HUGE thank you to Outdoor Arts and Rec!
We are here to report another amazingly successful year with Rainshadow Running at the helm of the June 16th, Millersylvania 10K/30K/50K trail race in support of the Interfaith Works Homeless Services Program! The 2018 race proceeds doubled last year! You helped raise $10,000 for the IW Homeless Services Program! Thank you to James so much but especially for high fiving each runner as they crossed the finish line, Elizabeth for all your wrangling and bottom lining of the event, all the other Rainshadow staff and volunteers for holding it down, Deborah the IW Office Manager for sharing info on our program, IW Support Staff Evilyn and Midden for driving the van full of guests to cheer runners on, all the guests who came to cheer people on, and ESPECIALLY all the runners who made this event possible! Special shout out to Doug and Jack for repping the IW team in the 10K two years (literally) running! We are so grateful and feel so connected to our community on days like this. Thank you thank you thank you, everyone! <3 <3 <3
This year doubled last year, raising $10,000 for the IW Homeless Services Program!
The Community Care Center is hosting it's second monthly community workshop! This month will be led by our partners at SideWalk.
Housing First approaches are based on the concept that a homeless individual or households first and primary need is to obtain stable housing, and that other issues that may affect the household can and should be addressed once housing is obtained. In contrast, many other programs operate from a model of "housing readiness" — that is, that an individual or household must address other issues that may have led to the episode of homelessness prior to entering housing.
SideWalk and its community partners adopted this model and strive to find housing for individuals first, while working to secure other resources to meet the person’s ongoing challenges or needs.
This workshop will discuss the tenants of Housing First and demonstrate the methods that are working and the challenges experienced in the process.
We hope to see you there!
Visit our Facebook event page! www.facebook.com/events/629954054006793/
May is the inaugural month of the Community Care Centers new evening workshop program aimed at continued community education and engagement. We are kicking it off Thursday May 17th with "What is Harm Reduction, and why does it work?"
Join us at the Community Care Center to explore what Harm Reduction is, what it isn't, how we implement it in our daily lives, and why we integrate it into services for our neighbors experiencing homelessness.
We hope to see you there!
Visit our Facebook event page!
On May 1st, a group of protestors distributed a flyer in Olympia's South Capitol neighborhood that supported a demonstration at Mayor Cheryl Selby's house. The flyer specifically named Interfaith Works Warming Center funding decisions as one reason behind the protest. We want to reassure our community that we do not condone this action, nor had any knowledge about it beforehand. Please click the image below to read our full statement to the community on this issue, and join us as we recommit ourselves to partnership, bridge building, and community healing, just as we have done for four decades in Thurston County. Thank you. <3 <3 <3
People have been loving getting a chance to be creative and get a mental break from the chaos of homelessness for a short time. In addition, we are having a show at the CCC On Friday April 27th, from 7pm-10pm with local rock band Lemmings, and Special Guest Dr. Head Mirror!
Hope to see you there! <3 <3 <3
So much love.
On Thursday March 29, 2018, a radiant and beautiful light in all our lives became that much brighter when Lavina Minnie Shults passed on to the next chapter of being. The week leading up to Minnie's passing was difficult for many people. She had been in critical care on life support for nearly two weeks by the time she finally let go. The nurses on the CCU commented frequently about the number of guests she had come see her and the level of support and care she was receiving from her community. People brought cards, plastic flowers (real flowers aren't allowed on the CCU), and wrote encouraging and loving notes on her hospital room white board. It has been difficult to find the words to write this memorial post about all the beautiful and amazing parts of Minnie's story because truthfully, I'm angry. But I'll get to that later.
Minnie valued loyalty, laughter, family, caring for others, resilience, and working. She really, really valued working. Minnie ran kitchens for most her life. She often talked about how she would love to get back to it and we had plans to support her and a group of shelter guests to cook meals once a week for everyone at the shelter. Minnie couldn't work due to her serious, progressive health conditions and the persistent grief from the loss of her son 7 years ago. Not being able to work was very difficult for her.
I can't talk about Minnie without talking about Doug and Sadie. Doug and Minnie were married 26 years. They have been staying in our couple's dorm at the nightly shelter for a little over two years with their dog, Sadie. We joke about how Sadie is an Olympia celebrity because wherever she goes someone knows her whether they know Doug and Minnie or not. While Minnie was in the hospital, I was talking to one of her closest friends and she joked, "I've been married three times and never once has someone loved me like that!!", commenting about how deep Doug's love for Minnie is. Doug came out to Olympia before Minnie and one former shelter guest mentioned that while he shared a dorm with Doug before Minnie came to Olympia, Doug would stay up all night giggling on the phone, telling her how much he loved her over and over.
