Is Seattle Dying?

Especially given our line of work at SYM, everyone seems to be wondering what our thoughts are on the documentary. While SYM isn’t taking an official position on an issue as nuanced and complex as the solution to homelessness, we do find it important to address the uncompassionate rhetoric being used for a very human issue and hopefully bring a more human voice to the conversation. The following is an opinion piece by one of our staff. While this does not reflect an official position of SYM, we find it valuable to share this perspective.


If you’ve been around Seattle the last three months, you have likely been inundated with chatter about how “Seattle is dying.” For those who haven’t seen it, the Seattle is Dying documentary is a KOMO News embodiment of the anger held by many Seattleites toward the persistent issue of homelessness. They take the perspective of affluent, housing-secure Seattleites and tourists who see the city they once found beautiful to be decaying with crime, drugs, rampant litter, and people with mental illnesses tarnishing the serenity. There’s a lot to unpack there, a lot of powerful emotions and assumptions that seem to tell the whole story when isolated from other voices. The documentary does an effective job at communicating the deep-seated ire and fear that many Seattleites bear, but fails to adequately represent any dissenting voice. The people experiencing homelessness who were interviewed were quite evidently cherry picked to insinuate a unanimous agreement on the issue, when they certainly don’t represent the majority of people who are experiencing homelessness or who work with them.

 

Seattle is Dying begins with shots of homeless encampments with large piles of trash, underscored by the horror film soundtrack that lingers as a thematic backdrop for the entire documentary – textbook fear mongering. To be fair, this is an effective strategy; fear is a powerful human emotion that can take us out of our rational, higher level functioning by driving us into fight or flight mode. In politics and debate, the use of fear is effective in keeping people from considering the larger, more nuanced picture. By doing so, the creators of the documentary can skip the incredibly important and complex context that precedes and circumscribes the issues addressed in their critical look at our city. 

 One of the most frequently overlooked aspects of an issue is context. While jumping straight into dissecting the problem can seem the most direct approach, understanding the cause and the broader social, political, economic, and cultural setting is vital for a comprehensive and balanced understanding of any issue. The historical context of Seattle is one of colonialism and uprooting of indigenous Coast Salish peoples in order to make room for the Western city many take for granted today. One reason why this history of displacement and erasure is so important is because modern Seattle lauds Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, and Starbucks as being its iconic and esteemed “residents.” Because they provide a meaty backbone to our city’s economy, their best interest becomes conflated with our city’s best interest. The rapidly expanding city is accommodating the influx of young tech workers, not its longstanding residents with housing instability. They, the “homeless,” don’t contribute much to the economy. They don’t vote in overwhelming margins. In short, there is very little political or economic incentive to listen to their voice or prioritize their needs. Seattle’s 2015 state of emergency over homelessness likely had less to do with addressing the inhumanity of allowing fellow humans to go without basic needs being met, and far more to do with the discomfort their presence causes to the affluent residents and economic sector of the city. As a result, the city will “throw money” at the problem by clearing camps and putting up fences (which does nothing but threaten the safety of people experiencing homelessness) rather than investing in low-barrier housing, social work support, and accessible treatment programs.

 

Throughout the documentary, people experiencing homelessness are framed as subhuman and dangerous. They are “lost souls who wander our streets, untethered to home or family or reality.” This could not be further from the truth – Seattle is, for many of them, their strongly held home. Others who share their experience of homelessness or housing instability will often make up a “street family,” having bonds that can run deeper than many families of blood or marriage. And regarding reality: who is more out of touch with reality – the ones suffering from real issues, or the ones who acknowledge the problems around them just enough to be turned off by the presence of suffering people?

 

The documentary also divides those experiencing homelessness into two categories – those undeserving of their homelessness and those who caused it upon themselves. What this does is justify the dehumanization of those experiencing homelessness and focus on “how deserving” they are of their suffering rather than focusing on the broken systems that let them get there and keep them there. The issue of homelessness is primarily one of systemic failure, not one of personal choice. Roughly 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, meaning that at any given month, if they lose their job or if they face unexpected costs (medical bills, driving infractions and insurance spikes, etc.), they could end up temporarily or perpetually homeless. A central premise of the documentary is that the “bad ones” amongst those experiencing homelessness are the drug users. However, the most recent statistics on illicit drug use amongst Americans show almost one in ten U.S. adults struggle with some level of substance abuse, regardless of housing stability. This number escalates when you include alcohol, of which 27% of U.S. adults reported binge drinking in the past month. Drug use is as big a concern for the entire U.S. as it is for those experiencing homelessness. It is also important to recognize that many people experiencing homelessness who use drugs or alcohol began to do so to dull the pain, physical and/or emotional, of their situation.

 

Seattle is Dying as a whole effectively communicates a message that people experiencing homelessness are addicted, mentally unstable, violent, and dangerous. As mentioned earlier, the documentary uses fear mongering to brand people experiencing homelessness as the problem, rather than the systems and social structures surrounding them (housing shortages, economic inequality, institutional racism). This is not to say that the entire message of the documentary is invalid, only that it needs to be thoroughly analyzed through a critical lens that understandings the myriad of factors and realities at play. The conclusive suggestion of the documentary was, in essence, to send those experiencing homelessness with illicit substance addictions to a former-prison-now-rehab facility. This quick fix model is notably simplistic. For starters, there are no federal standards for counseling practices or rehab programs. As a result, “the vast majority of people in need of addiction treatment do not receive anything that approximates evidence-based care,” as concluded by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The private sector of rehab and addiction treatment can be very lucrative, providing the private rehab programs incentive for creating cycles of high recidivism. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the issues with the current system of drug treatment.

