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.
The IW EOS is looking to hire fill-in staff to be on call for evening or overnight shifts when support staff needs time off for any reason including vacations, personal requests for time off, or call in sick. The IW EOS is an equal opportunity employer working towards representing the community we serve and building a diverse work environment. People of color, older folks, people with disabilities and people of diverse gender expressions and identities are strongly encouraged to apply. We are dedicated to providing emergency services and support to those in need, not as charity but as an act of social justice. After completing the pre-interview questions, we will review your submission and then you will be invited to submit a resume and scheduled for an interview. Applicants who are invited will be interviewed by a group of current staff and management. Please click below and read through our job description thoroughly for more clear information about the position and instructions on how to apply.
#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.
Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.
#GivingTuesday is an opportunity for everyone to join the movement and support their community nonprofits doing good work. You can help by making a charitable contribution, donating your time and skills, or doing the legwork of setting up a legacy gift to ensure consistency in the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors.
Discover all the ways you can help through our website or one of the links below.
Thank you for your time and consideration. We couldn't do it without you!
Meg Martin, MSW, MHP
Did you know we have a Community Care Center?
On August 11th we received word that Pixie//Melanie Curry passed away. We heard from friends who heard from family that it was likely a suicide. She was a mother, friend, artist, musician, comic book lover, and revolutionary.
On August 25th we received word that one of our shelter guests found a long time member of the street family, Mike Abraham, in Sylvester Park, passed away. He was a father, friend, veteran, mentor and was involved in organizing around homeless issues in Olympia for nearly two decades including, the old Devoe Street shelter, Bread and Roses, Camp Quixote, and was a clerk at the Salvation Army.
Two weeks... two beautiful lives lost. Below you will find tributes to both Pixie and Mike. This never gets easier. We must continue to share the reality of what life is like on the streets for people. We must not allow the world to make the lives of marginalized people on the streets invisible. We must honor the beauty and the ways our loved ones have added so much to the community in which we live, even in the face of constant oppression and struggle. We must continue to fight for the world to understand that there is no such thing as a "lost cause" or someone who is "too far gone". It is our collective responsibility as humans to care for each other -- this benefits us all -- in emotional, meta physical, spiritual and very functional ways in society. It is also our responsibility as people engulfed in the reality of suffering to maintain some thread of hope and energy even in the face of such extreme grief. <3 <3
Pixie Unicorn "I'm just a masterpiece tryna master peace"
Written by: Brian Wisniewski
... Well she has left us here, without her. No more 1130pm talks about comic books when you should of been in bed hours ago. No more spark. No more fire. Never again to have another crazy pick you up, and dust you off conversation. And how she left us was selfish maybe? And maybe not. We will never know. I wanted to put some flowery quotes in here, but I draw a blank. Cause there's no sunshine and lollipops when a loved one might of taken there life. It steals something from you. Like a thief in the night or a sickness infecting the marrow of one's own soul. So you feel hollow or broken. While at the same time you’re enraged and emboldened like a drunk. A death like this will do this to you, I am learning. The deed is done and the bodies in the ground. And Pixie has left us. We also know that Pixie will never feel the pain she felt again. We have all seen this sorrow. It was like a bottle swell or a person with an unquestionable thirst. She did not try and hide this. She even told us how it would go down. So the quote I came up with is an R. Crumb quote -- a comic book author.
“Killing yourself is a major commitment, it takes a kind of courage. Most people just lead lives of cowardly desperation. It's a kinda half suicide where you just dull yourself with substances.”
And she was not one to go quietly into the night. She did everything with a great sense of urgency and zeal. No matter what she's gone. And I know some of us can't help to think we played a role in it. You, not listening//the shelter throwing away her magazines and comic books//all of us turning away when she was screaming out for help. You fill in your own blank here. Hindsight is always 20/20, so I've been told. The most important thing I have learned through this is, if you see a brother who is sad, talk to them. If you see a sister depressed, console them. And if you see a fellow human, down and out help them back on their feet. Cause the only thing I know for certain is we all have to go there. And if we all go together, we will be so much stronger. And Pixie would have wanted it.
