“Our homeless and poor have brought us here tonight — we are here to remember them and to acknowledge we are not without blame for what happened to them.”
— Father Michael Ryan
As I listened to Father Ryan of St. James Cathedral say these words at our Requiem Mass for the Homeless earlier this month, I wondered how I could have reached out to some of the 154 women, men and children (including “Baby B” and “Baby Girl Villa-Ceja”) who died on Seattle’s streets this past year. Some died violently, some by suicide and others in shelters, jails or hospitals.
Were any people I regularly pass on my walks up Madison Street on that list? I envision the homeless woman huddled in the Bank of America doorway, her grocery cart spilling over with life belongings. It’s possible she did not survive that raw night. What about the man in front of Starbucks, barefoot and giving voice to the many speakers in his head?
People experiencing job loss, broken relationships, evictions or health crises already are fragile. Homelessness can tip them over the edge, but a 911 call could connect them with community resources, like the King County Crisis and Commitment Services that evaluates people with behavioral-health disorders.
What about “Baby B” and “Baby Girl Villa-Ceja?” Were their mothers holding these newborns when they died? I shudder at the possibilities. Did I rush by their pregnant moms? I could have reached out to Catholic Community Services’ PREPARES Program for pregnant and parenting women, men and families to connect them to companions and services throughout pregnancy, and to the child’s fifth birthday.
It is a contradiction to have so many die on the streets of the fastest-growing big city in the U. S. with its median income of $102,000 and median home prices topping $800,000. Our city is equipped to help right now. We do not have to wait to use these simple solutions:
Plymouth Housing helps homeless adults stabilize and improve their lives. Plymouth is in the midst of building 600 apartments in six buildings for our neighbors experiencing homelessness, one of which opened this year. Another project is a partnership with Bellwether Housing, the Pacific Northwest’s largest nonprofit affordable housing provider, to develop the Madison/Boylston Project. This will be Seattle’s first affordable high rise in 50 years. Plymouth will offer social and therapeutic services for homeless seniors there.
For 46 years, YouthCare has provided housing, education, and employment training for vulnerable youth. This year, they’ll serve about 1,300 homeless youth — many victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Reach out to this worthy organization to see about helping.
Advocate for more mental-health services by connecting with county, state and federal resources. Attend City Council meetings, call your state legislator, write your congressperson or senator, or join the League of Women Voters.
Volunteer at nonprofits. Sacred Heart Shelter in Queen Anne — a Catholic Community Services (CCS) program — offers refuge and case management for families experiencing homelessness. If “Baby B” and “Baby Girl Villa-Ceja” had been referred there or to CCS’ PREPARES program, perhaps they would be with us.
Tackling homelessness in Seattle is a worthy practice for everyone and can be an essential practice for more of us. As we advocate, donate and volunteer, together, we can turn this situation around and help save lives now. Father Ryan’s words can give us an inspiring start: “May we not rest peacefully until the plight of these homeless brothers and sisters becomes more and more our problem and our mission.” To that — and all of us — I say, Amen.