“One Voice” — Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day Through the Eyes of a First-Time Advocate

By Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

Going into my first Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day (HHAD), I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous about calling myself a “housing advocate.” As a project assistant, I have created content that can be used as tools for advocacy and I have attended advocacy events, but I was afraid that I had not done enough advocacy to be an effective participant at HHAD. After participating in #HHAD2017, I realized that I could not have been more wrong.

In this blog post, I will recount my experience attending HHAD as a first-time advocate and explain how it changed my perception of what it means to be an advocate.

What is Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day?

HHAD is one of the largest organized lobby days in Washington State and is hosted by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA). This year, more than 650 people from all walks of life gathered in Olympia on Feb. 2 to advocate and speak directly to legislators. Although the schedule changes slightly each year, the main components of the day are the morning call to action, workshops, the rally at the Legislative Building and pre-arranged meetings with legislators.

The purpose of HHAD is to enable housing advocates and constituents to show their lawmakers that they care about finding a solution to the housing and homelessness crisis in Washington state while also advancing WLIHA’s legislative agenda items, which can be viewed here.

Preparing for my first HHAD

Since this was my first time attending HHAD, I did a lot of research beforehand to ensure that I could be an effective advocate and participant. The first resources I looked to were HHAD reflections from past project assistants including a Firesteel blog post from 2013 by Perry Firth and a photo essay by Haley Jo Lewis from 2014. Both reflections were helpful because they gave me a general idea of how the day would be structured, but I noticed that neither of them mentioned feeling nervous about going into meetings with their legislators (which is what I was most anxious about).

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My colleagues and I prepared for HHAD 2017 by hosting an on-campus event to invite the Seattle University community to join our fight against homelessness. L-R: Mandy, me (Shan), Khadija. Photo by Catherine Hinrichsen, courtesy of Shan Yonamine.

 

In addition to learning from the experiences of others, our team planned a HHAD event on campus while participating in Social Media Day of Action on Jan. 31. The main purpose of our “Give a Heart, Get a Heart” campus event was to get the Seattle University community involved in HHAD through a tabling activity. We did this by engaging participants in discussion about homelessness, affordable housing, HHAD and more while also answering their questions.

We asked each participant to write a message on a heart-shaped sticky note about what “home” means to them. All the messages were collected and placed on a poster, designed by Mandy, that we brought to HHAD. (See more about that event here.) For me, hosting the on-campus event was an integral part of my personal preparation for HHAD, because to explain the legislative agenda items to other people, it meant that I had to have a good understanding of them myself.

The Day We’d Been Waiting for: HHAD 2017 Timeline

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A visual timeline of HHAD 2017 illustrated by my colleague Mandy Rusch.

 

On the day of HHAD we left for Olympia bright and early. As we were nearing the Capitol Campus, I remember seeing clusters of people wearing red scarves and instantly feeling a sense of solidarity with them. We were all here for the same reason, united by the same cause. Soon after our arrival, we were off to begin a day full of advocacy activities.

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The long-awaited red scarves! Photo courtesy of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

A Crash Course in Advocacy: Morning Call to Action and Meeting with my Legislative District

Before heading to the Capitol Campus, all the HHAD participants convened in a nearby church where we registered and attended the morning call to action. I was excited to register because I knew I would get my long-awaited red scarf which all participants wear as a symbol of solidarity. I was also happy to receive a red folder which would become my HHAD survival guide, full of important information about the day.

During the morning call to action, Housing Alliance Board President Liz Trautman of Mockingbird Society briefed us on the agenda for the day, as well as the bill numbers we were supporting. HB5407 and SB1633 would outlaw Source of Income Discrimination (SOID) and HB1570 is the Washington Housing Opportunities Act, which eliminates the sunset on document recording fees, the major source of funding to fight homelessness in our state. In addition to pushing the bills, it was also our goal to get lawmakers to invest $200 million in the Housing Trust Fund.

After being briefed on the legislative agenda items, I felt much more confident to meet with my legislative group as well as with the legislators from my district. I felt as though a lot of people had also been unsure about the legislative agenda items, which made me feel like we were learning about them together. I realized that I didn’t have to come in knowing everything to be an effective participant.

After the morning call to action, we broke up to meet with our legislative districts. If you are unsure about which legislative district you are in, you can check here, which is where I had found that I am part of the 37th District. Each district had at least one HHAD leader who would guide them through the meeting process.

