Patrick Robinson
Boots Winterstein was out as part of a 'Flashlight Vigil' with about 40 people from the Westside Interfaith Network and residents of Nickelsville, outside that homeless encampment set to be closed and cleared out Sept. 1. The effort was made to shed light on homelessness and the impending closure which will affect more than 160 people.

Westside Interfaith Network tries to shine a light on homelessness

As the Sept. 1 deadline for the closure of Nickelsville homeless encampment looms the plight of the homeless and near homeless in the Seattle area brought together people of faith, from different churches in an effort to highlight the issue. The Westside Interfaith Network staged a "flashlight vigil" outside Nickelsville on West Marginal Way on Sunday evening, Aug. 25 as an act of compassion, awareness and belief that better solutions can be found.

Mary Anne deVry, who attends Hope Lutheran Church spoke to the West Seattle Herald about why the effort was being made. She had previously stated in a release, "As people of faith we help bring God's light into our world; and we shed light on the plight of the 10,000's who are homeless--or on the brink of homelessness--in our area. Where will the current--and future--homeless go after 9/1? Shelters are full; greenbelts are not safe. In the past 13 days, 9 newly-homeless families arrived at N'ville! This is simply our churches/community saying, "we care about our neighbors in need."

She expanded on that at the event. "We're here because of the nearly 200 homeless people here, there's probably another 100 in the greenbelt up here," she said pointing west. "If one, two, three, ten people come away thinking 'other people care, should I care? Is this important?' that's good. The resources we have to help people are maxed out. The operators at the 211 line for social service are the ones telling people to come here. In the last 21 days there have been newly homeless famiiies with little kids who have come here. None of them heard about the city offering to move people out. They've been in survivor mode for the past month, sleeping in cars or outside. These are local Seattleites."

Once Nickelsville closes she will be less likely to give homeless people money, as will others she contends, if they encounter somebody standing outside a drugstore or grocery store. "What we going to do? I don't know. And it grieves me."

But her comments at the vigil were also about the people she's encountered and their personal stories.

"A couple of days ago a family came in with three beautiful, lovely, intelligent kids. They came in at almost dark. I asked the young boy, 'Oscar, do you have any kind of toys?' because otherwise I bring them things, which did the next day. This little boy digs in his pocket and and he says 'I have something' and he pulls out a string, 15 inches long and says 'See! This is my toy'. He wasn't complaining."

"One of the most poignant homeless stories was a mother whose husband was beating her so severely in the Fred Meyer parking lot in Burien that bystanders called 911. While he was taken away she took her boys and had them pack things up in their school backpacks. She had had enough. She had four boys ranging in age from four to 13. For almost two months they had slept in downtown Seattle in parking garages that are deserted at night. On challenging nights she would take the kids and ride the city bus all night long. They would doze. During this she got her kids to school almost every day. Then finally she was riding a bus in West Seattle and she saw a deserted house. For the next ten days they snuck in and slept in that house. A police officer saw them acting oddly and guessed what they were doing. The officer approached them in the house, tapped on the window and said, 'I don't mean to frighten you. I'm a police officer. This is not safe for you and the kids. If you'll trust me and come with me in my car I will take you someplace.' He brought them here to Nickelsville. is this a person that doesn't deserve to be helped?"

The family stayed at Nickelsville for one week, then into a motel and finally did find an apartment DeVry explained. She talked to the mother a month later and, "She was actually laughing as she talked with me."

DeVry described how she works with the homeless. The City of Seattle has contracted with motels on Aurora and elsewhere for temporary housing. "I screen them, and work with KidsPlus (a program that focuses on the healthcare of children experiencing homelessness) then we weed out if there is a drug problem or felonies then the YWCA East Cherry Branch holds the purse strings to get them into these cheap motels. The problem is we've been maxed out. We have more homeless families than there are motel rooms. There they are receiving social services. They help the mom get a job at minimum wage. So they work them into some kind of low income housing. That's the good news. Most of these families stories are not a lot different than that."

Cheryl Banks was there with a flashlight too, standing up for the homeless.

"I got involved in bringing things to Nickelsville," Banks said, "because there was a baby here who at the age of four days had had a heart operation. The doctor had given the mother medication to keep the baby alive and it had to stay refrigerated and there is no electricity here. That just hooked me. I think it was because I'm a mother. When my own son had to go to the hospital at 19 months with spinal meningitis we had great insurance. I didn't have to worry about paying for it. But here she was with a newborn."

DeVry said there are places in the world, where homelessness is virtually non existent. Scandanavian nations are one example she cited. "Part of the problem is that our housing costs are astronomical. That's one of the major factors. The other issue, which is a touchy subject is the question of whether minimum wage is a living wage."

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