Happy Hellos and Hard Goodbyes, 2018 Edition – Part One

By Catherine Hinrichsen, Project Director, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness

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Tess, Madison and Katie celebrate graduation with SU-themed treats from Cupcake Royale June 12.

This is always one of my least favorite tasks — saying farewell to a student team at the height of its camaraderie and success. This year, it happened in a blur. There was just too much going on at the end of the 2017-18 school year. In the final days leading up to graduation, we:

  • Co-hosted a major eventIgnite Project Homeless with The Seattle Times, June 7
  • Finished up final edits on the documentary our student team produced for Affordable Housing Week, “Central Division
  • Completed the infographic for the 2018 Count Us In point-in-time count of homelessness, for All Home (the third year in a row our student designer has created this piece)

In the midst of all this, the goodbye to our incredible team of students felt inadequate and hasty.

So it’s time for a more fitting farewell as we post our annual tribute to our graduating students and the incoming team — Happy Hellos and Hard Goodbyes. Part One is the hard goodbye, a look back at some of the incredible work by our student team Katie Bradley, Tess Riski and Madison Vucci.

A staggered but high-powered start

Let’s start with some words from the first student to join the team, Tess.

“When I first started at the Seattle U Project on Family Homelessness, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d gotten myself into. I knew I was hired onto the project to help combat family homelessness in the region, but I wasn’t sure how to go about creating those solutions. And I don’t think I was alone in that feeling. In fact, I believe that many in our region – Seattle, King County, the broader Pacific Northwest – feel a sense of powerlessness at the thought of ending homelessness. How can one person, after all, solve an entire crisis? I see my fellow residents in Seattle internalize this belief. For some, it is expressed through anger at the homeless, guilt within themselves or dismay for the government. (Seattle City Council is a notoriously easy scapegoat, though I think many still struggle to point out what, specifically, our elected officials – who we voted into office – are doing wrong.) It is, after all, a lot easier to blame others for the homelessness crisis than to reflect internally and ask oneself:

1) How have I or the systems from which I benefit exacerbated this crisis?

2) What can I do personally to make a positive impact?

This internal reflection is what I spent the last twelve months doing. And during these twelve months, I learned that, while there are many naysayers out there, there are also dozens of wonderful organizationsparticularly our partners – who strive to answer those two aforementioned questions on a daily basis.” — Tess

We got off to an unusual start this year because our team was somewhat patchwork till January 2018, due to summer internships and a study abroad.  Till then, individually or in pairs, they produced some great work in summer and fall, including:

  • The Voter’s Guide on Housing and Homelessness website, a partnership with Solid Ground, Housing Development Consortium and Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness. Tess worked long hours building the site, where we posted responses from 12 of the 21 (!) Seattle mayoral candidates. The site drew more than 3,000 views before the primary.
  • A Get Out the Vote video that Tess and Madison put together right before the primary, garnering more than 1,200 views in one day.

 

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The online ad that Madison designed, which ran in Crosscut; it features her illustration of the two general-election candidates.
Pongo Katie and Madison at training
Katie and Madison learned how to write poetry in the Pongo method, and how to teach others, at the October training.  

And then there was The Florida Project — our favorite film about family homelessness! Madison and Katie attended the screening in October, and Katie wrote an insightful review, in which she addressed issues like overcoming the judgments that start to creep in while watching this challenging young mother try to keep her family afloat.

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Katie and Madison at the Pacific Place screening of “The Florida Project” in October 2017.

The team comes together just in time for HHAD

It wasn’t till January that Katie, Madison and Tess came together to work as a team — but then they were unstoppable. Here they are in January as they started planning their incredibly successful events in winter and spring 2018.

Team 2017-18 in January 2018
L-R: Madison, Tess and Katie, taking a break from their “craft project” creating images for their HHAD events.

From the day they first started finger-painting images and slogans about homelessness for postcards, stickers and posters, it was clear this would be an unprecedented campus event for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day (HHAD). It culminated in a visit to the office of Sen. Christine Rolfes, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, where they presented more than 500 postcards from the SU community urging action on homelessness in Washington. They even got mentioned in Sen. Rolfes’ constituent newsletter.

HHAD 2018 Tess_Sen Rolfes newsletter photo
The team earns recognition in Sen. Rolfes’ newsletter.

 

To document their experience, they created unique reflections; Katie created a flipbook, Madison wrote about the design project and Tess reflected on the “imposter syndrome” she overcame as a first-time advocate. Check out their projects here.

No senioritis: Taking on their biggest project

Our usual capstone event each school year is a campus and community event for Affordable Housing Week. This team decided that their event would be a screening of a documentary about gentrification in the Central District, which they set out to produce themselves. It was a massive task, but they handled it splendidly, interviewing five leaders (including our project alum Ashwin!) and filming throughout the changing Central District.

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In the editing room at SU, home away from home for several weeks: L-R, Madison, Katie and Tess.

On May 15, with moments to spare, they finished the film, “Central Division: A documentary exploring gentrification in the Central District,” and screened it for about 50 students, staff and community members. The event included a post-screening conversation with community leaders, which they facilitated. Here’s their recap and reflection on what they learned.

 

 

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L-R: Madison, Katie and Tess facilitated a discussion with guests Miriam Roskin, Patience Malaba and Sean Abdul.

While most students would then focus on graduating, they decided they wanted to go back in the editing room and polish up the film. It’s now available to watch on YouTube.

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Once a student on our team, now a local expert and important partner: Ashwin Warrior talks about gentrification in the documentary.

 

Overcoming obstacles

All this great work was set against a highly stressful spring marred by tragedy.

Tess, in her role as investigative editor for campus newspaper The Spectator, broke the story of the theft of stacks of our student newspaper because a faculty member deemed the cover inappropriate. It led to some painful campus-wide conversations about inclusivity. (But it also earned The Spectator and its adviser, Prof. Sonora Jha, an award from the regional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for their courage.)

We also lost one of our co-workers, Adrian Mayorga-Altamirano, our department’s student assistant who died unexpectedly in April. Taking time to grieve was important for our team, and we will always feel the loss of Adrian, a business student who we remember for his brilliance and helpfulness.

What’s next for the team

Some parting thoughts from Madison.

“From brainstorms, to crunch-time, to celebrations, to overtime, and all in between, we were the best team of three I could have dreamed to be. Together, we pushed one another to new levels and always inspired the further development of our ideas. We had one another’s backs and always gave equal commitment and partnership, even though we were all full-time students with at least one other job commitment each. I feel honored to have worked with these ladies and wouldn’t change anything about our time together.” — Madison

Clearly, saying goodbye was also bittersweet for these amazing young women, who truly enjoyed and were inspired by each other.

With graduation behind them, our trio joins the pantheon of distinguished project alumni and sets forth into exciting new ventures:

  • Katie Bradley, Strategic Communications and Public Affairs graduate, will start a job at Amazon in marketing later this summer.
  • Tess Riski, Journalism graduate, starts grad school at Columbia School of Journalism this fall.
  • Madison Vucci, Digital Design graduate, will be freelancing as a designer and flinging awesome pies as she plans her next chapter.

Congratulations to all three of them and many, many thanks for their stellar work this year for our advocacy partners, our university and our project!

Team 2017-18 in January 2018-2

 

A Look Ahead from Katie

“The experiences you will gain by working on the Project are seriously impressive. Take note of all that you do and have pride over what you accomplish.  I was able to develop so many new skills – like videography and making a flipbook — by working on the Project. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and push beyond your boundaries. You will gain more skills with the challenge and will have way more fun as you learn. I am so excited to see the work that you do and what is ahead for the Project!” — Katie 

Coming this fall: Part Two — Happy Hellos, as we welcome the new students to our team.

“When You’re Proud of What You’ve Done” — Inside the Pongo Poetry Training

Our new partnership will help bring this training to schools across the state

By Katie Bradley, Project Assistant, with Madison Vucci, Digital Design Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

 

Pongo Katie and Madison at training
Madison (R) and me smiling by the Pongo Teen Writing sign, feeling fulfilled after a day full of learning, writing, and growing. 

 

A good day is when you’re proud of what you’ve done. A bad day is when you forget all of what you can do.”

I hadn’t written poetry since I was in fourth grade. But after attending the Pongo Poetry Training in October, I had a subtle sense of accomplishment about what I had shared, and a sense of pride that I’ve been trained in a process that can help so many people.

As I rode back to campus, I had three takeaways from the training repeating in my mind.

Everyone has a story. The world wants to hear your story. Poetry can be about anything. Continue reading

“The Florida Project” — Homelessness at the End of the Rainbow

It’s up to advocates to connect this story of family homelessness to action

By Katie Bradley, project assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness

 

As the credits for The Florida Project rolled, I was floored. This movie made me cry while I sat in the theater, and I didn’t even cry when I saw Titanic for the first time as a child. A movie about a family living in poverty at an Orlando budget motel got to me in the most heart-wrenching way.

I had just seen a raw portrait of family homelessness set in contrast with the happiest place on earth, Disney World. It made me want to do something to help families living like those depicted in the film. But I felt lost with what I could do, and it left me with my head spinning.

Fortunately for me, I work with a bunch of people who think about family homelessness all the time, and we think that we may be able to connect audiences to action, which we will explore later. First, here’s a description of this remarkable film and what it says about family homelessness.

Bobby and Moonee on balcony
Bobby (Willem Dafoe) and Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), the two main characters in the movie, at the real-life Magic Castle budget hotel.  Credit: IMDB.

 

The Florida Project is a breakout movie that depicts the struggles of living in poverty from a childhood perspective, set in a not-so-magical purple budget motel, the Magic Castle. The film depicts the often-unseen struggles of homelessness, which director and co-writer Sean Baker calls the “hidden homeless,” to represent the life of the modern-day “Little Rascals” who live a “life on the margins.” Continue reading

What I Learned About Family & Youth Homelessness from #SeaHomeless

Tess Riski headshot

By Tess Riski, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

Editor’s Note: Seattle University Journalism and Teaching for Humanities rising senior Tess Riski recently joined our project team. This is her first post for our project. Read more about her here.

 

All day this past Wednesday, June 28, a host of Seattle media outlets participated in #SeaHomeless and concentrated their reporting on a group of people often kept in the shadows of mainstream news coverage: those experiencing homelessness.

I just started my position as Project Assistant at the Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness, and this last week has been an intense learning process for me. Continue reading

Mental Illness — What About the Family?

Mental health head
Credit:  A United Methodist Board of Church and Society web-only graphic by Michelle Whittaker.

By Khadija Diallo, Project Assistant, Project on Family Homelessness

Kianna is 17 years old. She suspects that she has depression. She only recently started experiencing symptoms of her mental illness, so she’s having a hard time adjusting.  To complicate her situation, she’s homeless along with the rest of her family. Her parents lost their jobs in January and could no longer afford rent. They ended up having to move from shelter to shelter. Continue reading

Behind the Scenes: Visualizing Data About Student Homelessness

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

This past winter, Schoolhouse Washington approached us with an exciting new project: to create visualized data graphics for use in their communication materials. In this post, I will describe my approach and learning process over the course of the project, which taught me a lot about what it takes to develop advocacy tools.

Schoolhouse Washington is a partnership between Building Changes and Columbia Legal Services. The organization was formed because these two partners wanted to get more directly involved in advocacy to improve housing stability and advance educational success for the nearly 40,000 students in our state who experience homelessness.

One important way that Schoolhouse Washington advocates is through the use of data. They analyze the student homelessness data provided by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is important to share because it helps describe needs to lawmakers and policymakers.

Graphic data visualizations, or “infographics,” are an incredibly powerful way to share data like this. The use of images and charts to show data visually helps to tell a clear message that is easier for viewers to digest than a written document alone. Continue reading

“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.

Continue reading

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, 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.)

Continue reading

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

Erin crying and smoking, Seattle, 2004
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.

Continue reading

“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