The IW EOS is looking to hire fill-in staff to be on call for evening or overnight shifts and possibly day-time warming center 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. Please read through our job description below thoroughly for more information about the position and how to apply. Applicants will also be interviewed by a group of current staff and management.
September is Suicide Awareness Month.
In the street community, average life expectancy is around 48 years. Let that sink in for a second--48 years old. While our shelter serves primarily older adults (average age 51), there are times when beautiful young people come into our orbit. Then, when they tragically leave our orbit, it puts that statistic more into perspective.
Two weeks ago my neighbor and a one-time shelter guest Liz, was found dead in the woods behind my house. Liz was 22 years old and is believed to have died by suicide. She was found hanging from a tree. My relationship with Liz had developed over the past 4 months or so. She would have mental health emergencies at her camp where she would scream and pull her hair and beat on the ground. There were times when I would run back to her camp with others (my partner, friends) to check on her, talk her down and see if there was any basic need I could help her with. One night she was sitting in the dark screaming to no one. My friend Meta (Bread and Roses/PiPE) and I went back to talk with her. I gave her a flashlight and asked if she needed anything else. She asked for her violin. Her eyes lit up when we told her that we were with Bread and Roses, EGYHOP and the shelter. I always made it really clear to her that I was her neighbor and that I was listening for her. When she felt scared I asked her to try to remember that I'm close by listening for her.
Liz was a punk, like me. She wore ripped up tulle prom dresses, thick black eye liner, high tops with fishnets, lots of gaudy fake jewelry. She told me once when I sat with her on my street after finding her unconscious in the road that it was just really nice to have "another rad girl to talk to". We talked about music once--she played violin and other stringed instruments--and loved grunge music. I daydreamed about starting a neighborhood band with her so we could practice in my basement and she could get away from her camp for a bit. I so badly wanted to offer her a shelter bed every night, but we don't have any to offer. With only 37 beds we are turning people away daily for lack of space.
Liz had clearly experienced extensive trauma. She was experiencing the daily trauma of homelessness and being cut off from all resources. She was experiencing violence and caught in an all too familiar cycle for young women on the streets, being victimized by those in the encampments that have said they will love and protect her. One night my neighbor saw her running down our street with her hands tied behind her back and a man chasing her telling her to shut up. This stuff is complicated--deeply complicated--because the same person that would victimize Liz had most likely had that done to him by someone else. Statistically, that feedback loop goes on and on and on and on.....
As is true with most wooded areas around the city, there are multiple encampments in the greenbelt area near my house in the Upper Eastside Neighborhood. I made over 10 calls to the Olympia Police Department during this time to request wellness checks, multiple calls to Behavioral Health Resources to coordinate with the Designated Mental Health Professionals to try to get Liz evaluated and calls to Code Enforcement at the city to try to figure out what our options were. I've advocated for the City Council to open up a safe parking lot for camping like many other cities have successfully done when partnering with local non-profit agencies and I've spoken with County leadership to expand the newly proposed crisis mobile outreach that is associated with the new Mental Health Triage Center to serve people in encampments who are experiencing non-detainable mental health emergencies. Yet, here we are and another preventable death of a young person has occurred.
Our world is so entrenched in the stigma that people experiencing homelessness bring it upon themselves and that there is no solution to homelessness as we know it. We become frozen by this and we wait and wait and wait and wait. We consider risk management and legalities, lament that there's no funding for it and we don't want to act out of emergency or emotion because it could cause more problems down the road and...and.....and....
While we wait, people (children) are literally dying all around us--literally in our backyards. I understand all the excuses, I really do. My point is that we have to figure out how to be dynamic and creative thinkers and realize that we can consider risk management AND take action at the same time. It is my understanding that this is typically called a Pilot Project. Entities take on a risk for a set period of time and then if it fails, they shut it down; if it succeeds, they fund it further. Cities all over the country and specifically on the West Coast are grappling with how to deal with a steady increase in street homelessness and the need for mental health resources. Cities are opening parking lots for safe camping in partnership with non-profits, they are redirecting funds to deal with this issue by providing services to people rather than increased police presence to give citations and jail time, cities are buying motels and converting them into additional shelter beds/permanent supportive housing, they are taking the lead to initiate housing levies on the ballot because they see this as a political priority and they are coordinating with all other levels of government with more resources to create solutions.
