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 

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.

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.

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


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

Three Years After Inocente — Overcoming Homelessness Through Art


Editor’s Note: This week is the third anniversary of Inocente’s visit to Seattle. We asked our new team member, Khadija, to watch the documentary “Inocente” and reflect on how it relates to our current work. 

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

I had heard about Inocente’s story before, but this was my first time watching her documentary from beginning to end. Although homelessness is a dark and devastating situation for most people experiencing it, I was taken back by the multitude of colors that are shown throughout this Academy Award-winning documentary. These bright colors represented through her art, and through imagery, show the optimism and dedication that drives Inocente to continue to hope and dream for a better tomorrow.

“Inocente” tells the story of a 15-year-old girl experiencing homelessness but finding a will to live through her art. Her story is heartbreaking but also uplifting. At the beginning of the documentary, Inocente says “when I paint, I feel happy. It’s a good way to start my mornings.” And that’s how Inocente starts every morning, by painting what she dreams and what she hopes for her future.

Inocente at work painting in the film. Credit: Sean Fine.

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“The Story Told Itself” — Catching Up with Tiny

Film about formerly homeless teen is screened at NAEH Conference

By Catherine Hinrichsen, Project Director, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness
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, courtesy of Falkland Road Productions.

The revered documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark died months ago, but we felt her presence very strongly as we watched her final work on the night of Feb. 18, 2016. Continue reading

Making an Infographic on Homelessness: The Designer’s Tale

By Amy Phung, Digital Design Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

AllHomeInfographic FINAL WITH SOURCES 2-3-16

Between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2016, over 1,000 volunteers set out to count the number of people outside, unsheltered in King County during the 36th annual One Night Count. In preparation for this day, I along with our fierce project manager, Catherine Hinrichsen, and previous Digital Design Project Assistant, McKenna Haley, worked through the month of January to create a visual element to represent the One Night Count results for our partners at All Home. Continue reading

Trauma-Informed Care, StoryCorps, and Host Homes for Youth: Some Highlights From WLIHA’s Conference on Ending Homelessness

Written by Perry Firth, project coordinator, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness and school psychology graduate student

 image 1conference

Caption: This image captures just how many people attended WLIHA’s Conference on Ending Homelessness. As you can see, we were a big crowd! Image from WLIHA.

 This year I had the pleasure of attending the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance’s Conference on Ending Homelessness in Tacoma, May 13-14. I was there with over 800 people (the largest turnout yet), all devoted to making homelessness rare, brief and one time.

There were many highlights, including Firesteel’s presentation on StoryCorps and strategic communications, the Project on Family Homelessness’s “Dessert Dash” and StoryCorps workshop, and the sessions on host homes for homeless youth and trauma-informed care.

Firesteel shows how StoryCorps can be a valuable communication tool

I loved Firesteel’s presentation on StoryCorps and strategic communications. As part of the Project on Family Homelessness, I have had the honor of helping the StoryCorps effort reach its full potential. As the Firesteel team and Joaquin of WLIHA discussed StoryCorps’ many uses and the role of strategic communications in ending homelessness, I was reminded of how many lives this project has touched.

This was further emphasized to me when our own team hosted a workshop and “Dessert Dash” with Sherry and Franklin Gilliard—a family whose courage in the face of home loss and homelessness was profiled on NPR’s Friday StoryCorps segment this past November. Continue reading

Journalists Talk About Homelessness at Search for Meaning Book Festival

Kelley and Royale

Two award-winning journalists — featured speakers at the Search for Meaning Book Festival at Seattle University — will give an inside look at the challenges of reporting on homelessness during a special add-on session at the Festival.  “Coffee Talk with Tina Kelley and Rosette Royale” is Saturday, Feb. 28, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. in Pigott 204.

Festival tickets are required for the keynotes and author sessions, but admission to this intimate conversation is free. The first people in line will receive a complimentary copy of Tina Kelley’s book (see below). Seattle U Communication students, Theology and Ministry students, homelessness advocates and Real Change vendors are encouraged to attend. The session is hosted by the Seattle University Center for Strategic Communications and the School of Theology and Ministry.

Did you know? Seattle University faculty, staff and students, as well as Real Change vendors, can attend the entire Festival for free.  If you are a student, please reserve your Festival tickets at student registration; faculty or staff members, visit faculty and staff registration. Real Change vendors should go to the Registration Tent to register and indicate that they are vendors (bring your badge). For all other community members, tickets to the festival can be purchased for $10.

It is Seattle University’s goal as an institution that cost should not prohibit attendance. If cost would directly prohibit your attendance of Search for Meaning 2015, please contact

About the Authors: Tina Kelley is a former New York Times, Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, and co-author of the national best-seller about youth homelessness, “Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope.” Rosette Royale is interim editor for Real Change and a Seattle University Journalism Fellow on Family Homelessness, and winner of the national Sigma Delta Chi Award in Feature Writing.

Remember to Come Early! The first 20 people to arrive at the “Coffee Talk” will get free copies of Almost Homewhich profiles six teens experiencing homelessness as they try to reach stability.

Learn more about these fantastic writers — and the other 50-plus authors — at the Festival author page.

About the Festival: Billed as one of Seattle University’s signature events, the Search for Meaning Book Festival is a campus-wide affair that explores what it is to be human, while emphasizing literature and speakers that align with Seattle University’s mission of creating a just and humane world. The festival has everything from books and book signings, to presentations and special sessions that explore topics in depth.

We hope to see you there!

To learn more about the festival, or to register, go here.  For more information about the Coffee Talk, please contact Lisa Gustaveson ( or Catherine Hinrichsen (

Picturing Child Homelessness: The Challenges Behind “The Big Brain”

Written by Perry Firth, project coordinator, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness and school psychology graduate student

Editor’s Note: This is a re-post from our partners at Firesteel.

Image 1 Big Brain Excerpt

 Caption: Here is a portion of our new infographic, “The Big Brain.” If you want to see the rest of the infographic, keep reading! Image from the Project on Family Homelessness.

  In September, Seattle University students Perry Firth and Krista Kent created nine new infographics as part of our series, Poverty and Homelessness in the Public School System. The experience inspired them to create one super-infographic that they nicknamed “The Big Brain.” It took them three months. What are the perils of encapsulating so much information into one bold visualization? Perry takes us behind the scenes of creating this brand-new infographic, “Child Homelessness & Toxic Stress: Far-Reaching Consequences,” and shares some pointers for designers and writers who take on the challenges of conveying complex data.

 I once read somewhere that we have the attention span of goldfish.

Or, at least I think that’s what I read. I was scanning the article, so I could be wrong.

Jokes aside, there is no doubt that the Internet is shaping how information is conveyed, and interacted with. People are reading less. Yes, it’s true. And, in our Internet-saturated culture, our attention spans are also decreasing.

We start articles, but we don’t always finish them.

Where once people were more interested in in-depth analysis of a particular subject matter, now we scan contently quickly, picking out choice pieces of information.

This is something that the Project on Family Homelessness team is aware of. Therefore we have increasingly prioritized developing high-quality infographics (visual representations of information) – either on behalf of our partner organizations or for our own content – as a way to convey our messaging without overwhelming our audience.

And no, the irony is not lost on me that I am writing something that requires reading, about how people aren’t reading. Ha!

Image 2 Perry Firth

Caption: Hi! My name is Perry. I enjoy writing long pieces around the need to write less. Photo courtesy of Perry Firth. Continue reading

Washington Youth and Families Fund: Making Homeless Rare, Brief, One-Time

WYFF image family

Seattle University will join Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, First Lady Trudi Inslee and nearly 40 different partner organizations today in a pledge to make family and youth homelessness rare, brief and one-time in our state by 2020.

It’s part of a celebration of the Washington Youth & Families Fund (WYFF). The fund is expanding its focus to embrace youth and young adults, building on 10 years of groundbreaking collaboration that is improving how homeless families and youth are served.

Seattle University’s President Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J., will be one of the signatories on the WYFF Memorandum of Understanding to be signed by business, government and community leaders today.

Seattle University President Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J., joins dignitaries signing the pledge to make family and youth homelessness rare, brief and one-time.

“Education is a critical piece of the puzzle in addressing homelessness. We believe every child deserves a place to call home, yet more than 30,000 school-aged children in Washington state – from kindergarten through high school – were reported as homeless in 2012-2013,” Fr. Sundborg said. “These children and their families need support to keep the children in school and to help the families succeed. The Washington Youth & Families Fund has been providing that support since 2004, and is an important investment in the future of the families in our state.”

The fund, established in 2004 by the Washington State Legislature and managed by Building Changes, is a unique partnership among funders, governments and service providers to share solutions and streamline resources for homeless youth and families.

Our project is proud to be one of the many Seattle University initiatives working to fight homelessness and poverty, and to join partners across the state in working to make family and youth homelessness rare, brief and one-time..