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

A Tribute to Barry Mitzman

As our founder leaves, we reflect on what he’s taught our community about ending family homelessness

By Catherine Hinrichsen, Project Director
Sharon James_Barry at end
Barry Mitzman, delivering his lecture “A Quiet Crisis,” in which he reflects on six years leading our family homelessness projects at Seattle University. Photo by Steve Schimmelman.

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Art for Advocacy: The Face of Family Homelessness

How partners across Washington state are using art for advocacy around homelessness.

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

Inocente at SAM walking down aisle by Steve Schimmelman

Partnering with Seattle Art Museum for the screening of “Inocente” allowed us to reach a new audience of art lovers. Here, they give Inocente a standing ovation at the conclusion of the film. Photo by Steve Schimmelman. 

Republished from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, April 7, 2016.

A young woman of color takes the stage. With a quick prop change and shift of her posture, she becomes several different characters: a young military veteran, a successful business executive, a street paper vendor, all of whom have been hit with homelessness. Continue reading

Portraits of Homelessness

Sharing the Depth of the Human Experience: “Portraits of Homelessness” at the 2015 Global Street Paper Summit

By Lindsey Habenicht, Project Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness

Lindsey with conference passEditor’s Note: Seattle University hosted the International Network of Street Papers (INSP)  Global Street Paper Summit June 24-26, 2015, which welcomed more than 120 journalists from street papers in 22 countries, including Seattle’s Real Change. Our assistant, Lindsey Habenicht (above), is spending the summer as an intern for one of those papers, Street Sense of Washington, D.C. Before she left Seattle, Lindsey attended the Summit as a street paper communicator and volunteer blogger. This is an adapted version of Lindsey’s post for the Summit.

The narrative of what homelessness is and is not is often uninformed, uneducated, and even unknown completely. While many are aware of the issue of homelessness, they remain unaware of the person: the veteran, the child, the musician, the artist, the entrepreneur, and the like.

“Why is that?” asked Rex Hohlbein of Facing Homelessness. “How could [we] be so disconnected from the simple and obvious fact that homelessness involves real people with real suffering?”


Keynote speaker Rex Holbein started the Facebook page “Homeless in Seattle”’ in March of 2011 to share something beautiful about each person living on the street. Photo courtesy of

Rex was the keynote speaker at the Global Street Paper Summit’s opening night event, “Portraits of Homelessness,” June 24, which told stories through more than 100 works of visual art, films and audio recordings. Continue reading

Firesteel Adds New StoryCorps Section to their Website

***This post is a repost from the Firesteel website

Introducing the New StoryCorps Section of Our Website!

Alexis Gaines and her case manager Tanya Mendenhall Mettlen participated in the StoryCorps "Finding Our Way" project. In a new audio story produced from their interview, Alexis talks about how she tried to create positive memories for her son, even as they experienced homelessness together. Image credit: StoryCorps
Alexis Gaines and her case manager Tanya Mendenhall Mettlen participated in the StoryCorps “Finding Our Way” project. In a new audio story produced from their interview, Alexis talks about how she tried to create positive memories for her son, even as they experienced homelessness together. Image credit: StoryCorps

Written by Denise Miller, Firesteel Advocacy Coordinator

A Tacoma mom remembers being evicted from her home, and looking for a tent for her family of five. A Seattle teenager describes the challenges of doing homework while living in a car. A South King County11-year-old reflects on losing friends when they learned she didn’t have a home. These are just a few of the stories captured by the StoryCorps “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness” initiative last summer, and now featured on a new section of our website.

I’ve been talking about the “Finding Our Way” project for almost a year now. Last spring, as we began inviting people to sit down with a loved one and share how homelessness has affected them, I wrote about how personal stories can build bridges between people and drive social change. Over the summer, I shared some of the most moving moments from our recording days. At Thanksgiving, I posted gratitude for the brave men, women and children who participated in the project and gave permission for their stories to be used for advocacy.

Now it’s time to invite you to listen to and share audio clips produced from the recordings. Our new StoryCorps page currently features five short stories that help listeners understand how homelessness affects families in our community, and we’ll continue adding stories over coming months.

Read more at the Firesteel website here.

Learn more about the StoryCorps project. Continue reading

“Goodness, Resilience and Love”: Formerly Homeless Tacoma Family on StoryCorps Friday, 11/28

StoryCorps Gilliard Family-official version

Franklin and Sherry Gilliard, the Tacoma family whose story aired on StoryCorps Nov. 28.

We’re feeling grateful for the bounty of heartfelt stories that Puget Sound families told StoryCorps this summer, and amazingly, a second story from our project has been selected for national broadcast.  The story aired Friday morning, Nov. 28 during StoryCorps’ “National Day of Listening” on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.

The story was recorded as part of our project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness.” “Finding Our Way,” funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a collaboration between Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (CCS), YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish and Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness.

StoryCorps Tacoma sign on door
The Gilliard family first recorded their story at CCS in July. Here’s the “farewell and thanks” sign that CCS staff posted on their front door that week.

The story, “Once Homeless, Family Feels ‘Blessed To Wake Up Another Day,'” features the Gilliard family of Tacoma, Wash., who first recorded their story at CCS in July. StoryCorps producer Eve Claxton heard their story and invited them back for an additional recording in early November, also at CCS, and from that recording the story was produced. Here’s the official description of the story:

Sherry Gilliard talks with her husband Franklin Gilliard about losing their business and subsequently their home after the economic crash, their experience of becoming homeless and living in a shelter with their three children, and the love and faith that brought them through these hardships. The family is now in transitional housing in Tacoma, Wash.

“Friday is our ‘National Day of Listening,’ and for that broadcast we always try to air pieces that embody goodness, resilience and love,” Eve said. “The Gilliards are a very special family and everyone here is excited to share their story on such a special day.”

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“Stepping Into Homelessness”: Our first edited StoryCorps recording features United Way leader

Haley selfie laptop
Haley Jo Lewis created the “Stepping Into Homelessness” audio piece on her laptop, using GarageBand.

Our project assistant, Seattle U senior Haley Jo Lewis, recently revealed yet another talent. Project manager Catherine asked Haley if she knew how to do audio editing. Haley said, “I like GarageBand.”

So, we asked her to see what she could do with a CD copy of a StoryCorps recording that Catherine had done with one of our project’s key partners, Vince Matulionis of United Way of King County.

The result: Haley’s just-published Firesteel package that includes a three-minute piece on Soundcloud and an accompanying blog post.

The package, “Stepping Into Homelessness: Domestic Violence and the Power of Empathy”:

  • Gives us insight into what drives people like Vince, one of Seattle’s leaders in ending homelessness, and what keeps him doing the sometimes-frustrating work.
  • Supports October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities, on which we’ve collaborated with Firesteel and the YWCA Seattle-King-Snohomish County. (Emma’s earlier NFL & DV series was part of this too.)
  • Launches us into the next phase of the StoryCorps project, in which we’ll be working with Firesteel to produce potentially several dozen audio pieces like this.

Here’s the re-posted piece from Firesteel. Check it out! And way to go, Haley! Continue reading

As Heard on NPR: Homelessness Threatens Student Success

This is a re-post of an article published on Firesteel’s blog Aug. 22, 2014.

In a StoryCorps conversation that aired on NPR this morning, Erika (left) talks with her mom about attending high school while living in a car. Image from StoryCorps.
In a StoryCorps conversation that aired on NPR this morning, Erika (left) talks with her mom about attending high school while living in a car. Image from StoryCorps.

Written by Denise Miller, Firesteel Advocacy Coordinator

More than 30,000 schoolchildren in Washington state are experiencing homelessness.

In a heart-wrenching story that aired on NPR this morning, one of these students, Erika, talks about the challenges of attending high school while living in a car with her family. Listen on the StoryCorps website.

Erika’s story was collected as part of the Gates Foundation’s “Finding Our Way” initiative, which has given more than 150 people in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties a chance to share in their own words how homelessness has affected their lives.

Read This Post in Full.

See More about our StoryCorps Project.



StoryCorps Finding Our Way — Recordings Bring Laughter, Tears and Inspiration in Snohomish County

UPDATE, Aug. 21, 2014, 9:20 a.m.: We’ve just learned that the first story from this series will be aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Friday morning, Aug. 22. More details here


Week Two of our StoryCorps recordings brought nearly 50 storytellers to the YWCA Family Village Lynnwood.

In this post by our partner Firesteel, Denise Miller recounts the wonderful week of storytelling, including a truly memorable moment for one participant. Check it out!

StoryCorps Lynnwood sign

For more about StoryCorps in Snohomish County, read this excellent article by Julie Mulhlstein of The Herald in Everett. 

StoryCorps Finding Our Way — Tacoma stories painful, uplifting, sincere

Our StoryCorps project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories of Family Homelessness,” has completed its recordings in Pierce and Snohomish counties. In this post from the StoryCorps blog, our partner Michelle Bova reflects on the first recordings in Tacoma. Check it out!



StoryCorps Tanya Mettlen and Jordan Kemper Tacoma

Tacoma mom Jordan Kemper talked to Tanya Mettlen of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington for her recording. Photo by Jonathan Ross of CCS.


For another view on the StoryCorps week in Tacoma, read this wonderful column by Larry LaRue of the News Tribune.

Continue reading