I am tired that the people that I love are dying. I was tired of it in 2012 when Cassie and Jeff and I started to tell the city and the community what we thought about all of this. Our shelter team has saved many lives since we opened and I am grateful for that. But we still have to turn people away every night, sending them out into a city that criminalizes and stigmatizes them, where the blankets we give them cannot protect them from violence, murder, suicide, rape, theft, drug use, and isolation. Where they will likely be asked to move along from any place that’s protected from the rain. Where having a decent place to camp might mean they’re afraid to report having been raped because they think the police will clear their camp.
This will continue to be the experience of unhoused and unsheltered people, until we as a community decide to act on our professed progressive values. A death like Liz’s, with zero media coverage, is an outrage; it goes against everything we say we value. But saying we value something isn’t enough. We must build our political will — our willingness to take risks, make sacrifices, and learn from our mistakes — at all levels of government. We must take this issue seriously and recognize that it is a massive piece of the puzzle when it comes to economic development in our city. We can't have one without the other.
At moments like these I tend to feel overwhelmed. Anyone with me?? When that happens, I try to think of concrete, immediate actions to take. My challenge to everyone, in the spirit of taking action while realizing that we can't solve it all with one blog post, is to embrace the desire to be generous today. If someone asks you for money and you think "I want to do that but what if....", just do it. I promise that no one can do anything too detrimental in their lives with the $1, $5, $10 you might give them. It will make them feel human for one minute and that is worth 10x any amount of spare change you have. If you have no money to give, roll down your window/lift your head up, say hello and tell them it's nice to see them today. We can be a community that finds Liz's death unacceptable -- among countless others whom we don't even know -- and decides to take responsible action, rather than throwing up our hands in defeat and allowing this to continue.
If you are interested in getting more involved, let me know! Also, consider coming to our next volunteer training on October 8th 1-4pm and email email@example.com with any thoughts.
Join us Saturday the 10th!
This Saturday we have our monthly volunteer training from 1-4pm at the shelter. We would love to have you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions!
Did you know that over the last year we have had over 5,560 volunteer hours donated to supporting our shelter?? Join the family!!
We are getting ready to rock it out (yet again) on Saturday the 27th from (roughly) noon to (roughly) 6pm for our 2nd Annual Up In Smoke BBQ extravaganza! This is a party we throw that is a celebration of street life and a chance for all neighbors of downtown Olympia and beyond to meet each other, eat great food, and bear witness to some of the finest community magic our great city has to offer. Come by whenever! It's super casual, family friendly and NOT TO BE MISSED!
Thanks to VOCAL Washington, and two of our awesome support staff Jiva and Jenny Lee for putting together an exciting event next Wednesday for National Overdose Awareness Day. Issues of overdose and increased awareness around opioid use particularly, have been significant topics in the media nationwide. The latest data from Univ. of Washington says there's an average of 600 deaths per year in our state. Thurston County has an overdose rate which has increased by more than 30% in the last decade and will continue to do so if we do not begin to look at policies that will truly address the realities of drug use in our communities. This is an issue that the Interfaith Works Shelter and many of our partners have been very concerned about for a long time. This issue is not new for our community but what is new is the sea change of innovative ideas to combat the negative effects of drug use. We hope that our community will choose to grow, learn and get creative to ensure that our families and loved ones can live long, safe lives. Thank you to Interfaith Works of Thurston County for officially endorsing this event! We are excited to have Olympia City Council Member Clark Gilman as a guest speaker among others! Starts at 11am at the Artesian Well downtown. See you there!
Join us this Friday for a special evening of music and community!
Thank you United Churches of Olympia for your support!!
July 21, 2016
Our shelter screens people in based on the complexity of the challenges that they face. These complexities have been studied among people experiencing chronic homelessness and have been found to put people at higher risk for dying if they are left out on the streets and disconnected from services. Most frequently, these complexities look like a combination of chronic illness, permanent physical disability, and living with mental health and substance use challenges. Many of our guests have been consistently screened out of services because of their drug use. This further marginalizes them and puts them at much higher risk for contracting deadly diseases and overdose.