Treatment and care for people with drug addictions must be thoughtfully and humanistically done, in line with the current research on drug rehabilitation. Addiction treatment cannot be seen as a quick fix; it is instead one component of a bigger, more holistic solution. The research is clear that the most important facet of individual recovery is connection. It is through meaningful relationship that individuals find the incentive and support to overcome their addiction. Moreover, the focus of any truly comprehensive approach must ultimately be focused on systemic change. While it is always important to provide loving care and support to those currently experiencing addiction and homelessness we need to recognize that they are not the problem themselves, but rather symptoms of a greater issue. The real disease is economic inequality, systemic racism, and white supremacy. These are at the root of the housing “crisis,” the root of homelessness and while there are hundreds of empty apartments and condos, mass poverty when there are more than enough resources to go around, and the reason our nation defunded successful drug rehabilitation programs to make way for more prisons. It needs to be called out as such. Only when we name the root of the problem can we begin to comprehensively dismantle it and move toward change.

So, in the end, as well-intentioned as one may find Seattle is Dying to be, it is pointing us in the opposite direction of where we need to go. We cannot demonize and otherize those experiencing homelessness. That will only ever exacerbate the problem of homelessness. We all must build relationships and engage with those experiencing homelessness, to learn from them and to connect meaningfully with them. We must personally commit to educating ourselves through articles, books, TED talks, and conversations with the true experts of their own homelessness. As we equip ourselves with knowledge and edify ourselves with relationships, we can begin to shift the culture from fear toward compassion. As much as fear divides us, compassion will convict us to change the systems that benefit us into structures that defend the inherent dignity of all people. Those of us in affluence need this as much as our community members experiencing homelessness. I truly believe that we cannot fully love our own humanity until we love the humanity within everyone. A systems change that refuses to deny anyone a life worthy of their humanity will help us all be more human. Indeed, those of us in affluence may be the ones most in need of change.

 

Interested in learning more? Here are just a few of the many worthwhile resources:

- Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

                - https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/scarlet-e-unmasking-americas-eviction-crisis

                - https://www.facebook.com/justiceandpoverty/

- The House I Live In (2012) (documentary on the harms of the war on drugs)

- https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/the-war-on-drugs-how-president-nixon-tied-addiction-to-crime/254319/

- https://crosscut.com/2019/03/man-used-proof-seattle-dying-tells-his-story?utm_source=Crosscut+Daily+-+032819&utm_medium=email+Leah%2C+I%E2%80%99ll+leave+it+to+you+to+share+in+social+media.%3Futm_medium%3Dsocial&utm_source%3Dfacebook-web-button

 

 

 

Transitions

Internally and externally, I have been witnessing a lot of transition recently. We recently lost a legend of a case manager, Emily Bunch, and in October will be losing the other half of the Em & Em dream team. A part of me is weary from the loss of such bright souls and driven advocates for our young people; at the same time, though, I’m witnessing the uprising of new leaders – my talented co-worker Hailey Myers will be transitioning to case manager soon, and we have already welcomed Jorge Gaitan, a man I’m excited to see work passionately with our young people.

 

On a personal level, I will soon be transitioning out of the city, making my way to Philadelphia for a year-long internship called Mission Year, followed by three years in Princeton Seminary. In the last month I have become intimately familiar with the sorrow of loss, as I say goodbye to the various communities and commitments that have given me joy and fulfillment for many years.

Life is but a fleeting moment on the horizon of eternity...

With such major change, I am torn between bittersweet ends and new beginnings. This place of loss and discovery, death and life, past and future, is the nature of life. Life is defined by transition. It’s the essence of time, that a moment passes to make space for the next. Our tendency can be to resist and to attempt to prevent the imminent, but time is like a river. It flows in one direction, carrying you to new sights and landscapes. We’re just along for the ride. If we try to resist, at best we’ll get exhausted swimming upstream and will miss out on the view along the way. At worst, we can drown ourselves in the anxiety and stress of change.

 

Truthfully, I see this ephemeral flow of constant change as something profoundly spiritual. As a pastor once told me, “We are Easter Sunday people living in a good Friday world.” The evidence of sin and separation from God is evident all around us, yet we have been saved and live as a redeemed people, washed by the blood of Christ and ushered into the Kingdom of God in all its glory. Life is but a fleeting moment on the horizon of eternity, yet God has placed us here. Somehow, this short time on earth matters. It is significant. In the departure from the old and the welcome of the new, there is a Kingdom sound that rings through from the mountaintops through every passing moment. As we say goodbye to what was, we hear the symphony grow louder, a heavenly chorus of eternity like a waterfall at the end of the river of time.

A gorgeous moment from a recent sailing trip with Sail Sandpoint.

A gorgeous moment from a recent sailing trip with Sail Sandpoint.

It is never easy to say goodbye, this much is clear to me. But in the midst of the heartache and loss, I am drawn to a deeper understanding of how important this season was for me. It is because I am saying goodbye and making amends with the changes going on in my life that I can engage with my complete appreciation of the good of what was. And in doing so, I can prepare room for the good to come. Without ends, there would be no true beginnings. So, as SYM transforms through this season of transition, let us celebrate the growth and evolution of an organization I am proud to work for.

Starfish

What are we doing?

More specifically, what are we doing as SYM if not seeking to end homelessness? It’s an important question to reflect on as service providers in the midst of a problem that only seems to be increasing. The city-wide dialogue on whether or not Seattle is “dying” has certainly heightened the cultural sense that the role of service providers like SYM is insignificant or even needless.

