The “Lunch Ladies,” And Other Islands of Calm in a Choppy Sea


As First Place School weathers another storm, dedicated staff and volunteers keep things afloat

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

The very picture of serenity: Wube Worku of First Place School.

Last Friday, five days before school was scheduled to start, the halls of First Place School were fairly quiet.  In the classrooms of this school in Seattle’s Central District, brightly colored new backpacks stuffed with supplies were neatly lined up in the classroom cubbies. Volunteers like me from Seattle University‘s day of service were sprucing up the lunchroom bulletin boards and moving unneeded furniture into storage. In the kitchen, the “lunch lady,” Wube Worku, chopped vegetables and prepped the counters, pots and pans for a busy school year.

It all seemed cheerful and calm; but under the surface there was tension. Only days before, the school’s board had made the “business decision” to cut back from six grades — K-5 — to K-1 only. That decision left most of the school’s 90 homeless and vulnerable children without a school days before they were to start. For children and families in an already unstable situation, that’s a serious blow. Continue reading

Reclaiming Their Story: A Reflection on New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward

By Lindsey Habenicht, Project Assistant, Project on Family Homelessness and Seattle University Strategic Communications senior

Editor’s Note: Lindsey recently went to New Orleans for a spring-break service trip. We asked her to reflect on how her experience relates to the work we do on our project. She found a city still struggling to recover but filled with people who are amazingly resilient. Here is her report.

A home in the Lower Ninth Ward with markings from after Katrina, reading “Don’t demolish.” Many of the houses in this neighborhood still wear spray-painted messages and markings from the initial rescue efforts. Photo by Lindsey Habenicht.

When I saw the Lower Ninth Ward for the first time, I immediately noticed the water marks that were eight feet high or above on some of the buildings, and the spray-painted markings on many houses. Those markings told, among other things, the number of victims – dead or alive – found inside the structure, or made a plea to leave the home as is.

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

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

New Infographics on Childhood Homelessness, Education, and Child Development

Like Infographics? Interested in visual representations of some of the issues that can accompany childhood homelessness and poverty? Then take a peek at the infographics we recently created for our seven-part series, “Homelessness and Poverty in the Public Education System.”

Learn more by reading the series on Firesteel’s website here

We are always interested in how homelessness, poverty and stress affect child development and adult outcomes. Recent research into these relationships for our seven-part series “Homelessness and Poverty in the Public Education System” yielded not only great insights, but, thanks to the talents of our digital designer Krista Kent, nine new infographics. Continue reading