We had the pleasure of meeting Minnie's son, Harley who came out and really stepped up to support his mom and Doug. Whenever we get insight into people's family outside the shelter it's always such an honor to bear witness to the pieces of their lives we don't always have access to.
Whenever one of our guests, past or present, passes away it is a shocking reminder of the toll that homelessness takes on individuals, families and communties. With the average life expectancy at just around 30 years lower than the rest of the population, it is no surprise that we deal with this type of tragedy very often. We prioritize people who are typically older (over 50 years old) and who have been experiencing homelessness for a long time. The main goal of our work, as I see it, is to honor our people in life and in death.
So... here's why I'm angry. Minnie's health decline really took a turn this winter after she got pneumonia and never quite recovered from it. Minnie and Doug had been waiting for the decision of her Social Security claims that she went to court for three months ago after being denied by SSI/SSDI two times. She and Doug stayed in their car most the day, parked up on the street in front of the church because she would get too winded trying to walk the 4 blocks to the Community Care Center. This meant that she was barely shielded from the elements during the day trying to heal from pneumonia.
We got a lot of complaints this winter about cars parked in front of the church and people feeling like it was bad for the neighborhood. It's hard to explain to people that they are right -- it doesn't look good. It shouldn't be acceptable in our community that a moldy car was Minnie's only option for day time shelter. It shouldn't ever feel comfortable for our community to bear visible witness to the suffering of fragile, disabled people. We should never allow this spectacle to continue.
However, we do. In fact, we continue to fund and prioritize elaborate, expensive actions of further criminalizing, displacing, restricting access to spaces, surveilling and taking legal action to try to make homelessness disappear as quickly as possible to alleviate our discomfort. The pressure on city government, social service providers and law enforcement to make "this issue" quickly disappear is immobilizing and it sets up the solutions that our city desperately needs, to fail. Not to mention that talking about it as, "this issue" is dehumanizing and let's us depersonalize the fact that breathing, living, laughing, crying human beings are facing a humanitarian crisis on our doorsteps and in our backyards. Elders, children, medically and mentally fragile people are at extremely high risk of death and compounding complications the longer they stay out in the elements.
Yet, the actions and strategies that have been proven over and over again to alleviate the impacts of homelessness and other major social issues, (including the opioid epidemic), are not being fully imagined, funded, prioritized or implemented on a reasonable scale to address the magnitude of the challenges. Adequate amounts of low barrier shelter, supported and affordable housing, and highly accessible medical, mental, and substance use health services are the only strategies that have shown to make a marked difference in decreasing homelessness in communities.
When people experiencing homelessness, advocates, and service providers talk about these issues as life or death, it's because they are. Since December 2017, 5 people from the street community have died that we know of. In the past year, the number of deaths in the street community is more than double that. This is an alarmingly high death rate for a relatively small subsect of our county population.
The night Minnie went to the Critical Care Unit, we had called the EMT's for another guest in respiratory depression from COPD complications. While they were attending to her needs, Minnie had a major medical episode and collapsed, so they took her to the hospital too. It turned out that her heart beat was dangerously low, her kidneys had failed and her lungs couldn't work without intubation. Minnie remained on respiratory life support for about 9 nine days and then passed away at age 53, peacefully, and with her son by her side in a beautiful room on the 3rd floor at St. Peter Hospital. The St. Peter Palliative Care Team was really good to work with. They helped ensure that Sadie could be with Minnie wherever she was in the hospital.
While Minnie was on life support, we got word that her SSI/SSDI claim was approved. It felt like a slap in the face and too little too late. But, as we do, we looked to the bright side of things and began working with the lawyer to ensure that Doug would get survivor benefits as her husband. As things stand now, Doug is being denied the full claim of benefits and backpay that is due to him because Social Security has decided that although they've been legally married for 26 years, they didn't technically "live together in the same house" for the past two years due to their homelessness. We are fighting this ruling, and remain hopeful that Doug will get the support he needs to secure income and housing, but these are the types of complicated hurdles our guests have to overcome if they have any hope of getting off the streets.
