The first step on the journey out of homelessness

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June 29, 2016

Today we join media outlets, community groups, advocacy organizations, elected officials, and service providers in Seattle to shine a light on homelessness, examining causes and possible solutions at #seahomeless.

Homelessness continues to grow in our region as people struggle to make ends meet and deal with personal and family needs. One of the biggest changes that we have seen at Mary’s Place over the last several years is the increase in the number of families with children experiencing homelessness.

Mary’s Place began as a day center for homeless single women, to provide them safety, community, and resources. But it became too heartbreaking to turn way mothers with children at the end of the day, knowing they had nowhere to go. Today, we operate two day centers and six crisis response night shelters for homeless families.

Mary’s Place is standing in the gap providing shelter, resources, and hope from the time a family first becomes homeless, until they move into stable housing. They bring families inside at night to keep them safe, warm and together – including extended family members, grandma and grandpa, and family pets. They provide hot meals, laundry facilities, showers, and community.

Our goal is to make it easy to access shelter immediately, and to minimize the time a family spends there before moving on to permanent housing. Mary’s Place staff is constantly innovating and incorporating best practices to make our system more efficient and effective. Every family at one of our shelters is assigned a Housing & Wellness Advocate who works with them to help navigate the system, locate resources, and overcome obstacles. The work to address barriers to employment and housing begins immediately – getting copies of birth certificates and social security cards, helping with resumes and job applications, resolving eviction debts, understanding and working to clear criminal history, addressing mental health issues, teaching financial skills, providing access to health care, securing childcare, and furthering education. With this help and support, families are ready to move successfully into housing as soon as it becomes available.

The Mary’s Place Family Center provides 24×7 shelter, co-located with local service providers to provide comprehensive services and access to resources. Over 20 different organizations come on-site to provide their services in an effort to increase accessibility and minimize travel time and inconvenience for homeless families.

We can’t do this alone, we need the community to come alongside and help to help solve the problem of family homelessness. We are grateful to the many local businesses and congregations who provide teams of volunteers, funding, and vacant buildings for temporary shelters; real estate professionals who contact landlords and help with housing applications; foundations who fund internship programs, medical services, and children’s programs; and individuals who bring meals, share belongings, help with resumes, and read books to children.

The Mary’s Place model is cost effective, efficient, and caring. Last year we provided 60,000 overnight stays at a cost of $14 per bed night. But it’s not enough; families are still sleeping outside in cars, tents, or trailers waiting for a referral to shelter. We must increase easily accessible shelter and ensure that no child sleeps outside in our community tonight.

Crisis response shelter is a critical piece of a comprehensive solution to ending homelessness. At Mary’s Place, we are empowering families experiencing homelessness to rebuild their lives by providing safety, resources, and hope. The time that families spend in shelter at Mary’s Place, on average about 90 days, serves as a launching point, preparing them to move forward successfully to permanent housing. It’s a winning model that we hope to replicate in partnership with cities across the county.