My district had two leaders who had attended HHAD in the past. They both explained that legislators react best to personal stories rather than just informing them about policies. Because we had more than 15 people in our legislative district, we decided that one person should share a personal story for each legislative agenda item. Because there was such a heavy emphasis on personal experience, I felt as though I had nothing to contribute. I have never personally experienced homelessness so I thought that I didn’t have any personal experience that would be useful to share with legislators. However, after meeting with our legislator, I realized everyone is affected when people are homeless and that I also have a right to affordable housing.

Adding to my Toolbox: Social Media for Advocacy Workshop

We joined Reiny Cohen from the WLIHA and Sara Baker from the Housing Development Consortium for the Social Media for Advocacy Workshop, where we learned how Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be used as platforms for advocacy. The most interesting thing that I learned in the workshop was about paying to boost Facebook posts. Reiny explained that boosting Facebook posts had increased WLIHA’s engagement, but also noted that once you pay to boost a post, it will be difficult to stop doing so.

For more information about how social media can be used for advocacy, check out my colleague Khadija’s Storify about the social media for advocacy workshop here. You’ll see lots of photos and posts from the entire day of #HHAD2017.

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Everyone assembled on the Capitol steps for the Rally for Homes. Photo courtesy of Shan Yonamine.

One Voice: Rally for Homes

I stood on the lower left side of the Capitol steps and all I could see was a sea of red scarves; all I could hear was the chanting of one united voice. The rally for homes was my favorite part of HHAD. At first, I was nervous. Something about standing on the steps of the Capitol, chanting, seemed disruptive but I realized that was exactly the purpose of this portion of the day: to be heard.

The beat of the Chief Seattle Club Drummers radiated through my entire body while Unity Flags by Real Change vendor Susan Russell waved above my head. I steadily chanted “homelessness has got to go” with the others while Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kennedy, Rep. Nicole Macri and Sen. Rebecca Saldana encouraged us to be louder, chanting with us. This was undoubtedly the most surreal experience of the day. I had never imagined that one day I would be rallying on the steps of the Capitol with hundreds of other advocates.

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I was able to get a picture of Rep. Pettigrew as one of our district speakers talked to him about source of income discrimination. Photo courtesy of Shan Yonamine.

Advocacy in Action: Meeting with Rep. Pettigrew

Still feeling energized from the rally for homes, I followed the crowd of advocates to the sandwich line and had a quick lunch before finding my legislative district for our meeting with Rep. Eric Pettigrew of the 37th Legislative District. We knew that we had a limited amount of time with him, so we had already planned what we were going to say and who was going to speak on what bill. I did not have a speaking part, so I went into the meeting ready to observe.

Many of the people from my district who spoke had firsthand experience working with people who are homeless and could share their personal stories. Rep. Pettigrew seemed to really care and listen. He even asked one speaker to email him examples when she explained that landlords are “getting tricky” regarding source of income discrimination, such as by writing 10-month leases instead of 12, and asking for two months of rent before tenants move in (tough for tenants using Section 8 vouchers). I was relieved to see how much he cared about us and happy to say that he supports all our legislative agenda items.

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Even though signs were not allowed at the rally, I couldn’t resist taking a picture with our poster in front of the Capitol. Photo by Mandy Rusch, courtesy of Shan Yonamine

Conclusion: A Day for All

As the day ended, I made an important realization. HHAD is for everyone – not just for longtime advocates or people with “personal experience”; literally anyone could have attended HHAD and gained something. HHAD is not only for the experienced advocates, it’s for people who want to learn and for anyone who cares about homelessness. My misconception that I had to be an expert on law and housing policy before going could not have been more wrong.

So, if you are thinking about attending HHAD next year I strongly encourage you to attend no matter what level of experience you have with advocacy. Everyone has something to gain from this day.

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Mandy, Khadija and me at the end of a long but rewarding HHAD! Catherine likes that we all tied our red scarves in a different way. We are all wearing our “Give a Heart” t-shirts from our campus HHAD event. Photo by Catherine Hinrichsen.

What You Can Do

  • Most important: Get on the action alert list for WLIHA and keep advocating for safe, healthy, affordable homes! You can get on the list here. WLIHA will send you emails when it’s time to contact your lawmakers, and the emails will automatically be sent right to your specific legislators.
  • Check the progress of the bills advocates are pushing for via WLIHA’s Bill and Budget Tracker.

To learn more about HHAD, here’s a collection of resources:

  • Videos: Firesteel’s and WLIHA’s first HHAD video — still great! — and WLIHA’s new HHAD video, featuring “advocacy queen” Nancy Amidei talking about community education and organizing.
  • Blog Posts: Our former project team members share their observances about HHAD in this Firesteel blog post from 2014 by former project coordinator Perry Firth and Haley’s photo essay from 2015. Firesteel’s 2015 HHAD blog post gives even more insight on the agenda items, the Social Media workshop and more.

To see what Seattle University students have done over the past few years to recognize HHAD on campus, check these out:

Get Online and Advocate on Social Media Day of Action, Jan. 31

Note: This is an updated version of a post that originally ran on Firesteel in January 2016.

 

Use your social media skills to advocate for affordable housing and an end to homelessness on the fourth annual Social Media Day of Action, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.

Advocates around the state will flock to Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms that day to build an online movement as we lead up to Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day (HHAD) in Olympia, Thursday, Feb. 2. HHAD is hosted by our partner, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

More importantly, we want to keep the momentum going, so that our voices are heard all year long and lawmakers understand that there is huge public will for policy change.

This year, Seattle University is partnering with Housing Development Consortium to co-host the Day of Action. We’ve added some new twists to keep everyone energized throughout the day — from hourly themes, to HDC’s new Legislative Session Bingo!

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Bean Gustaveson simultaneously prepared for HHAD and rooted for the Seahawks last year.

Why We Do It

Our goals are to:

1.       Increase registration for HHAD. Three years ago, Social Media Day of Action increased registrations for HHAD 50 percent. We can do it again!

2.       Demand action for the Alliance’s legislative agenda items like the Housing Trust Fund, Source of Income Discrimination, the Washington Housing Opportunities Act (formerly Document Recording Fee) and more.

3.       Share clear, consistent messaging (see below).

4.       Connect with advocates around the state who are doing the same kind of work. We are stronger when we advocate together!

 

How To Do It

It’s easy – and fun – to participate. Here are a few ways you can be part of the action.

1.       Change your photo – your Facebook profile photo and Twitter avatar, for example — to the Social Media Day of Action icon above. Just click on the image and save it to a folder, then post on social media.

 

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The HHAD Social Media Day of Action showed up on many Facebook pages last year, like this one from Denise Miller of Firesteel.

 

2.       Post something on your social media accounts – an image, video, link to TV story and more. Create your own image, or share content from partners. See below for some suggestions.

3.       Add a key message. (See below.)

4.       Add hashtags. Be sure to use the hashtag #HHAD2017 and the #WAhomes hashtag, as well as #WAleg for the Washington legislature. These not only concisely express a message, they help people search for your posts.

5.       Invite your friends, family and colleagues to join in. Ask them to “like” and “follow”:

  • Washington Low Income Housing Alliance on Facebook and Twitter 
  • Social media co-sponsor Housing Development Consortium on Facebook and Twitter
  • Social media co-sponsor Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness on Facebook.

6.       Repeat. The Day of Action lasts all day – from 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m.

  • For Twitter, post once per hour.
  • For Facebook, post a few times during the day. We don’t recommend flooding your Facebook feed with too many #HHAD2017 posts; Facebook users aren’t accustomed to a surge of posts, like Twitter users are.

 

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Social Media Day of Action can help increase attendance at HHAD, and keep the momentum going. (Feel free to share!)

 

Our Messaging

All the Social Media Day of Action content should focus on key messages like these:

1.       Register for Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day, Feb. 2 [http://wliha.org/housing-and-homelessness-advocacy-day] #HHAD2017 #WAhomes

2.       All Washington residents deserve the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home in thriving communities.

WLIHA’s Legislative Agenda Item Messaging:

1.       Create 5,700 affordable homes: Invest $200 million in the Housing Trust Fund.

2.       Streamline and increase the funding for homelessness services and housing.

3.       Prohibit discrimination based on a renter’s source of income.

4.       Expand housing for people with disabilities experiencing long-term homelessness.

5.       Protect and fully fund services that prevent homelessness.

More about the WLIHA agenda here.

10 Kinds of Content To Share

Now that we’ve done the Day of Action for a few years, we know what kind of content gets shared the most. Here are some recommendations for what kinds of posts to try. Change it up throughout the day. Look at what others are sharing, and join in. Be sure to interact with others; don’t just post-and-run.