Faced with these challenging critiques, I have been doing a great deal of internal processing. How do I reconcile the overwhelming scale of the homelessness crisis with my well-intentioned but undeniably finite work on the ground with SYM? The suggestion that my work and passion is doing nothing was deeply unsettling.

The larger issue of homelessness, one I hope to share more thoughts on later, is far more complicated than a black and white breakdown of policy vs practice. I am deeply committed to advocating for an end to homelessness and the broken systems that perpetuate housing instability, as I know my coworkers all are. However, the sheer scale and complexity of the issue is evidently not within the capacity of any political administration to fix on its own. To rally behind an exclusively structuralist approach would be naïve and demonstrate an ignorance of Seattle’s political history with the issue of homelessness. That doesn’t mean giving up on addressing the root of the problem; it does, though, leave room to consider the needs of the here and now.

Time and time again, my thoughts return to the oft-repeated proverb of the young man and the starfish. If you’re unfamiliar with it, enjoy. It’s a real treat.

 

                “Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, and he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference.”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference to that one.”

Excerpt from “The Star Thrower”

                -Loren Eisley

Engaging with our sea creature friends at the Seattle Aquarium.

Engaging with our sea creature friends at the Seattle Aquarium.

 

Humanity. In a word, that is what we exist for as SYM. While it is my hope that service providers like SYM can be a part of the social and political movement toward a society that refuses to let anyone be without basic necessities like water, food, clothing, and shelter, I find solace and encouragement in the daily interactions we have with young people. The wide smiles that follow stories of success or harrowing adventure. The random nicknames and comments that thoroughly baffle me in their foolishness. The intriguing conversations that can in an instant jump from spirituality and universal truth to nail polish. At SYM, we share humanity with our brothers and sisters who are at this stage in life struggling with stability. Our purpose isn’t to end homelessness, and for our organization I think that’s okay. Over the years I have been here, it has been my pleasure and honor to connect with so many wonderful souls, and to see them like myself experience the joy of genuine human connection.

As young people enter our drop-in space and acknowledge me as a friend, it’s clear to me that I’m the one being welcomed into their community, not the other way around. I wonder which one of us really is the starfish being tossed back home.

Re*lent*ance

Lent. What a peculiar time in the Christian calendar. It’s the annual season of surrendering chocolate and coffee. I’m confident that’s what God had in mind when Jesus was facing temptation and starvation in the wilderness – “In due time, my Son, people will remember your suffering by cutting back on sugar. Your present afflictions will lend themselves to greater glory in my people, so don’t lose hope.” The 40-day span from Ash Wednesday to Easter (not counting Sundays) was meant to remind us of the value of repentance. Not the fire-and-brimstone condemnatory repentance – the word “repentance” is translated from Greek metanoia, signifying a transformative change of heart. Repentance is about turning to the right path, turning to walk in the footsteps of “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

A visit to Olympia on Youth Advocacy day to champion policy supporting our young people. Participating in empowering justice work with our young people has been a great practice and reminder to me of the “right path” we as Christians are meant to walk upon.

A visit to Olympia on Youth Advocacy day to champion policy supporting our young people. Participating in empowering justice work with our young people has been a great practice and reminder to me of the “right path” we as Christians are meant to walk upon.

Lent was meant to be a practice of humility, of abandoning our comforts and desires to remind ourselves where our true allegiance lies. Today, I see most practicing “lenters” viewing the discipline as a fun challenge or a nice look-at-me-being-all-goody-goody pat on the back. Others, either jaded or apathetic, don’t find a reason to practice it at all. In fact, I see this trend throughout the Church and in Christian tradition. “I’ll pray about it” has become the quintessential Christian cop-out, Sabbath is next to non-existent (for myself as well), and the radical revolutionary Jesus Christ has become much more “my best friend” than “my Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Don’t get me wrong – best friend Jesus isn’t a bad way to view the humble and relational God who cares about all of your smallest struggles and joy. It is, however, a diluted representation of the wildfire that is God, ravenously searing open plains in search of the lost sheep and to defend the vulnerable.

Repentance is about turning to the right path, turning to walk in the footsteps of “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Lent is a reminder that in our myopic bubble of individualism and self-determinism, there is a God beyond our wildest imagination whose grandeur makes us absolutely and unequivocally nothing in comparison, yet who calls us by name and gives us our worth as children of the Most High. If we were to truly understand this -  to truly grasp the significance of God and God’s love - we would collapse in a heap of awe and prostrate ourselves shamelessly in the dirt in total submission. So whether we represent it with ash on our faces and sacrificial self-discipline or a renewed dedication to meaningful prayer, may we in this Lenten season hold in our hearts the greatness of our God.

Beauty

I am fascinated by the notion of beauty. What is it? Why did God give it to us? Myself personally, I am an action-driven, idealist kind of person. The notion of justice is a familiar and comfortable tenant of my faith and Christian life. As such, it becomes a susceptible temptation to judge the artists and beauty-makers of our world for their inaction. “Christians should be about fighting for justice for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized! It’s written all over the Bible!” And it is! I could quote any number of passages that reaffirm God’s heart and identification with those our world deems “the least of these.” But as of late, God has been guiding me along a different thought path, to consider why God put beauty into our world. Honestly, it’s been quite vulnerable. Though in truth, it is the challenging and vulnerable where God most readily meets us.

We do in order to be.

There is an account of beauty appearing right at the beginning of God’s Creation narrative. “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9). I have read over this passage so many times without thinking twice, but in it lies a theological treasure. Adam and Eve already had the tree of life – that sustained their every need. Even so, God made “trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” The message to me is clear: God wants us to experience beauty. Not as a medium for change. Not for any effective benefit.  Simply to delight in God and God’s creative genius.