Mike Abraham "Blink em' all to hell"
We won't be here." He looked at me so sternly and he said, "YES YOU WILL. I WILL SEE YOU TOMORROW." Of course I did see him the next day, and he carried on even though we were closed, like a boat through rough water. Mike used to stand on the corner sometimes and yell "BLINK!" at certain buildings, or people, or aimed at the sky. When you would ask him what he was doing he would say that he was "blinking em' all to hell". The more I got to know him, the more I realized that it was this profound survival technique -- like a shield. Mike has been experiencing homelessness for a very long time in our community. He has contributed in so many ways and provided guidance and protection for many on the streets. He has experienced, violence, chronic illness, chronic exhaustion, grief and great loss over the years. His shields were few, but mighty and he used them to create a sense of safety in a world that could never hold him. His killer sense of dry humor was another one of his mighty shields. He told Krista a few days before he died that he was holding out for a sports car. A Subaru sports car to be precise. We hope you are cruising, care free and out of pain, Mike. You are seriously loved. Below is an excerpt from Max, a former shelter staff and friend of Mike's. Max and Brittany and Angela stayed with Mike's body in the park while the detectives worked to clear the scene. <3 <3 <3
Written by: Max Goldsmith
Mike A. was a real friend to me. We sat around and told lies just like I would with a lot of comrades I've know, have known and have yet to know. My heart hurts today...
...I want us, the collective us, not you or me but WE to do better. No one deserves to die like Mike died today. Though through the inhumanity, he was surrounded by many that loved him; and I know that he loved us. He blinked em' all to hell alright. He blinked em' to hell with the best of em'. And even on the nights we had to turn him away, he knew that he was loved.
We will host a memorial for Mike and will post the info on our Facebook
when we have the details figured out.
The workday will be broken down as follows: We are especially needing help for the morning shift.
Providence Community Care Center Paint Day
225 State Avenue East, Downtown Olympia
Saturday, August 26th (to be scheduled as 2- Hour Volunteer blocks):
6:00 am – 7:00 am Set-up crew (set tarps; put out rollers & brushes; position paint tubs; etc)
7:00am – Noon Painting (Broken into teams & flexible shifts)
Noon – 1:00pm Lunch
1:00pm – 5:00pm Painting (Broken into teams & flexible shifts)
5:00 pm – 6:30pm Clean-up crew
Please contact Anna to sign up for shifts and if you need more information.
Thanks so much Oly! We couldn't do this without you!
Volunteers in Paint
(360) 402-0170 | email@example.com
Want to help? Here's how!
Hey everyone! We are getting SO EXCITED for the third annual Up in Smoke BBQ extravaganza. Marvin has been busy networking with local businesses and we are still looking for donations of food, drinks, gift cards, raffle prizes, yard games to borrow for the day, etc. Please click our donation letter below, print it out and get in touch if you can help! As always... this is a family friendly event and we would love to see you there!!
July 29, 2017 1pm-6pm First Christian Church NOT TO BE MISSED!
Third annual Up In Smoke BBQ party!
Please join us for one of our favorite days of the year! Up In Smoke 3 is not to be missed. This is a street party at the shelter organized primarily by our guests and one particular former guest, Unkle Marvin! This party is free, fun, for all ages and truly a blast. This is a low budget event that is extremely DIY but this year we are looking for sponsors to cover the cost of printing a banner. We are also looking for donations of meat, buns, soda/juice/punch, fruit salads, sides, and goodies like gift cards, tshirts, etc. for the raffle prizes. our partners the Amahoro House will bring pies and we will be partying starting at 1pm and ending around 6pm or so.
Please spread the word--this is a really fun neighborhood event and a great way to meet neighbors and get to know each other. Also, be sure to check out the video below to check out some of the highlights from last year's UIS2! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to donate or have questions!
<< LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED >>
Highlights from Up In Smoke 2016
love when she was calm and would say that she knew how much we cared.... her love for a good, dirty joke and the belly laugh that would accompany it... her voice on the phone when she would call to check in. As one of our staff Jeanne put it, "I'll be damned if we all aren't better off for knowing Sandy", and it's so true.
Sandy began staying with us on December 23rd, 2014. As one of our longest term guests, we have certainly seen her through a lot. Over the time we've been working with Sandy she's been housed twice and returned to us, struggled through major medical issues and infections that have resulted in significant hospitalizations, had all of her belongings stolen multiple times, been dropped by service providers and continued to struggle to find stability in a world that does not know how to hold her in all her light, love and complication. Most recently, Sandy had been staying in a local hotel trying to get her massive leg wound to heal after she was discharged from the hospital. Once, when her leg was really bad, the ER told her care advocate from Amahoro House, Angela, that she wouldn't be admitted to the hospital because she was homeless. Another time Sandy was (mistakenly) told her leg was going to get amputated when she was all alone in the hospital. These instances highlight the invisible battles that people experiencing homelessness are engaged in at every turn. Medical providers, first responders, law enforcement, social workers, case managers and other providers struggle deeply to meet people where they are at in all their complexities. Provider willingness to live up to their professional charge to care for every person equally, does not always extend to our guests. However, between Sadie, our amazing partners the Amahoro House team, Melinda and Jerry the hotel caretakers, and a few dedicated friends from her street family, she was supported nearly everyday with calls, food, appointment coordination, transportation, wound care and emotional support.
Like I mentioned earlier, this never gets easier. Whenever we lose someone, we find ourselves experiencing an all at once shocking heartbreak, and a profoundly familiar grief. We don't know a lot about Sandy's family and when the coroner was bringing her out on the stretcher it was our team who was there. We hope that they find her family, but we may never know that outcome. We are the kind of family that the structured world doesn't know how to categorize. Sandy is the 7th shelter guest who passed away since we opened our doors. When we talk about the issue of homelessness -- so politicized and always seemingly up for debate -- as a life or death matter, it's because it truly is. Many of you may recognize Sandy. This was her home... her community. She frequented the Reef, the library, parks, the senior center and other downtown spots. When we talk about addressing homelessness as life and death it's not abstract for us. It's people we love deeply. We know their favorite ice cream flavor and what movies they love. We know just where they keep their teeth/socks/purse/umbrella/family keepsakes/etc., we know what kinds of shoes make their feet sore and what makes them laugh. We know their deep heartaches and struggles. We sit vigil by their bedsides and accompany them as their bodies are mounted to the gurney. We deeply mourn their deaths and our lives never feel the same when they are gone.
I want to extend my deepest love and support to people who are currently or recently experiencing homelessness who stood by Sandy in all her beauty and her messiness. You all make life so much better for all of us and I am honored to share community with you everyday--whether up close or from afar, you are always in my heart and thoughts.
Thank you to the hotel staff for working with us, thank you to the Amahoro House for stepping up so much for our people all the time. Thank you to the service providers who did go above and beyond for her over the years (Ty, PATH, SideWalk). Thank you to the many community members, restaurant servers and businesses who treated Sandy with respect and dignity and gave her a second chance when she wasn't at her best. Thank you to our staff (especially Sadie and former staff people Pete & Jiva, her navigators) for always inviting her back with love and patience even when it was challenging to maintain. Thank you to First Christian and for giving us a home, and particularly to Mary for letting Sandy use the bathrooms and warm up so often.
Moments like these, the reality of what we are carrying with people in that 100 year old church basement feels enormous. It's a privilege and an honor that I will never fully understand. I am grateful that you are no longer in pain, Sandy. You made a serious impact on many lives and you will not be forgotten. <3 <3 <3
Meg Martin, MSW, MHP, is the Shelter Program Director for The Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter.