Every woman has a story at Mary's Place. But the story that everyone shares is that Mary's Place may become homeless, too.
Every woman has a story at Mary’s Place.
Jessica Mackey has been homeless for three months; she was evicted from a room she was renting. Her kids are in foster care. Her fiancé? Who knows.
Linda Gordon sells Real Change and comes into Mary’s Place — the city’s only emergency day shelter for women and children — to use the phone and search for housing.
Plymouth Church members Jessie Attri and Doris Schaefer come here to do God’s work. Jessie gives the women hand-massages while, beside her, Doris washes their feet.
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But the story that everyone shares is that Mary’s Place may become homeless, too.
“We pray so hard that something will happen,” Schaefer told me the other day.
A bit of history: For almost 15 years, Mary’s Place was housed in the First United Methodist Church at Fifth and Marion streets in downtown Seattle.
When the church sold its sanctuary in 2007 and began construction of a new one at Second and Denny, Mary’s Place found temporary shelter in a building owned by the Denny Park Lutheran Church.
First United promised that when the new building was completed, Mary’s Place would come along. It can’t stay where it is: The Lutheran Church building is up for sale.
Things went sour in July 2008 when First United Methodist got a new pastor, the Rev. Dr. Sanford Brown.
According to Mary’s Place director Marty Hartman, Brown wanted the shelter to become part of his church’s ministry.
But Hartman just can’t: “Our mission is that we are open to women of all faiths, and no faiths,” she told me on Friday. “And to align ourselves with one faith would compromise our mission and donor base.”
I had to play devil’s advocate. You are a shelter seeking to help homeless women in increasingly desperate times. You are being offered a new space in a central area, where women in need can reach you and other services.
Why turn away from four brand-new walls in the heart of the city?
Well, Hartman said, because moving under the auspices of the United Methodist Church feels like what many of these women have struggled to escape: A loss of control.
“The women want to be their own church,” Hartman said.
For his part, Brown told me that United Methodist simply wants a homeless program of its own, something he sees as “the key to revitalizing our church.”
“We only have one space, so we have only one shot at doing homeless ministry,” Brown said. “Instead of that ministry being done by a tenant, we would like our congregation to do a homeless ministry ourselves.”
Said Hartman: “I understand why they’re doing that. But now where do we call home?”
Mary’s Place is looking for a space with showers, laundry facilities and a kitchen — all of it handicapped-accessible.
The day-to-day operation is fully funded.
“We just need a place to invite homeless women and children in,” Hartman said.
Despite the drama, the he-said, she-said, Brown would hate to see Mary’s Place close.
“We would rather have the option of working with them than have them close because of lack of location,” he said. “We’d like a reconciliation of some kind.”
Hartman is too busy scrambling. But Brown could come for lunch, “sit with the women and listen to their stories.”
Or stand in the kitchen and listen to a woman named Taylor. She’s been homeless for five years, she told me.
“But I have hope.”
We all should. That Mary’s Place finds a place. And that the women there find their own.
Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
She hopes it’s in the free zone.