 

The frightening part for me is that beauty is terribly inefficient. It accomplishes nothing. And that’s precisely the point. There’s an oft-quoted saying, “We are human beings, not human doings.” That is how God created us; not to do, but to be in full connection with the Divine. In the brokenness of the world, there are great divides that keep us from being able to be fully connected with God. As one with an affinity for liberation theology, I deeply believe that we cannot be in full, right relationship with the God of the Oppressed until the oppressed have been liberated of their shackles. And so, there is a doing that is necessitated in order to return to a state where we can just be with God. We do in order to be. But as we go about doing – myself and my team in SYM, you all in the various capacities and callings you follow – we mustn’t forget the why behind the what. We do in order to be. We fight for a healed world because we live for an age and a world where people are in right relationship with God, uninhibited by the brokenness of this world. As we pray for God’s Kingdom come and live lives pursuing that goal, may we take time to sit in beauty without an agenda, to center ourselves on the beauty of our Creator God and the purpose behind our callings.

Finding the Rollie Pollies

 

 

Moments are fleeting

The sun rises without you realizing

The leaves change color and suddenly it’s fall

 Snow is swirly around you like confetti

And all of a sudden it’s spring

life is supposed to be new and refreshing

Did you make each moment count?

Did you go out of your way to love those you care about?

I didn’t know I cared until it was too late

I didn’t know what I was missing out on

I didn’t know it would hurt this bad

When it was gone

When He was gone

 

 

Recently I have been reflecting on pain and heartache. Sometimes the troubles and trauma of life are so painful that it is hard to imagine what a normal, carefree life looks like. Like when you were four and the only thing you cared about is finding the rollie pollies under rocks. (Or was that just me?)

 

45135278_2036572586389482_951727558376816640_n (1).jpg

Through Christ Jesus I am able to be lifted out of my pain and taken back to when I was four. He takes on my pain in all its tears and heart-wrenching agony, and he shows me the rollie pollies under the rocks. Is it possible to completely forget your troubles and focus on what is under the rocks? Not always, but I am thankful for the beautiful moments when I can live in the moment and laugh through the tears.

 

When I think about the pain in my life, I am oh so thankful for the various communities that have wrapped their arms around me, but my heart aches for the young people we work with that didn’t have a community when their life was crumbling to pieces. My goal at SYM is to be able to be that strong community to young people. I know they have been hurt just as much as I have, if not more, and I want to meet them where they are and show them the rollie pollies. I want them to come on activities feeling comfortable sharing their pain, but also having the freedom to leave it behind and start a new day.

 Isaiah 40:31 “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Life is so fleeting, and my prayer is that we make every moment count. Tell people how you feel about them, take chances, and let yourself be a child again.

Season of Giving

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! ‘Tis the season of yuletide, the joyous occasion where families gather together around warm fireplaces and celebrate slightly embarrassing but warmly nostalgic traditions. The annual family dinner at grandma and grandpa’s. The giddy longing for the year’s first snowflake. There is a lot to look forward to in this season, but not for everyone. For some, snowfall poses a threat to safety and comfort. The holidays can serve as a reminder of loss, of heartbreak, of all that there isn’t to be thankful for.

Giving isn’t simply an action… It is a commitment to “remember the poor.”

Yuletide is known as the season of giving. And it makes sense – in our abundant joy from the merriment of peppermint mocha and adorable small children puffed up in winter garb like little snowmen, we often extend ourselves outward toward giving to the less fortunate. This time of year, the need tends to be greater as well – the elements pose more of a threat, the darkness makes it harder or less safe to access resources. Even so, the need is present all year round. To remember the needs of others when we aren’t culturally reminded by holiday festivities or physically reminded by our own discomfort in the elements – that is rare.  

Staff and some of our young people picking out a tree for SYM

Staff and some of our young people picking out a tree for SYM

I believe that giving isn’t simply an action. It is the spiritual discipline of generosity, a mindset of otherness. It is a commitment to “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10 NASB). Paul understood as he was writing to early Christian communities in Galatia that the discipleship of Christ cannot be separated from a dedication to the poor, those who have been disenfranchised by the socioeconomic macrostructure. Being a Christian means being committed to the cause of the poor. That isn’t a seasonal thing, as much as being a Christian isn’t a Sunday activity.

So what does it look like to develop a spirit of giving? For starters, I don’t think it is only a money thing. The wealthiest people can give billions of dollars away, but that doesn’t mean they care or are being generous. Rather, Jesus said, “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but [the poor widow] out of her poverty put in all she had to live on… This poor widow has put in more than all the others.” (Luke 21:4,3). Giving, to God, isn’t about the amount but the heart. And God wants your whole heart, not just a fraction. What does it look like for you in this season to pursue giving God your whole heart? The journey of learning God’s heart is a lifelong one, where we will never get to the “finish line” but find joy in the endless pursuit of falling in love more and more with Jesus and giving Him even the parts of our heart we are afraid to consider – our family, our security, our future. As we step into this season of giving, take some time to reflect on our Savior who modeled the ultimate humility by taking on the feeble form of a child and gave His life to set us free from sin and death.

Sanctuary

“Leave it at the door.” One of our youth I’ve come to know and respect over the last four years as a volunteer and now as staff shared this nugget of wisdom with me over a Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger™ from Jack in the Box this morning. The story of every youth is different, the pain and trauma very real and awful, but the beauty of a sanctuary is that it is a refuge from all that we want to run away from, a space to breathe, seen and safe. At SYM, we hope for our drop-in to be that space for youth (a goal we strive for but still have a ways to go).

I wrote this packing up for a fun retreat last weekend, but those words are still sticking with me. Leave it at the door. All my own baggage, which has been painfully obvious to me in this season of my life, feels like an exhausting deadweight chained to my heart. I am content and well, but my internal dialogue rains down on me from time to time, incessant droplets of “what-if” and other scathing internal reviews that can drown out my voice of reason. I by no means wish to compare my struggles to the trauma of being disowned for one’s sexuality or years of being without permanent housing; I do, though, find it worthwhile to acknowledge our shared need for sanctuary.

Our beloved drop-in space

Our beloved drop-in space

“Thou hast made us for thyself,” St. Augustine writes of God, “and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” There is only one true sanctuary, where the heart, mind, and soul can take a break from the ever-present stressors of this world. We cannot do without it. We all need it, whether it’s a staircase in an alley or a three-story villa we call home. We are all human, and in our humanity we need sanctuary.

Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.

 
— St. Augustine

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). I am your sanctuary, God lovingly tells us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:16). Leave behind your worries, your insecurities, your hopes and dreams and future. Leave it all at the door. In God’s loving and all-consuming embrace, there is sanctuary with equal access for all people.

When Things Get Messy

When Things Get Messy

"We have the privilege of jumping into the messy parts of life with young people—and we do it because we’ve had to wrestle with the reality of our own messes too.  It’s from a place of shared brokenness, shared need, that we can enter into life with young people. The beauty of showing up to work at SYM is that we get to set aside any pretense of life being put-together and perfect."

Summer Activities

We believe life is so much more than just surviving - our hope is for young people to thrive as well. SYM prioritizes this value through our activities program which provides weekly outings for community building and fun! It allows opportunities for youth to escape the U-District, get outside, stretch themselves mentally and physically, and most importantly experience healthy fun! Check out what we've been up to lately, and don't forget to follow us on Instagram (@sym_seattle) to keep up with photos from recent activities. 

 

Mini Golfing

Mini Golfing

Hiking at Discovery Park

Hiking at Discovery Park

We go Rock Climbing every Tuesday!

We go Rock Climbing every Tuesday!

We took a ferry to Vashon Island to hike around!

We took a ferry to Vashon Island to hike around!

Skipping rocks at Vashon Island

Skipping rocks at Vashon Island

Horseback Riding with Youth Dynamics in Leavenworth

Horseback Riding with Youth Dynamics in Leavenworth

Uh oh! Looks like a couple of us got stuck on a ride at Wild Waves!

Uh oh! Looks like a couple of us got stuck on a ride at Wild Waves!

Peter and Gary (two of SYM's beloved volunteers) recently played WhirlyBall with youth! We have the BEST volunteers around! 

Peter and Gary (two of SYM's beloved volunteers) recently played WhirlyBall with youth! We have the BEST volunteers around! 

Looking Up

Shoes.jpg

I get frustrated sometimes when hiking because I have to pay so much attention to my feet. If I don’t keep my eyes down I will (and certainly have) tripped.

This reminds me of how young adults here at SYM explain their situations, that they can’t look up to see where they’re going because they are so focused on what is in front of them.

They’re so focused on not tripping, on meeting the basic necessities of each day, that they can get used to keeping their head down, and then they get stuck.

Case management is a chance for youth to sit down with SYM staff one on one and gain perspective. As a case manager I work with young adults to make to-do lists, we make phone calls that are exhausting and full of long wait times, I drive them to appointments, we research together how you get a Wisconsin ID replacement when you’re very far from Wisconsin. We cheerlead accomplishments, and listen to stories. We get to know young people and what makes them unique, and we help young people identify what direction they want to go.

If we only ever looked down at our feet, we’d never get to enjoy or marvel at the little things in life that add up to be the big things. We’d never get to pick what way we are walking. Case management allows space for these things to happen in the lives of homeless young adults.

Written by Emma Fix, Case Manager

Come and See

Recently, my church challenged us to kick off 2018 by reading through the Gospel of John. As I began reading through John, I noticed something striking to me in the first few chapters. In chapter 1, John the Baptist points out to his followers that Jesus is the Lamb of God (v.36). Following Jesus, they ask him where he's staying. Instead of simply telling them where, he invites them to "Come and see." One of these followers is Andrew, who immediately goes and gets his brother Peter and brings him to Jesus (v.40-42).

Shortly after this, Philip meets Jesus and tells his friend Nathanael about him. Nathanael is skeptical, so Philip invites him to "Come and see" (v.44-46). Skipping to chapter 4, we see a similar interaction happen with the Samaritan woman at the well. After encountering Jesus, she goes to her town and says to her people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did" (v.29). 

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What I love about each of these instances is the invitation offered. In each passage, when Andrew, Philip, and the Samaritan woman meet Jesus, their first instinct was to invite their community to meet him and bring them there. It reminds me of hiking ahead of friends and being the first to see a beautiful view or waterfall, and quickly running back to say, "You guys have GOT to see this."

Jesus isn't someone who can just be explained with mere words, he's someone people must experience for themselves.

Juxtaposed between these passages is Jesus' first miracle, turning water into wine. I LOVE that Jesus chose this to be his first miracle, because it reminds me that life with Jesus is one big party, a feast! His first miracle was choosing to keep the party going, and not with just any wine, but the best wine. Jesus doesn't skimp on us, but he lavishly gives in abundance. 

As followers of Jesus, our lives get to be this invitation for others to "come and see" what Jesus is all about. And what's great about that is we aren't inviting people to something boring or rigid, but we're inviting them to an exciting feast - to meet the Lord of the Wine.