We come from a perspective that people make decisions within the context of their environment. At the IW EOS we always aim to “zoom out” to find the context for someone’s behavior rather than blaming the individual for their behavior. Every one of our guests has experienced trauma/is currently experiencing systemic trauma that has a dramatic effect on their daily lives. It is our job (and further, we believe, the job of our community) to recognize what trauma does to people and support them appropriately with that knowledge. What we know, is that trauma often leads to substance use and dependency.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 39% (7.9 million people) of people living with substance use disorders are also living with mental health disorders. So often when doing community education about the issues our guests face I hear people talk with deep compassion for people with mental health challenges and have a strong understanding that those challenges are not someone's fault. Yet, conversations around substance use are often met with resistance and reactions that paint people who use drugs as selfish, untrustworthy, dangerous criminals. Here's the thing, though--SO many people from all possible backgrounds use licit and illicit drugs daily. In 2014, 20.2 million people were recorded to have a substance use disorder diagnosis! That doesn't take into consideration the millions of others without a diagnosis that casually use drugs--a nightly glass of wine to reduce stress, legal marijuana, prescription drugs, caffeine, sugar, etc. etc. etc.
Issues are never as simple (right/wrong, good/bad) as society wants us to believe. Part of our mission is to fight against the many iterations of stigma that our guests are up against everyday. They have survived insurmountable odds and I am honored that they choose to allow us into their lives. By providing an open and trusting environment for people that use drugs we have been able to form relationships with our guests that allow us to have real conversations with them about their use and encourage ways for them to stay safer, be proud of who they are and feel worthy of receiving love.
Practically, we have policies that support the drug users at our shelter including an opiate overdose and administration policy. Based on the Good Samaritan Law, this policy allows for us to administer Naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal drug, for people that are in the midst of a deadly overdose. We have successfully reversed two overdoses that would have otherwise resulted in death because our support staff are trained in this life saving intervention. One of the overdoses was a 19 year old that had just returned from a drug treatment program with no skills or education around the risk of overdose, (significantly higher when coming out of an institution such as inpatient treatment or jail) and how to effectively stay alive.
We also publicly support interventions that have been proven to save lives and decrease the negative effects of public drug use such as Safe Consumption Facilities. According to the Washington chapter of VOCAL, "Supervised consumption facilities are controlled health care settings where people can more safely use pre-obtained drugs in a hygienic environment with access to sterile injecting equipment and under the supervision of trained care staff. Safe consumption spaces provide an array of support including health care, counseling, and referrals to health and social services, including drug treatment." Recently, VOCAL brought an exhibit to Olympia to demonstrate what a room like this can look like. A number of our shelter staff swung by to check it out and we were very impressed by the opportunity something like this could provide for the overall safety and well being of our entire community.
I certainly don't have all the answers, but what I do know is that "all life is sacred" as our shelter staff Jiva puts it in the photo. There is no positive change that can be made in the world or in ourselves if we stop breathing. Today, we honor the lives of those lost to stigma, shame, condemnation and fear. Your life matters, we see you and love you.
In our work at the shelter and our community education efforts, we understand that we can't talk about poverty without talking about issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, access, age, mental health, substance use and class. We refer to these overlaps of complex issues as "intersections of oppression". Most of our shelter guests experience challenging combinations of these issues in their daily lives making it incredibly difficult to navigate the world with little to no resources.
We are a values based organization and aim to make all programmatic, strategic, fundraising and political decisions grounded in our core values. We know that we won't meet our mission if we stray from our values. One way this looks day to day is that we strive to provide adequate compensation to our workers so that we can keep their skills, heart and dedication in our community serving people on the streets. We prioritize hiring people that demographically reflect the population that we serve. This includes people of color, people with lived experience, former guests, and LGBTQ identified individuals. Today, I want to focus on issues surrounding LGBTQ individuals that stay with us and work at the shelter.
Depending on the study, close to 50% of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ identified. Services working with LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness have improved greatly over the years. We are lucky to have very adept organizations doing this work locally--CYS, PiPE, Stonewall Youth, EGYHOP and others. The adult homeless service network however, is generally pretty far behind the times when it comes to LGBTQ competency in adult programs. This doesn't really add up to me--people don't age out of their identity. So when they age out of youth programs and there are not competent resources for them in adult programs they are underserved and at much higher risk for experiencing mental health and substance use challenges, discrimination and violence because of their identities. We have prioritized addressing this important issue through our shelter program because many of us on staff identify as LGBTQ and also because on any given night at our shelter between 10-20% of our guests are as well.
