Today, on December 21, 2021 - the Winter Solstice and National Homeless Persons Day of Remembrance was the grand opening of Unity Commons. Unity Commons is a 58 bed low-barrier supportive and enhanced shelter on the first floor with 65 apartments of permanent supportive housing. Many of our current shelter guests will soon move into forever homes of their own after staying in shelters for many years in some cases. This would never have been possible without our partnership with LIHI. Partnering with LIHI has been a great experience so far and we hope to continue to develop that relationship as we get into the groove of daily operations.
This is undeniably a huge day for our community. Depending on your perspective, this moment has been nearly a decade in the making dating back to the People's House effort and even before that the volunteer based shelter program hosted by faith and spiritual communities throughout Thurston County, and grassroots volunteer based organizations like Bread and Roses and EGYHOP. The HOME Fund campaign is finally seeing brick and mortar outcomes and it's genuinely a huge deal. We welcomed HoHoHobos to sell wreaths in the parking lot today (we love you!) and we did our very best to be respectful of people's living space and autonomy. It was so beautiful and overwhelming and represented so much of the best of this community.
Yet, tonight as I start to deeply feel the intense exhaustion from our shelter move on December 17th into the new space, and the intensity of today, I'm feeling very similar to how I felt the night before our shelter at First Christian Church opened 7 years ago. I'm so sad that we need to do this at all. How can we live in such a wealthy society and yet hundreds still will sleep outside in the snow this holiday weekend in our community? That harsh reality doesn't cancel out this moment of massive celebration, AND If the lessons of the pandemic have taught us anything, it's that many truths can exist at the same time. So tonight, I'm holding many truths - in my joy - in my tears - in my grief - in my gratitude.
My name gets thrown around a lot in moments like these. We tend to cling to charismatic leaders in this society and the by-product of that is we miss so much beauty and skill and recognition of vital leaders in our community. I wish the community could see and know all of the absolute gems who show up to this beautifully difficult work every single day to clean toilets, and clean up people's messes when they are uncontrollably sick, make beds, serve food, dive into to crisis, successfully reverse overdoses that would have otherwise resulted in death, sit with the coroner while a beloved guest is brought to the funeral home to never be claimed by their family. Our staff support people with a mastery that you can only understand if you've been there, in the space day in and day out and have done it yourself. Honestly, we have a team of truly diverse people in identity, in thought, in experience, and I cry when I think about how lucky we are to have the team that we have. We are multigenerational, we value hardship and resilience, we hold onto the hope that things can be better, and it matters that we show up.
Thank you to the employees past and present of Interfaith Works. I wish there was a more meaningful way to say it, but seriously, thank you. I wanted to list everyone's name but I don't have their permission yet. So I'll get that and then I'll post all their names because you need to know them. You need to see them. You need to recognize them for all the ways they hold this community together everyday.
Here's the other part that is so bittersweet -- since we opened our shelter in 2014, we've lost so many people. People who would have lived here with us. People who we advocated to build this building specifically for because of the challenges they had in our old spaces. These are folks who we didn't build this fast enough for. Again, this truth doesn't take away from all the good that will come and all the lives that will be extended because of the clean safe space at Unity Commons. But the community needs to know, this is the reality.
We love you all. We hold you in our hearts and minds with every decision we make at Interfaith Works. Thank you for sharing your lives with us. Tonight and every night we honor you.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. May we never forget why we are here, and what it's all about. We love you Olympia, let's move forward from this beautiful moment and keep getting after it until all people have safe, clean, affordable housing and the community support they need to feel a true sense of belonging. Goodnight!
Meg Martin, LICSW, CPC, is the Executive Director for The Interfaith Works.