The question that we need to ask ourselves is this; Do we prioritize reactive, costly strategies that have been shown over and over to exacerbate impacts of homelessness on communities, or do prioritize sensible solutions that are cost effective and have been proven over and over to alleviate the impacts of homelessness on communities? Increased access to shelter, housing, physical, mental and substance use related healthcare are the clearest path forward. Interfaith Works is dedicated to working towards sensible solutions that strengthen our entire community. We hope that you will join us in embracing this message.
Minnie, we love you and thank you for all that you added to our lives. You will not be forgotten.
Passing along this awesome resource! Thank you to the Department of Commerce for simplifying so many misconceptions surrounding the conversations on housing and homelessness!
Click on the image for the full report! <3
Late Friday afternoon, Thurston County called for a
"Code Blue" indicating that freezing temperatures
and snow were set to hit the county and they
were asking for all hands on deck to open
additional shelter options for our unhoused neighbors
at highest risk of death in such conditions. First
Christian Church and Interfaith Works jumped on the
call and together opened for overflow starting at 5pm
on Saturday evening.
Here's the stats:
Saturday 2/17: 6 volunteers on site, 85 sleeping overflow, 43 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 128
Sunday 2/18: 12 volunteer, 72 sleeping overflow, 43 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 115
Monday 2/19: 10 volunteers, 82 sleeping overflow, 44 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 126
Tuesday 2/20: 9 volunteers, 115 sleeping overflow, 43 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 158
Wednesday 2/21: 10 volunteers, 103 sleeping overflow, 42 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 145
Thursday 2/22: 6 volunteers, 83 sleeping overflow, 40 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 129
Friday 2/23: 9 volunteers, 113 sleeping overflow, 38 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 151
HUGE SHOUT OUT to all the amazing people in this community who stepped up to volunteer (especially the Board and members of First Christian Church), who dropped off snacks, drinks, paper cups/bowls/plastic utensils, blankets, warm clothing, first aid and over the counter medication supplies, and who shared the need with their communities to get the word out.
Thank you to our IW shelter staff who between the nightly shelter, overflow and Community Care Center have been supporting 24/7 availability of services since Saturday evening, and thank you to the city of Olympia for assisting garbage, supplies and coordination of volunteers.
Thank you to Thurston County Public Health under the leadership of Director, Schelli Slaughter for taking the leap to coordinate a community wide response to increase cold weather options for people and making this Code Blue happen. Shout out to County Commissioner Bud Blake for personally staffing an overnight shift and talking with people all night. Until elected officials understand the weight of this issue and decide to prioritize it, we will continue to see solutions under resourced and overwhelmed.
Many other agencies are also stepping up to provide additional shelter beds during this time -- Family Support Center, Community Youth Services, Union Gospel Mission and the Salvation Army. This is a major effort from many partners to make this possible!!! Thank you everyone!
Another very important outcome that I want
to share is about the positive impact
the overflow shelter has had on
the Community Care Center (CCC). As you
may know, there have been ongoing challenges with
overnight (after-hours) camping at the Community Care
Center. There have been many complaints
from community members, business
owners and passers-by that something
must be done about it. We agree! The problem is, there
aren't enough shelter beds for all the unsheltered people in our city. In fact, the Thurston County Point in Time effort counted 763 unsheltered people in Thurston County. With only a couple hundred year round shelter beds, skyrocketing rents, no Warming Center or large year round day center... what do we expect to see on our streets, in doorways and in wooded areas surrounding the city? The message we have been sending loud and clear is that if we want to see people off the streets and out of doorways downtown we have to provide them with a place to go that works for them.
This week provided us an opportunity to gather some information that we haven't had the chance to gather yet. What happens with the camping situation outside of the CCC if additional low-barrier shelter options are available to people? What we found was that they went to it and there were significantly less people camping around the outside of the Community Care Center this past week which has a strong positive impact on the people who were able to get inside, and on our relationship with neighbors.
We are now being asked to continue the overflow for another few days to get us through this ongoing cold snap. We can't do it without volunteers and supplies. Please get in touch if you can help with an evening, overnight, or early morning shift and supplies can get dropped off anytime after 5pm to the upstairs of First Christian Church. Right now we will be open TONIGHT 5pm-10am and TOMORROW, Friday 5pm-6:30am. The volunteer run Saturday Warming Center will be at United Churches from 7am-5pm.
We hope that this Code Blue experience can continue to move the conversation forward that when there are sheltering options that work for people and designed with their needs in mind those services get utilized and it takes pressure off of our entire community.
Meg Martin, MSW, MHP, is the Shelter Program Director for The Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter.