I can't tell you how many times have I seen the startled look on people's faces when I have talked about homelessness as an issue on the Eastside. There is a common perception that homelessness may be an issue in Seattle, but not on the Eastside with it's seeming affluence. And, it is true that the Eastside has more wealthy neighborhoods than Seattle. However, poverty resides right next to the riches, often hidden from plain sight. When it comes to homelessness among women, they have many reasons to be invisible from us. Our feature article below talks about this aspect of homelessness.
I also want to extend my invitation to all of you to join us for our Second Annual Community Business Council (CBC) Benefit Breakfast coming up this Friday, October 25th, 7:30 am at the Red Lion Hotel, Bellevue. There is no cost to attend and the registration link is above. We launched our CBC last year and had our first Benefit Breakfast in October 2012. Since then our CBC has grown to more than 40 members. We greatly benefited from the collective wisdom of the CBC as we ventured into our first entrepreneurial effort, Sophia's Thrift Shoppe, and the launch of the jobs program for our clients. We look forward to creating a stronger collaboration with the local business community in eliminating homelessness for adult women in King County.
Assistant Executive Director
The Invisible Women
The Eastside area of Puget Sound is one of the most affluent areas of the Seattle/Bellevue Metro area. Microsoft, Expedia, and Nintendo all have their headquarters on the Eastside. Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos live on the Eastside. Downtown Bellevue is booming, with skyscrapers rising and more high-end condos being added weekly.
But if you ask about homelessness on the Eastside, you will get blank looks. Surely, in this upscale area, there are no homeless people. That's something that Seattle might have to worry about, but not the Eastside.
The numbers tell a different story. The 2013 One Night Count, coordinated by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH), found 197 people without any shelter on the Eastside. Out of those 96 were men, 26 women and gender couldn't be determined for the other 75. And this is surely an undercount; volunteers can't search everywhere, and homeless people are good at hiding.
Women experiencing homelessness take great care not to be visible. If they are homeless and own a car, then often times they sleep in it. Some find refuge in dumpsters, dark alleys, bushes or undergrowth, parking garages and other lightly travelled areas. Some will not get any sleep at night and will just walk around or take the night owl buses. Sometimes they will move between different places, at best getting some fragmented sleep.
There is also a shame associated with being homeless in our culture. We have a tendency to think that this person deserved to be homeless and brought it upon herself. Blaming the victim is easy, but it is much harder to see the systemic nature of the problem. Our economic policies, lack of social support and healthcare systems all contribute to the problem of homelessness.
You cannot easily stereotype women who are homeless. They can dress well and may be walking next to you inside a shopping mall. While this helps the woman survive, it also keeps the problem hidden. If we don't see women who are homeless, then it is an uphill task to convince people that there are so many women experiencing homelessness in our communities.
At The Sophia Way, we provide the services that women need to get back on their feet. We also partner with many sister organizations, individuals, businesses, foundations, and local governments who are working to improve services for this segment of our population. We all need to work together to end homelessness. Obviously, we wish this problem did not exist in any community or anywhere in the world for that matter! But it does exist. And we all need to continue to work together to help women who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Second Annual Community Business Council Benefit Breakfast
7:30 a.m. - 8:45 a.m.
Registration at 7:00 a.m.
Red Lion Hotel, Bellevue
You are invited to our second annual Community Business Council (CBC) Benefit Breakfastcoming up this Friday. The Sophia Way CBC was launched in 2012 recognizing the need to build a community of local businesses and business leaders who could help us effectively execute our plans moving us closer toward our goal of ending homelessness. This year's breakfast will focus on cultivating economic vitality - the power of social enterprise, connection and contribution. Please join us to listen to our Keynote Speaker, Naveen Jain, inome CEO, talk about integrating business goals with social responsibility. We are also excited to have Penny Sweet, Kirkland City Councilmember, as our featured speaker. James Whitfield, President of Leadership Eastside, will be our emcee for this event.
Inspiring speakers, great breakfast, wonderful networking opportunity, and a cause we can all stand behind. We are looking forward to your participation. You can register at our event page here.
The Sophia Way is supported by United Way of King County.
Corporate Giving Campaigns
& The Sophia Way
Talking to an employees at the Expedia Social and Human Services Non-Profit Fair
Many corporations in the Pacific Northwest have their Corporate Giving Campaigns this time of year. If you have friends or family employed with those corporations, please ask them to consider supporting The Sophia Way during their Giving Campaigns. We would really appreciate if they would also help spread the word about The Sophia Way and the critical work that we are doing in the community to end homelessness for adult women in King County. We need a broad spectrum of supporters from all walks of life to end homelessness and to create a thriving community where we all can prosper.
For yet another year, YOU made our Annual Benefit Journey Luncheon a great success last week! It was my first major event as the Assistant Executive Director at The Sophia Way and it brought home to me what an empowering community can look like when it comes together for a purpose. Thanks to each and every one of you for making The Sophia Way the organization that we are today.
From community partners, sponsors, to volunteers and staff -- there are just so many people to thank who made this event possible. I will not be able to thank each and everyone here. However, I will take this opportunity to thank the Red Lion Hotel, Bellevue, and Danny Rogers the General Manager. They have sponsored this event and many other events for us for many years. But, more than that, they have been an active partner of The Sophia Way in helping the women we serve, sometimes with accommodation, taking care of a client recovering from a surgery, parking and many other personalized services. We are honored to have community partners like Danny Rogers and Red Lion Hotel.
As Summer comes to an end, and Fall starts to bring color to the foliage, we start preparing for Winter -- the harshest months in the Pacific Northwest for the women we serve to survive. Beginning in November we will open our emergency winter shelter on the eastside. For many of us, winter is a natural time of rest, reflection and overall slower pace. With the cold temperatures and the long, dark nights we often want to take refuge in our warm homes and find a quiet space in which we can arrive at personal renewal after the rush and pressures of the previous three seasons. However, this is NOT so for those of us who are without shelter. It is a hard time for anyone experiencing homelessness. But I know we have your support and that the rain and cold will eventually give way to spring again, in an unfolding that is as old as time itself.
Assistant Executive Director
The Power of Listening
When we listen, with out heart, we make a connection that is difficult to explain in words. It is a powerful experience to be listened to without judgment, and yes, without the expectation of any direct help.
Listening and just being there for the women we serve is the core concept of The Sophia Way Companion Program. And, this was what Dr. Judy Lightfoot, Keynote Speaker at our Journey Luncheon last week, focused on in her speech. Drawing from her long experience of 1 on 1 conversation with many individuals, whom she says are cutoff from mainstream society, she shared stories of her interactions and what she has learned through this process.
Judy mentioned how she gradually came to the realization that "neighborly companionship should be more available for individuals trapped in the invisible ghettos of homelessness and mental illness." She started her first coffee date with Alfred whom she first met at a support group while volunteering at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
There is something powerful about listening to someone without the obligation or the need to help. When we create that safe space where a person can open up without the fear of being judged, we create a sanctuary where the person can listen to herself. We always listen to what others are saying about us. But how often can we put our guards down and just listen to what our mind tells us? As a companion, it can be hard to sit on our wisdom that we all feel so compelled to share. But sometimes, that is exactly what we need -- to be still and to listen.
What if the person you are being a companion to isn't "likeable"? Judy shared what she found very useful -- to focus on one trait of the person that she likes -- it could be the color of their eyes or the quality of their voice. Once a person can feel some warmth coming their way, they can drop their guards and just be themselves. As philosopher Simone Weil wrote, "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."
Could you imagine a world where each of us spent an hour every week meeting a "peaceful stranger on the street"? How beautiful and empowering that would be!
September 6th was a company-wide volunteerism event at Expedia -- their Day of Caring. More than 50 Expedia employees from the Bellevue office volunteered with us. What happens when 50 dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers join hands with The Sophia Way to help women experiencing homelessness? A great change that is hard to quantify.
One group of 39 Expedia volunteers joined us to spruce up our Holly House. This is a group home where six women live, and there's always something that needs to be done. The Expedia group painted the attic, stairwell, and basement. They did pressure washing, spread gravel, and built a berm to prevent flooding this winter. They also did a bit of edging, weeding, and general yard maintenance. Whew!
Another group of 14 volunteers joined us at our Sophia's Thrift Shoppe. They removed all summer fashion from the racks, sorted through purses, shoes, and prepared the store for Fall sales by filling the racks with over 75 boxes of clothing. They also swept and vacuumed up the dust bunnies!
If you were there, you would never know that all this occurred in just about 4 hours!
We have just one word for our amazing volunteers from Expedia - gratitude. What a community!
The Sophia Way is supported by United Way of King County.
Expedia volunteers at the Holly House after many hours of hard work.