*Written by Jordan Field*

A Day at Drop-In

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SYM's Drop-in Center provides basic and immediate needs of youth, including food, hygiene items, showers, clothing, and laundry. It is here that SYM staff and volunteers first meet youth, learn their stories, and build relationships with them. Once youth are introduced to SYM, they can become involved more deeply in SYM programs such as our activities program or case management. 

Long-time volunteer Bill Hutchinson reflects on a recent Friday volunteering:

For the past 5 years, I have volunteered at the Drop-in with Street Youth Ministries.  I help staff on Friday afternoons and last week, I was able to walk with one of the youth to Goodwill to pick out some clothes for the job he was about to start.  We were able to talk about his hopes to be able to date people who were similarly employed and not homeless. I walked with another youth to load his bus card for the month so that he could go to his newly begun community college class. Charles* talked about how he was pretty good in math and wanted to continue his education to open up more doors for himself.  I helped another youth get his laundry done and directed three youth to meet with a mental health counselor who had volunteered her time to meet with willing folks.  

Not every Friday afternoon feels so busy.  Sometimes, I feel like my sole job is to warmly greet youth by name and play cards for several hours helping create a safe space where youth are known and cared for.  I count it a privilege to be part of this ministry that meets homeless youth at their most vulnerable place and helps to direct them to services and positive relationships.

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We are incredibly grateful to be able to offer a safe space for youth to be able to hang out, play games, watch movies, and build meaningful relationships with volunteers like Bill. There is something really amazing about feeling known and loved, and we hope that when youth walk into our space they feel accepted as they are. 

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” - Timothy Keller

*Name changed for confidentiality

Closing the gap.

*written by Summer Intern Kaitlyn* 

 

Puzzled looks. This is what I encounter when I tell someone I got sunburnt playing kickball at work.  

“Don’t you work at a place for the homeless?” 

My experience with homeless youth has been vastly different from most other college students. Throughout college I've received many opportunities to connect with the street youth community in unique ways, one of them being this internship. This summer I've been able to build relationships not only in drop in, but on activities and around the office here at SYM. Most of my friends can’t fathom why playing kickball would be beneficial for anyone, especially someone who is homeless. A few years ago, I might have agreed. I might have believed the answer to “curing” homelessness would be food and shelter. Easy. Simple. 

So why haven’t we found this cure? 

Perhaps it is because some of us treat people who live on the streets like we would a run down home. We look at it. We think it needs to be fixed but we don’t actively do anything about it. We don’t take it upon yourself to spruce up the garden or paint the shutters. We just look. It needs to be cared for and yet it’s only looked at. No time invested. No energy. No devotion. No love. Just looks. One difference, however; this is a person. 

A person is more complex than a rundown home. We know that. Yet why do many of us forget it when we see someone in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk? Why are we so quick to dehumanize? We forget about the spiritual and relational needs that help give a person a sense of purpose, belonging and hope. We forget about those times when we fell hiking and laughed so hard with our friends that we cried, the fun of getting our friends together for a birthday lunch or the time we earned bragging rights for winning that game of rec center baseball. 

When we remember these times, the importance of activities for youth becomes a lot less puzzling.

By hosting activities, we close the gap of us and them.

Instead of being categorized as homeless and not homeless, we become teammates, competitors or even – quite simply – friends.

And perhaps it’s not our job to “fix” someone. My favorite thing about following Jesus is no matter where I am in life He meets me where I am at. I don’t need to fix myself to be loved by Him. He’s all about meeting people where they are. By not asking youth to fix themselves, we can demonstrate some raw, Jesus-like love. All we have to do is extend the invitation to be themselves and hang out with us. In her book And It Was Good, author Madeleine L’Engle says, “Caught up as most of us are in the complexities of daily living, we forget that we are surrounded by the creative power of Love” It’s a creative kind of love, for sure; not asking someone to change but instead meeting them where they are.  And as creative it is, it is at the very same time extremely basic and easy.

Something Strong. Something Beautiful. Something Functional.

photo courtesy of the Huffington Post

photo courtesy of the Huffington Post

Glassybaby partnered with SYM for the Shine Bright benefit where attendees learned more about SYM's work with homeless youth. It also shed light on the challenges and successes of these youth. Long time SYM supporter Judy Myers shared these words at the event:

Tonight as I look around this space, seeing the colors, the craftsmanship and the glass blowing talent, I am reminded of a lesson learned in school from a craftsman by the name of Vitruvius. He described good design as needing three elements: strength, function and beauty.  And in his words true beauty is order and balance. When I see a Glassybaby lit up and being used as it should, I think that these objects embody the words of Vitruvius.

I think of the artists who carefully study their craft, understand the science behind glass blowing, and fully understand the unique qualities of the material – how hot the glass needs to be, how long it should take to cool the product so that in the end, the color is clear, and the object is strong.

It takes a team to work together to make a truly beautiful work of art. From their hard work and craft, we receive joy from looking at the object but also in the use of the artwork. And we get deep satisfaction when we give great works of art to others to use and reflect on its beauty.

This is the work of Street Youth Ministries. They are in the business of turning brittle shards back into something with full strength, function and beauty. They work hard as a team and they know their kids. Their commitment is to rebuild, teach and restore the broken lives of young people... They serve around 500 youth, all of whom are stuck in a story.  Each story is unique, describing pain, rejection, abuse, brokenness and barriers and the common theme that they have been told is “you are not worth being reclaimed or redeemed into something beautiful and functional”.


There is a process in glass blowing where the glass cools too quickly to be shaped, it is returned to a furnace called the glory hole for another melting down, making the glass once again workable and transparent.

The doors of SYM open onto this path: they change the message of useless into a message of worthiness.