How this looks in real life is that lesbian couples can stay in the women's dorm, gay men in couples can stay in the men's dorms, all genders and makeup of couples can stay in the couples dorm, and transgendered people can sleep wherever they feel most comfortable. We have a gender neutral restroom and our men's and women's bathrooms are gender inclusive (meaning that all guests that identify with that gender can use the bathroom that matches their identity).
It isn't perfect. Not at all. People still experience discrimination in our shelter, both guests and staff are misgendered (to refer to someone, especially a transgender person, using a word, especially a pronoun or form of address, that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify) frequently and experience hateful language and prejudice. People don't always feel comfortable or safe no matter how good our intentions are or how hard we try to make it a safe space. We are stretching the historical view of what adult sheltering looks like and to change a strongly formed mold is never easy. What gives me hope is that many of our LGBTQ guests and staff have stuck around. They keep coming back for the most part--even when it isn't perfect.
By hiring people with lived experience we know that this job can expose all of our vulnerabilities and past trauma. As staff we have all dealt with feeling targeted at times and drained from the layers of oppression that play out in our workplace. Over the past few months we have been working on a plan to better support our staff by providing them benefits in addition to their hourly wages.
June 28th, 2016 was an important day for us at the shelter. It was the first day in our program's history that we introduced paid holidays for our staff. This means time and half for shifts worked on 8 holidays out of each year. As a team we decided upon our list of 8 annual holidays and like everything we do... it was a values based decision.
June 28th, 2016 marked 47 years after the first night of riots at the Stonewall Inn. This event is seen as one of the most definitive moments in the fight for LGBTQ liberation in this country. The Stonewall Inn is a gay bar in Greenwich Village, NYC and at the time was known to serve the most poor and marginalized members of the LGBTQ community including homeless youth. The protests and riots are widely believed to have been kicked off by Marsha P.Johnson, a Black transwoman who performed as a drag queen, and Silvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican transgender woman. Other gay, lesbian, crossdressers, transgendered folks and patrons of the Stonewall Inn took to the streets after a routine, forceful police raid to declare that they were no longer going to stand for the violence and discrimination they had faced for so long.
As a shelter team, we decided that this moment in history is one that we want to publicly declare as an official paid holiday of the Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter. Thank you to the beautiful people that stood for justice in the Stonewall riots, pushing forth the efforts for LGBTQ liberation and equality. While we have so far to go, we are proud to work in our little corner of the shelter world to try and make it more livable and safe for LGBTQ people to be met exactly where they are with unconditional respect and positive regard.
Growth is uncomfortable and change never comes without clash. I am honored to work with a team of individuals that actively work to understand the intersections of oppression that our guests face. This helps us be able to discuss issues that are hard, that make us grow and keep us rooted in our slow moving progress towards social justice. We understand it because we each uniquely live it in our own daily lives.
Thank you to the Stonewall protesters, we honor you.
Rest In Peace
Two weeks ago I received a call from the Thurston County Coroners office inquiring about a man that had been found deceased. He said that the only identifying information they could find was our address listed on his ID card and paperwork from our shelter in his belongings. He told me this information in a very matter of fact way--the Coroner was trying to locate family and was following all possible avenues in doing so. My heart sank and my eyes filled with tears. At this point I swallowed the lump and asked if he could tell me who it was...
A few weeks before this call, I showed up to work and there was a kayak near the bike rack. A KAYAK. I never quite know what to expect when I walk down into that parking lot, but I must say--A KAYAK?!?! So upon further investigation we come to find that Brady had purchased the kayak from Big 5 Sports and had dragged the kayak along the sidewalk all the way back to the shelter from Big 5 Sports because the bus driver wouldn't let him take it on the bus with him!
