By Mary Lacey, Project Assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness
Editor’s Note: On the Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019 edition of 60 Minutes on CBS, correspondent Anderson Cooper reported on homelessness in Seattle in a piece called “’The Rent Is Obscene Here’: The Issues Forcing People in Seattle Onto the Street*.” It was the culmination of several months of reporting by 60 Minutes producers, capped off by a visit by the veteran journalist himself. But how did the show handle this sensitive topic? Our project assistant Mary completed this review in winter 2020 as one of her last projects before graduating. The pandemic delayed our posting it.
*The piece is viewable at the link above for those with a CBS All Access account. CBS, we wish you’d make it available to all.
Cities like Seattle have a growing concern as they face increasing housing costs. As Seattle continues to fight homelessness by building affordable housing, providing emergency services, and setting up a regional authority, national audiences look to us to learn how we are dealing with housing insecurity.
A Dec. 1 60 Minutes segment, hosted by Anderson Cooper, looked at Seattle’s homeless population, focusing on those who are unsheltered – living outside in situations such as in a tent or in a car, rather than in a shelter. The 15-minute segment highlights three different stories of unsheltered homelessness in this city known for economic growth and tremendous wealth: Postal worker Emilee; the parents of a young child, Josiah and Tricia; and Jeff, an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
At the beginning of the piece, I was impressed with Cooper’s ability to define sheltered versus unsheltered homelessness, which can be confusing. Despite this strong start, the segment’s weaknesses quickly became clear.
I began to feel uncomfortable about the portrayal of peoples’ drug use and the negative stereotypes associated with them which was shown throughout the piece. Unfortunately, our perceptions around those who use drugs can affect policy decisions that exclude those needing housing. This ideology perpetuates negative “undeserving poor” narratives of those experiencing homelessness. Judgmental media depictions of our homeless neighbors can further spread these negative images, especially toward those who use substances. Continue reading →
Like many people who are working on homelessness in this region, our project director, Catherine, was outraged when she saw a recent one-hour special on KOMO-TV. After she tweeted about it, the online media site Crosscut asked her to write an op-ed. Read it here.
If you agree, please share and make your comments known on Crosscut, on social media, or by contacting KOMO-TV.
Update: Since this first response, many others have been published, including these:
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.
By Katie Bradley, with Tess Riski and Madison Vucci
Student Project Assistants, 2017-18
Note: For the third year in a row, our student assistants planned a campus event in support of Affordable Housing Weekin King County, May 14 – May 18. This year’s team – Katie Bradley, Tess Riski, and Madison Vucci – decided to make a documentary focused on the gentrification of the Central District and the impact it has on access to affordable housing. On May 15, they hosted the premiere screening of their documentary and led a panel discussion after the film. Afterward, they reflected on what went well, what could be improved, what surprised them, and what they learned.
First, here’s the film on YouTube:
Our purpose for making the documentary, “Central Division,” was to showcase the impact of gentrification in the Central District in relation to affordable housing. As Seattle University students, we recognize how close our school is to the Central District and how many of our peers and students live off campus there. In our four years of attending Seattle University, we have witnessed the changing the Central District and have questioned the impact we have as students individually and as an institution as a whole on the black community in the Central District.
We decided to make a documentary so that it could be passed along to other communities and leave a longer impression as a conversation starter for Affordable Housing Week. 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 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.)
By Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness
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.
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
“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 →
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
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 →