Each of their youth get to place their name and lay down stakes with a healthy environment that knows them, knows their name and gives them a home to be rebuilt.

I encourage you to imagine the final outcome of the work of SYM: building strength, function and beauty in our youth. Our generosity means SYM gets to name each of the youth – I think of the joy I get from reading the names on the Glassybaby, our generosity helps SYM catch each of the kids and speaks their name out loud...With the beauty surrounding you in these pieces of art, give with the same vision: we can capture the street youth, changing their lives to reflect beauty, strength and function.

written by Judy Myers

Rattlesnake

"Feeling the earth between my toes."

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It was pouring rain,  

the way it does in movies, and we sat in a car full of mixed moisture, and the air was heavy.

"I don't know guys... do you still want to go up?"

Emily had driven myself and one of our youth nearly 50 miles down I-90 in search of a hike to "wash our spirits clean", as John Muir would say, but this rain seemed brutally unforgiving.

However, this particular youth is not one to back down from a challenge.

"Well we're here aren't we?" He zipped up his jacket and bounded out of the passenger seat. Emily and I swapped shoulder shrugs and followed him across the parking lot.

Not long after, we found ourselves surrounded by a glorious green, and the rain left us. God is here, I thought. 

Approximately 200 feet into the hike, our youth commented that his shoes were uncomfortable. About 204 feet into the hike, he removed his shoes and stealthily stashed them behind the nearest rock. After giving a yelp of gratitude to the surrounding treetops, he leapt up the trail, freed up by the comfort that no-shoes provided. 

For the entirety of the trail, we made quite a trio. Two sets of sneakers and one set of bare feet climbed switchback after switchback, breathing deeply and making sure to stop every now and again to gulp water and remind ourselves that our bodies were blessedly removed from the concrete and exhaust (in all definitions) of city living.

"What's your favorite thing about being in nature?"

I postulated this question to the group between breathes, thinking I was quite clever to initiate such profound group conversation. But our youth responded with only a thoughtful silence, so I resolved to let the question evaporate with the remnants of the rainfall. 

No less than 2 misty miles later, the trail came to a rocky scramble; we climbed over boulders and cracks, ascended the ledge, and lost our breath to the view. 

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This morning I had been preoccupied with the fact that I didn't have enough dirty clothes to justify doing a full load of laundry, and now I was standing 2078 ft above the Sound, feeling God's timely nudge to step out and let the wind pull at my clothes and mess up my hair. 

God apparently nudged our youth much earlier  -  he was already out dancing from rock to rock, his distinctly gleeful shouts no doubt meeting the nearby mountains.

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We unpacked our sandwiches (we were out of bread so we used dinner rolls, a fact you didn't need to know but now you do) and settled like kings overlooking Rattlesnake Lake, some closer to the edge than others**. 

From my seat on the rock, I took in my surroundings  -  our youth was maybe 50 ft further down the rock face, peacefully inhaling and exhaling. I wondered what he might be thinking about, and I wondered why it is that I feel God so tangibly in these moments. I truly believe God meets us in nature. Of course He is with us always, but there's something different about a meeting, the intentionality of it perhaps, that makes me feel blissfully enveloped. Munching on my turkey roll and breathing thinner air, I was blessed by both conversation and silence on that ledge.

As we skipped back down the trail to the parking lot, I asked our youth again what his favorite thing about being in nature was. After a few moments of intentional consideration, he answered "Feeling the earth between my toes" and once again leapt ahead of us through the trees. 

I love that answer. I thought I was a nature-enjoyment expert, I thought I knew everything there is to know about finding joy in God's creation. But not once have I tackled a hike barefoot. Not once have I been mindful enough to realize that shoes are still between me and Earth, even when I think I'm completely immersed in nature. 

It's such a blessing that we get the opportunity to take our youth on adventures like this, outside of the city, away from the Ave. In these spaces, we get to be in fellowship with these young people, and we often have the privilege of getting to know their hearts and stories. But we also learn from them. It's in these exchanges that hope and healing are present, on both sides.

I am grateful.

 

*Written by Kaylyn Springer*

 

 

**Kaylyn and Emily were an exorbitantly safe distance from the edge, while our youth fearlessly ventured further out, uncovering ways to get closer and closer to the space between our mountain and the next. We have some very brave youth...

What's it really like to be a youth on the streets?

So, you support Street Youth Ministries.

But have you ever wondered what life on the streets really looks like for our young people?

written by Kaylyn Springer

I've only been working at Street Youth Ministries for about 4 months now, but during that time I've been blessed to get to know a lot of our youth. Many of them have made me belly-laugh unabashedly until I'm out of breath. Some of them are artists -- they draw, they write, they make music, and I've been privileged to witness their expression. Many of them go to work; they hang out with friends; they visit their case manager; they try to stay dry when it rains and warm when the temperature drops; they just do life with the tools and circumstances that life has handed them, just like you and I.

But too often, young people on the streets are dehumanized; they're generalized as disruptive, or as taking advantage of resources. But what many people don't realize is that each of these young people has a unique story, a narrative of circumstances leading to life on the streets. And each of their lives carries tremendous value, just as it is.

Especially as we face the coming year, I think we need to make an effort to really see our brothers and sisters, not with judgmental eyes, but in an earnest attempt to know the other. How can we expect to make a difference if we don't engage with those we seek to impact? How can we assume we know about someone's circumstances if we never stop to listen? How can we claim to be seeking after Christ if we never step out into the territory in which his ministry was so invested?

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What would it be like to live everyday faced with glaring impermanence? 

What would give you hope? 

Maybe it would be your friends that you'd cling to, fellow street kids who understand what kind of circumstances lead to life on the streets.