This was the man that Brady was. Determined, adventurous, and not one to back down from pursuing something he believed in. The weeks when he was boating each day we all noticed a shift in his spirit. He was more social, full of life and began pontificating even more so then usual about the beauty of the sea. This excerpt was a recent monologue he dictated to Ell/a one of our support staff as they transcribed it on the computer:
Anonymous Persons (Nostradamus) Thesis 1.23
“To be on the shore of the west coast, longing for the open waters of the great ocean to catch sail of a gentle breeze going towards the islands of warmth. Shangrila (peace, harmony and contentment) of being very stable and wanting to just relax like a warm bathtub of water with one’s aching existence soaking in it, while sipping upon one’s favorite beverage. it sounds like poetry. want to make this poetry a reality. which is easy to grasp after residing within this comfortable harbor that’s kind of a jest (whats a jest? like a joke? correct.) Somber thought while walking from one such side of town to the other side of town. Take a moment and look out to the far end of the harbor, which does lead to open waters and just ponder on the sailing thought.”
It is not very often that people have the opportunity to die doing something they truly love. This is especially true for people experiencing houselessness. In fact, one of the questions on our Vulnerability Assessment that we use to gauge someone's high likelihood of dying on the street is,
"Do you have planned activities, other than just surviving, that make you feel happy and fulfilled?".
I am overwhelmed with gratitude that Brady had the opportunity to find something to do other than surviving each day, that made him feel such a deep sense of belonging and peace on the water.
We held a memorial service for Brady on Tuesday last week, at the "Octagon" as it's known on the streets, near the corner of East Bay Drive and Olympia Ave. Our amazing medical and hospice partners, the Amahoro House volunteers, provided food, warm drinks and a beautiful display of flowers, rocks and ropes to help us celebrate the life of a man described by his peers as full of dignity, a pure heart and a beautiful example of a true friend.
The memorial brought out Shelter Support Staff, community members that knew him from the street, shelter volunteers and most importantly, shelter guests that have spent the past 9 months living with Brady. All but one of his dorm mates attended as did many others from the street community.
We had three dozen long stem roses that we picked as we shared a thought, memory or appreciation of Brady. We took the petals and gathered them in two vessels. Two volunteers, a shelter guest and Chris, Brady's fellow Meritime enthusiast and Support Staff member, ventured out on a dingy and a kayak to spread the petals and all of our love for Brady into the water just as he would have wanted it. The rest of us threw the petals on the shore to be taken out later by the tide.
Local Man of Mystery
We often referred to Brady as a Man of Mystery. We didn't know much about him and he would always say some coded catchphrases that were playful and might not always make linear sense. He never really mentioned family and all we ever knew for sure was that he loved the water. We learned a little bit more about Brady the day of his memorial, though.
A car happened to drive by as we were walking down to the shore and the driver asked me what we were doing. I told her, and I told her Brady's name. Her eyes filled with tears and she said, "My husband was his high school teacher at Capital". She said thank you to us for honoring his life and drove away.
This moment points to a larger narrative in our city. In this Olympian article Brady Grivel, 50 year old local man who attended Capital High School is referred to as a "transient". When will we accept that the people experiencing homelessness in Olympia aren't "home"less at all? Their home is Olympia. They are without a structure of a physical house to live in, but they are from here. Their families are here. Their jobs are here. They went to high school here.
Advocates and social service providers have tried a hundred different ways to explain the misconception that people experiencing houselessness on our streets of our city are flocking here from other cities. Overwhelmingly, through year after year after year of census information, surveying, and individual reporting we have unchanging data to show that between 80-90% of our street community has called Thurston County and specifically in many cases, Olympia, home for a very long time.
The average life expectancy of someone experiencing longterm houselessness is around 47 years old. Brady is the 4th shelter guest that has died since we opened. Two guests, Chris Fabrizio and Lisa Rath died after they had moved on from the shelter, and two (Ariel Stone and Brady Grivel) have been active guests when they died. All had been living in Thurston County for over 10 years.
May Brady, Ariel, Lisa, and Chris's lives solidify in our minds that the people you see on the streets are part of our community as much as anyone else. They deserve our care, respect and love. When we provide this for them, our community as a whole is healthier and better off.
May we have the insight as residents, city leaders, business owners, faith leaders, newspaper editors and community members to look at the many ways our community continues to push our neighbors even further to the margins by the way we describe them.
Rest in Peace, Brady. You will be missed.
Photos by Angela Lee and Meg Martin
Meg Martin, MSW, MHP, is the Shelter Program Director for The Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter.