By Mary Lacey, project assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness
Like many others during quarantine, I have turned to film and TV to learn about institutional racism. As a white American, I have benefited from the exploitation and oppression of Black and Indigenous people. It is my responsibility to learn about and dismantle racist systems that I benefit from to help end racial injustice. Although conversations about racism are necessary, they are happening too late. It is a privilege for me to learn about racism instead of experiencing it every day.
A film that sparked my attention was the Emmy Award-winning documentary 13th. Netflix’s 2016 release, directed by Ava DuVernay, highlights the role of the legal system’s intentional role in prisons and policing that disproportionately criminalizes Black Americans. It spurred me to learn more about the impact of racism, especially in housing.
The film’s title refers to the 13th Amendment, known for abolishing slavery in 1865, but resulting in the continuation of forced labor. The amendment states that “[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” (U.S Const. amend. XIII. Sec. 1). In the years after the Civil War, Black Americans were frequently falsely accused of crimes and imprisoned; and because the amendment does not provide protections against slavery for those convicted of a crime, America’s broken legal system began imprisoning people of color disproportionately. The film argues that America uses the 13th Amendment, through the legal system, to continue slavery.
By Catherine Hinrichsen, Project Director, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness
A film about homelessness was named among the top 10 best films of the entire decade. That’s something we couldn’t have foreseen when we first hosted a film screening in 2011, in the anxious moments when we wondered whether anyone would want to come and watch a movie about homelessness.
Then came a stream of memorable characters, stories and performances, as well as creative ways to frame a story about homelessness and ground-breaking access to the people experiencing it.
As the decade’s Top 10 lists began popping up everywhere, and as our project celebrates our 10th anniversary, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the many excellent films made in the 2010s that deal profoundly and sensitively with homelessness. Continue reading →
By Catherine Hinrichsen, Project Director, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness
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:
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 organizations – particularly 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
“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 →
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.
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
By Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness
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.
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
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.)