1.       “Unselfies.” A selfie is type of self-portrait photograph usually taken with a camera phone and then posted to a social media site, often accompanied with the hashtag #selfie. An unselfie encourages people to take a self-portrait and tie it to a social issue or cause. It’s easy. First, write clearly why or how you’ll be participating in Advocacy Day; maybe you’re volunteering, or will meet with your legislator. Feel free to list more than one. Then, hold the piece of paper in front of you, showing your personal pledge, and take a picture. Add the hashtags #HHAD2017, #WAhomes and #unselfie to the post.

 

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Kristina Nielander of Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund shared this “unselfie” last year, and partners shared it on Facebook and other platforms.

 

We’ve even created a template you can use for an “unselfie” sign, below – just save the image, insert a text box and fill in the message!

 

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2.       Cute animal photos. Just like any other social media content – but with extra meaning.

 

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This image of sweet advocacy puppy Maeby Cohen not only fit the “cute pet” category, it borrowed from a popular ad slogan.

3.       Memes. These are images, videos, quotes and other pop-culture content made for sharing. Make your own at Imgur or Quickmeme. Or just pop an image into Powerpoint and snip it, creating a jpeg you can share. Note: You can also listen to Firesteel’s “Spark Change” podcast on creating images quickly, or read the post about it. There, you’ll also see the “Office Space” meme, a perennial favorite.

 

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“Mad Men” icon Don Draper made another appearance at Social Media Day of Action in this meme by Kate McMullen, then of WLIHA.
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When Bruce Springsteen was in town last year, he took a moment to advocate, thanks to Hannah Hunthausen at SU.

4.       Videos. Here’s one created specifically about WLIHA, featuring super-advocate Nancy Amidei and lots of scenes from HHAD last year. This is a great way to get people fired up about HHAD.

5.       Images related to agenda items. McKenna Haley of Seattle U created this image to support the Housing Trust Fund several years ago. You can add your own advocacy message at the bottom, or make your own image.

 

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You can add your own advocacy message to this image that supports the Housing Trust Fund.

 

 

6.       Infographics. These are great for visualizing data quickly. Here’s one from Columbia Legal Services and Seattle U about the number of homeless students in the state as of 2014-2015 (newer numbers are not yet available). This can be used to support items like funding for the Homeless Student Stability Program.

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7.       News Coverage. You can share this Seattle Times editorial on the need to better address the needs of people living in vehicles; this editorial in The Columbian in Clark County, about the need to help people who are homeless year round; blog posts; and much more.

8.       Quotes. Take a memorable quote and turn it into a strong visual. Or, share images that already exist, like this.

 

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The Raikes Foundation created this image in fall 2016 with a quote from co-founder Tricia Raikes.

 

9.       Statistics. Share statistics about affordable housing and homeless in your community on your tweets and posts with the hashtag #HHAD2017 and #WAhomes. Here are some great sources for statistics:

10.   Your personal thoughts and experiences. Your point of view means a lot to your followers and friends. Whatever you share, make sure you express your opinion and tell people what you want them to do.

New This Year!

For the first time we’ve divided up the day into different themes.

  • 8 – 10 a.m.: Musicals and Music (look for the debut of a certain Founding Father!)
  • 10 a.m. – noon: Pets and Animals
  • Noon – 2 p.m.: Classic Memes updated for #HHAD2017 (Hey Girl!)
  • 2-4 p.m.: Popular TV
  • 4-6 p.m.: Oscar-nominated Movies
  • 6-8 p.m.: Washington State scenes, trivia and culture

Of course, you’re welcome to post this content at any time of the day. And, please post unselfies, statistics, videos, news articles, infographics, inspirational quotes and more all day long.

BINGO! You and your team can also play HDC’s new Legislative Session Bingo and win prizes! Click on and save this card now so you can get going.

hdc-legislative-bingoYou can earn your first square just by participating in Social Media Day of Action! Maybe you’ll be able to win by the time HHAD rolls around.

About Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day

An Advocacy Day (a.k.a. “Lobby Day”) is an organized event, usually at the legislature, where constituents can meet their elected officials to inform on and advocate for specific legislation and policies. Each year, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance organizes one of the largest Advocacy Days during the legislative session. Over 650 advocates from every county in the state gather to urge their legislators to support policy ensuring that everyone in Washington has the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, and affordable home. Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day is Thursday, Feb. 2 in Olympia. More information, including registration, here.

See you online Jan. 31!

“Seeing Is Active” — A Collection of Memorable Quotes from “Streetwise Revisited”

By Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

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Introduction – This project and my purpose

It has been over two weeks since the “Streetwise Revisited” exhibit at The Seattle Public Library  has closed, and I am still finding myself thinking about the project and reflecting on my experiences. I find myself torn between wishing that it wasn’t over, and feeling so grateful that it happened that I decided to reflect on it even further.

“Streetwise Revisited” was The Seattle Public Library’s public education program focused on “Streetwise,” the 1984 documentary film, and the 30-year collection of photos by the renowned documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark. It consisted of a range of events from history talks to film screenings, and involved many important advocacy organizations that are also working to end homelessness.

Because the Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness  was a community partner, I took the opportunity to attend as many of the “Streetwise Revisited” events as possible and I’m so glad that I did. The project provided me with an overwhelming amount of insight on “Streetwise” and how it can be used as a tool for advocacy. I heard the perspectives of many individuals who either had a role in the original film or who are working today to advocate for people who are experiencing homelessness. More importantly, I realized that, as advocates, we are all powerfully connected by our cause.

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“Create Change” — A Day to Change How We Think about Art, Advocacy and Homelessness

By Mandy Rusch, Digital Design Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

Art is my coping mechanism. During the artistic process, there is power in the hands of the maker. Regardless of whether anyone sees the result or even if it is “good,” this power is healing, inspiring and uplifting.

At The Seattle Public Library’s “Create Change: Youth & Family Homelessness and the Arts” event on Oct. 29, 2016, I had the opportunity to come together with a community of people to find out how art can be used to take action towards ending youth and family homelessness. You can see an in-depth description of the full day of performances, speakers and arts events here in this story by my colleague Shan.

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Mothers, Daughters, Conflict — The New “Tiny” Movie Hits Home

 

Editor’s Note: As part of our ongoing “Streetwise Revisited” work, our student project assistants are blogging about key events. Both Khadija and Shan wrote about the “TINY” screening, first Shan and now Khadija.

By Khadija Diallo, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

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“LaShawndrea with a black eye doing her hair,” the photo that struck me most. Credit:  Photo I took of the photo by Mary Ellen Mark from the book “Streetwise Revisited.”

 

 

There’s a teenage girl with a black eye in photographer Mary Ellen Mark’s book “Tiny: Streetwise Revisited.” She is LaShawndrea, the eldest daughter of Erin “Tiny” Blackwell. Of all the remarkable photos in that book, this one really struck me.

When I saw the film “TINY: The Life of Erin Blackwell” on Oct. 14, 2016 at the Seattle Public Library, it was LaShawndrea again who intrigued me the most. I sympathized with her because of a scene where she complains that Erin was not there for her. “She’s rejected me a lot,” narrates LaShawndrea.

I related to that scene because it reminded me of the strained relationship between my mother and grandmother; I have heard my mother make a similar remark about my grandmother which was one main reason LaShawndrea resonated with me. I can understand how it hurts to not feel true love from your mother. It seems the rejection from her mother has impacted LaShawndrea into her adult life.

The screening of “TINY” was part of The Seattle Public Library’s  public education program, “Streetwise Revisited,” which focused on “Tiny” from the 1984 documentary film “Streetwise.” Our project was a community partner, and we participated by screening the original “Streetwise” film, among other activities. (You can read my post about “Streetwise” and our guest, Erin’s daughter Keanna, here.)

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There Is No Perfect Answer — What I Learned from “Tiny – The Life of Erin Blackwell”

 

By Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

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Erin crying and smoking, Seattle, 2004. Photo by Mary Ellen Mark.

 

The first thing that I wanted after seeing “Streetwise” was answers. After watching the acclaimed 1984 documentary  and getting such a candid look into the lives of the nine children, I felt as though I developed an intimate connection to each of them. I knew that “Streetwise” was only one chapter in each of their stories, and I desperately wanted to know more.

In fact, I felt entitled to know more. After all, they had opened up their lives for all to see in the most raw, uncensored way. Wouldn’t they be used to sharing their lives with the world by now?

This is why I was so excited to attend the screening of “Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell” – the new film about one of the children in “Streetwise” — at The Seattle Public Library on Oct. 14. Both “Tiny” herself — Erin Blackwell — and director Martin Bell would be the special guests.

As I took my seat in the audience, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would find out from Erin and Martin about the “stars” of “Streetwise.” Where are they now? Are they still homeless? Are they still struggling with addiction? Or, had things gotten better for them? Maybe they got the help they needed. Maybe the film was a turning point for them. Maybe some of them are here today. All of these thoughts filled my mind as the lights dimmed and the movie began. I was ready for answers.

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“The Uncomfortable Conversation” — Using “Streetwise” as a Tool for Advocacy

Editor’s Note: As part of our ongoing “Streetwise Revisited” work, our student project assistants are blogging about key events. Both Khadija and Shan wrote about the “Streetwise” screening, first Khadija and now Shan.

By Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

 

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Poster for our campus screening of “Streetwise,” designed by Amy Phung.

 

“It didn’t change anything for us then,” said Erin “Tiny” Blackwell’s daughter Keanna Pickett about the impact of the documentary “Streetwise” on her family. “When people watch it, it’s a movie. You’re able to go about your life after you watch it.” In other words, Keanna was able to remove herself emotionally because the film can elicit powerful emotions that may be uncomfortable to deal with.

However, when “Tiny’s” daughter tells you that “Streetwise” should be used as the catalyst for an “uncomfortable conversation” about family and youth homelessness, you listen. Continue reading

The Fight for Her Life — “Streetwise” and Keanna’s Triumphant Story

Editor’s Note: As part of our ongoing “Streetwise Revisited” work, our student project assistants are blogging about key events. Both Khadija and Shan wrote about the “Streetwise” screening; here’s how Khadija saw it.

By Khadija Diallo, project assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness 

 

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Keanna Pickett, educator, photographer, social justice activist and daughter of Erin “Tiny” Blackwell.

Keanna Pickett said that she “had to fight for her life from her first breath.”

When Keanna said that at our campus screening of the film “Streetwise” Oct. 7, it  stuck with me, because most of us fight to succeed and make something of our lives. But for Keanna, that quote had more meaning — because she said her mother, Erin “Tiny” Blackwell, while pregnant with her, did “every possible drug” to try to kill her in the womb.

That sort of revelation from her mother could have possibly caused a permanent rift in their relationship. Apparently it didn’t, because Keanna seemed  perfectly comfortable talking about her difficult upbringing. Continue reading

The Woman Behind “Streetwise” — Exploring the Work of Mary Ellen Mark

Michelle Dunn Marsh of Photographic Center Northwest describes the enduring legacy of her mentor at this “Streetwise Revisited” event at The Seattle Public Library 

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Mary Ellen Mark. Photo by Joni Kabana Photography

 

By Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

 

When I think of the “Streetwise” documentary, the image that immediately fills my mind is “Tiny in her Halloween costume” – the iconic photo of Erin “Tiny” Blackwell dressed elegantly in black, her stare piercing through the thin veil over her eyes. Many people will recognize this photo of Tiny, but they may not know about the photographer who made this iconic photo.

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Tiny in Her Halloween Costume. Photo by Mary Ellen Mark

I had the opportunity to attend an art history talk on Oct. 5 by Michelle Dunn Marsh – the executive director of Photographic Center Northwest and colleague of renowned documentary photographer, Mary Ellen Mark – and I learned more about the photographer behind this classic image.

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Michelle Dunn Marsh. Photo by Sylvia Plachy.

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Remembering “Streetwise” — Why We’re Revisiting the Classic Documentary

By Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

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When I joined this team a few months ago, I was given the chance to watch and react to films about youth and family homelessness. My favorite, by far, was “Streetwise.”

It has been over three decades since this revered documentary first stunned the American public; however, the legacy of the film lives on, as many of the social issues illuminated in the film remain extremely relevant today. After watching “Streetwise” I found that it is not only an artistic representation of youth homelessness in Seattle, but also a powerful tool for advocacy.

As a project, we recognize the historical poignancy of this film, and we will be hosting a free screening on Friday, Oct.7 at Seattle University for anyone who wants the opportunity to watch this significant documentary. This is part of The Seattle Public Library’s “Streetwise Revisited” project, and the screening is just one way we are supporting the project.

In “Streetwise,” renowned photographer Mary Ellen Mark, her husband, Martin Bell and producer Cheryl McCall take us on a journey by providing us with a firsthand perspective on what it’s like to be a homeless youth living on the streets of Seattle – a perspective that was only made possible by spending months observing, building relationships with and gaining the trust of the children they chronicled.

Erin (who goes by her street name “Tiny”) on Pike Street, Seattle, 1983
Erin (who goes by her street name “Tiny”) on Pike Street, Seattle, 1983. Photo by Mary Ellen Mark.

After watching “Streetwise” for the first time, I was taken aback to say the least. The film is stunning, raw, heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time, which is not what I expected from a “documentary about youth homelessness in Seattle.” Continue reading