out. And then we see those hardworking moms and dads, that their rent was raised. Maybe $170 a month was way too much for them to afford. They didn’t have the safety net and now they have been unable to find another place that they can rent that they can afford.”

Hartman said people at Mary’s Place are working for the same things everyone else is: to keep their families together, safe, warm and alive. And, more often than not, the moment of desperation is a one-time occurrence.

“Most homeless families are homeless one time in their whole life — 97 percent of them,” Hartman said. “This is the one chapter that you will see where you walk in on and this will be the end of their homelessness crisis. We can surround them, wrap them with resources and help them move forward.”

The city’s homeless response

A nearly 20 percent jump in the homeless count last year includes families with young children waiting months for space at an emergency shelter. That leaves many sleeping on the streets, in cars and parks. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a state of emergency related to the homeless crisis in November 2015 and hired the city’s first ever director of homelessness in August to help come up with solutions.

City officials have kicked around multiple ideas in attempts to figure out the best way to handle the crisis. That includes the city council considering legislation that would define where homeless camping would be allowed on public property and how to move people out of unsuitable areas. They are also in the process of looking at creating supervised drug-injection sites around the city.

Much of the recent talk has been about creating benchmarks and figuring out goals to determine what success looks like. Hartman has her own standards for success at Mary’s Place.

“Bringing that child in tonight and not making them wait weeks or months for shelter,” she said. “We will serve over 100,000 bed nights this year. Yes, the success is also measured by moving people into permanent housing, transitional housing, but it’s also helping that family become financially stable. We track the number of jobs that are secure, the increase in income that families will receive, the number of children that get enrolled in school and don’t have to spend any more time out of school because they don’t have an address. Those are huge successes for us. That is intervening in the trauma right now in that family.”

Mary’s Place donation specifics

Multiple organizations are partnering on the “No Child Sleeps Outside” donation to Mary’s Place, including Microsoft, Dick’s Drive-in, Comcast and the Seattle Mariners, but Starbucks appears to be taking the lead. Starbucks says it will donate $1 million to the campaign and that the Starbucks Foundation will match every dollar donated by customers in participating King County Starbucks stores between Dec. 1-31, up to an additional $1 million dollars to help shelter local families. Additionally, Howard and Sheri Schultz, co-founders of the Schultz Family Foundation, are personally contributing $1 million to Mary’s Place through the foundation to expand both shelter capacity and the organization’s ability to move families into permanent housing.

“The 500 families with small children who are sleeping outside in King County cannot wait for the promised reforms and housing that will take a year or more,” Schultz said in a press release. “We need to treat this daily tragedy with the same urgency that would follow any natural disaster. This is a short-term but urgent humanitarian need, and we are proud to join other Seattle employers in the No Child Sleeps Outside campaign.”

Hartman said the expansion will be modeled after Mary’s Place’s 24/7 navigation center that is located at a former city building loaned to the organization. She called the Starbucks partnership a “statement” from the business community that they want to be part of the solution, just need to know “how to give, where to give and how to create change.”

O’Neill says Mary’s Place provides a good example of how organizations that force people to follow rules and get results see funding from the private sector.

“You see Paul Allen here locally, he wants results,” O’Neill said. “You see the Bill and Gates Foundation, they give you money and they want results.”

“And the other face of homelessness that we see –the derelict RVs all over our city, and a lot of, especially young white men, standing on street corners and sleeping in tents,” he said. “And they’re kicking in windows because there is a heroin epidemic and they’re just looking for something to steal so they can turn that into a $20 hit of heroin. That’s different. Mary’s Place is not going to help them. That’s a whole different situation and that’s what we all need to understand.”

While O’Neill and others have been harsh critics of Mayor Murray and the city council, Hartman said she’s pleased with Murray’s efforts. When asked if she believes politicians are “getting it,” she responded, “Oh, absolutely.”

“I believe that with the business community stepping up and really igniting this, this story and this solution that everybody is coming together on … I think that’s the beauty of this campaign,” she said. “Starbucks is reaching out to the community with their customers and allowing them to be part of the solution, our county is offering up buildings, our city has already done that; the mayor has been a champion of Mary’s Place. He started there on inauguration day flipping pancakes and really loving on our children. So this is a community-wide response to a community-wide crisis.”

Ron and Don

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Big companies in Seattle are investing in the other faces of homelessness