Original Voices

Julie Gardner has been leading a weekly writing workshop at Mary’s Place for over five years. Workshop participants range in age from young adult to senior and include women who are currently homeless and some who have found their forever homes but come back for class, and to share their stories of trauma, abuse, addiction, job loss… but also of empowerment, courage, and appreciation. The workshops and writings help the women work through issues, strengthen self-esteem, and find renewed hope.

From the workshops, Julie has compiled and edited 126 writings, along with photos and images, in a recently published book, Original Voices: Homeless and Formerly Homeless Women’s Writings. The book includes a foreword by Pat Schneider, author and founder of Amherst Writers & Artists. The book, a labor of love, is unique and inspiring. Contributing writer, Kristine Bagby, read a poem by Jennifer Hamilton, below, at our Spring Luncheon in early May. The book is currently available at Amazon for $14.00, proceeds from the book go to support Mary’s Place shelters and programming. You can follow this story at the Original Voices facebook page!

For So Long I Did Not Have a Voice Jennifer Hamilton

For so long I did not have a voice
Trampled and broken I was silenced
Like so many of us.
It may seem like a small thing but,
You heard.
I feel so grateful
From my depths I thank you.


Marty’s comments from our Spring Luncheon

Executive Director Marty Hartman made these comments at our Spring Benefit Luncheon on May 3.

We have been meeting at this luncheon for over eight years, and this year is the biggest year yet for Mary’s Place…our crazy dream that no child should sleep outside is starting to become a reality!

Our Mary’s Place Family Center became a reality in June of 2015. Mayor Murray and the City of Seattle allowed us to use an empty city building to bring hundreds of families inside to receive services and resources, with 22 non-profits all at one location.

It is hard to remember that we got in the business of sheltering moms and children just five ago. It seemed that no cared, and no one else was helping. The tears on faces was too much to endure. We sat down and asked moms how we could help. They told us they wanted a safe place, they wanted help, and they wanted a community that lifted them up. We listened, and got to work. Now, at our Family Center, moms and dads attend  GED, ESL, parenting and computer classes, they access medical care, get assistance with resumes, and online job searches and house hunting, and they find family support with mental health counseling.

While parents work and learn, children are at school or engaged in enrichment activities including Power Half Hour homework, dress up, video games, music classes, poetry writing at our on-site Kids Club, a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club.

And if that wasn’t dreaming big enough, our Amazon family came to our aid to double our capacity of shelter beds by giving us a new home…and does it sparkle! They have provided all the tenant improvements, the utilities, stocked our shelves with diapers, wipes, medicine, cereal, blankets, sheets, and a whole lotta love!  Their employees are sitting beside us, helping us write resumes and call landlords, and tutoring our children. Most importantly, they invited us in, made us feel welcomed and safe and reminded us we are not alone. Those are gifts that last a lifetime!

We were still pinching ourselves and realizing all these gifts were not a dream when I got an email from Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon. He said he wanted to do more…he wanted to do something personally to help homeless families. He reached out with a one day match challenge. He will personally match all donations received today up to a total of one million dollars. With your help we could raise $2 million today! That is even a BIGGER DREAM come true!

You might be asking…why Mary’s Place? Why homeless families?

To us it is simple because our model is simple…partner with anyone and everyone who will help homeless women and families move forward faster. We know we are so much better together. We know everyone has something to offer. We know homeless families will not make it out of homelessness by themselves. So it is with our 3,510 volunteers, 164 corporate partners, 64 foundations, 125 nonprofits, 113 congregations, 4,759 donors and one gracious city that we operate our two day centers and six overnight shelters. Together, we are able to provide an address and phone for those who don’t have one, restore dignity through showers and laundry services, and offer nourishment with healthy food. We provided over 198,000 meals last year. The only thing that outpaces that is the number of diapers, wipes, and hugs we give away! Together, we created 222 resumes, turned in 2,813 housing applications and moved 148 families into more stable housing. We had 60,000 overnight stays last year and are on pace to provide over 100,000 shelter nights this year. If our calculations are right, that would almost double the number of sweet dreams!

Our staff work to get a child get connected to school, listen to the pain of a mom who has left everything behind, including her self-esteem, hug a child who has had to give up their pet to be in shelter, sit beside teens who are so embarrassed to be told by their peers that they smell, and remind dads that they are not failures for seeking shelter…rather they are heroes for asking for help.

Most importantly, our model empowers families to take charge of their situation. At Mary’s Place, we know the prescription for increasing self-esteem is asking for your needs to be met. We constantly remind our families their need to be loved is the most beautiful, wonderful and strongest part of who they are. It’s how they begin to heal and create lasting change.

At $14 per bed night we have a cost effective and efficient model, yet each night our hearts ache over the kids who go to sleep next to parents in cars, doorways, and under bushes. We must do more.

Laughter is common at Mary’s Place, you hear it often and loud. But I know in my heart that hurt and fear is there also. FEAR an abusive ex might return and hurt the children, FEAR of what to do with a special needs child because you need to work, so you can have your own roof, but also need to watch over your child, FEAR of what the doctor might tell you. Sometimes, all we can offer is a hug and love…sometimes it is enough…and sometimes it falls short. But we keep giving hugs.

We are meeting more and more families who have children with life threatening illnesses. They are seeking refuge in their cars in hospital parking lots because they have sacrificed everything, including their homes, to give their children a chance to live. We don’t believe this is right. Where is the dignity for that mom, having to watch her child get sick by the side of the car where they live after chemo, and then try to rest until the next wave of nausea. Providing safe shelter for all homeless families is our BIG dream…and today we want to share our plans for Popsicle Place.

Popsicle Place will be a home for children experiencing life threatening illnesses. Families can stay in this “home for now” while their children wait for chemo treatments, lab results, or to recover. We will partner with Ladybug House, Dr Brian Cartin from Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Dr Ben Danielson from Odessa Brown Clinic. We know about the circle of life…last year at least six homeless children with cancer lost the fight while living in a car…where is the dignity? Where is the peace for those parents? Mary’s Place will provide that, and we are committed to opening at least two residences to stop this tragedy.

At Mary’s Place we’ve have had a baby boom! Everyday we talk to moms with newborns struggling to find a shelter bed so they can stay together.  So we are also announcing Mary’s Place Baby’s Best Start! Thanks to our friends at Vulcan, we now have a shelter for homeless moms and newborns in South Lake Union. It’s a smaller shelter where babies can thrive without being exposed to lots of people. Our homeless moms will receive what other moms in America take as a given…six weeks to bond with their baby, and get adequate sleep, nutrition and support from the community around them.

Both of these programs will be under the direction of our incredible nurse, Kelly Brewer, and our volunteer doctor, advocate and friend, Dr. Joe Sherman. We love them!

If you thinking that is so great, but it’s not enough! You are right.

I wish you could witness the energy, commitment, and passion of our board. Now we can see a day when kids are SAFE AND SECURE. Together we will work until every child is inside at night. Our goal is 750 beds in three years, 1,000 beds in five years. This will help solve the problem but we can only do this with you by our side. Please say that you will not only join us, but invite others. That would be a dream come true!

We appreciate you and know we wouldn’t accomplish our crazy dreams without you!