Maybe doing what you love would be extra life-giving, whether it's skateboarding or creating art or making music. 

Maybe your case manager, invested and working to help you pursue your goals, would be a source of hope for you.

SYM strives to be a source of hope for these young people by providing more than just resources; we also seek to provide relationships and life-skills that bring healing and a restored sense of self worth.

If you choose to support us before midnight on December 31st, your gift will be doubled

To help us meet our year-end goal,

Make a Donation Today!

The Power Shift

 

*Written by SYM Life Skills Coordinator Emily*

I love rock climbing with our young people because I’m not an expert at it.

There is a power shift when we go climb together—no longer am I the one with the resources or knowledge needed, but in fact, I often ask our youth for help because many of them are more skilled climbers than I am.  I can see that changing things for people; they are the ones with knowledge, and therefore, power, and in these moments together, they are able to use it to help someone else.

 

 

Today, we had a small group—just two young men and myself.  We spent most of the time tackling different routes together. We tried and failed. We strategized. We tried again.  We took turns. We made it one step higher and fell. We tried again. We faced something challenging and didn’t back down. We encouraged each other. We laughed. We succeeded as we conquered routes that took multiple tries. Some were too difficult for today—and that was okay.  We’re coming back next week to try again.

 

 

I am confident that this simple act of rock climbing together is changing things.  It might seem silly, but I see it in the smiles—the real smiles—that tell of joy and accomplishment and pride.  Together, we are learning persistence. Together, we are building self-esteem. Together, we are facing fears of falling and of heights (maybe that one’s just me!). Together, we are living life and enjoying it. Together. I love rock climbing with our young people because it’s together. Together is relational and strong and powerful, and I think there’s healing in together.

 

"Home is something worth searching for."

*Written by SYM Direct Service Intern Haley*

While discussing which path we should take on a recent activity to Discovery Park, one of our youth asked us if we wanted to venture down to the beach through a less traveled path that he knew of. He warned us that we would be going through sand and down a hill, but we felt up for the adventure and followed his lead. It felt like we were scaling a cliff while we trekked through sand and slippery mud, and while I was worried about slipping and knew there was a much easier path, there was so much value in letting him lead the way and show us something we didn’t know about. Moments of fear that we were going to slip and fall down the whole hill turned into opportunities for us to check in with each other and provide support for one another.

We were almost to the bottom of the hill when we heard our fearless leader say, “Well…this used to lead to the beach, but it looks like the tide is a bit higher now…” It turns out that the tide was much higher than the last time he had been there and after a quick look we knew that we definitely weren’t going to make it to the beach from that spot. However, that path did have something to offer us. It led us to a single rope swing hanging above the water. With some hesitation and encouragement from youth, I decided going on the rope swing was worth the risk of falling in the water. Soon enough, 3 out of 4 of us had conquered our fears and taken a stab at swinging over the water. There was a joy in the air as we all tried out the swing and laughed with one another when each person went. I was reminded of what a childlike, but joyful thing it was to find excitement in swinging.

At some point during our walk back to the car, the question of what home really means got brought up. This is a question I personally have been reflecting on for some time now. One youth was quick to say to staff, “well you guys have a home,” but when I asked the difference between a house (or permanent place to sleep in) and home, the conversation shifted. We then all started talking about what makes a place home and the times or places in our lives where we can say we definitely felt at home. Some of us shared about feeling at home at the place they grew up in, some talked about how they felt at home when they were with one specific person, and others questioned how we can ever feel fully at home in one location when we have called multiple places home. Toward the end of the conversation, there was a realization that some of us knew what home was to them for sure, and others were still searching for it (staff and youth included). While staff’s housing situations are very different than the young people we serve, we created some common ground by acknowledging we all have experienced this search for home. 

SYM’s mission is to use life-skills, resources and relationships to provide hope and healing in youth’s lives. It was a beautiful thing to see how this simple Discovery Park activity was a source of that hope and healing that we so desire for the young people we serve. The laughter through trekking down the hill and joking with each other was a source of healing – it allowed us to forget about our worries for a bit and reminded us of the joy that comes from community and fun. Swinging over the water and searching for walking sticks for the way up was a source of healing – it provided us a time where we could engage in silly things rather than focusing on all of the serious struggles around us. Lastly, the conversation about home was a huge source of hope – it broadened all of our perspectives on what it means to be home and reminded us all that home is something worth searching for. 

'Tis the season!

THANK YOU for visiting SYM's Ways to Give Page!

You've taken the first step to blessing a homeless young person this holiday season. Below, you'll find some tangible options:

 

Option 1: a Financial Gift

    

 

 

MAKE A DONATION TODAY

 

Option 2: an in-kind donation (See our updated wishlist below to find out which particular items we're in need of this holiday season)

You can bring any of these items to the University Presbyterian Church kiosk, or contact Rowena Harper for more information on SYM's needs:

rowenah@upc.org

206.524.7301 x111

 

 

Option 3You can make SYM your Amazon Smile charity of choice

It's easy! 

Just go to https://smile.amazon.com/ and sign into your amazon account. Then type "Street Youth Ministries Seattle" into the organization search bar, and select Street Youth Ministries as your charity of choice! When you make purchases through smile.amazon.com*, a portion of every purchase will be donated to SYM! 

(*Please note: you must go through smile.amazon.com if you want the purchase to count; purchases made through just amazon.com will not benefit SYM!)

 

However you choose to give, know that you're supporting SYM's mission of providing homeless and at-risk youth with resources, personal relationships, valuable life-skills and healthy community. Your donation helps bring hope and healing to the lives of young people - THANK YOU!