Different solutions to a common issue

Early this fall, Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency for homelessness in Seattle. In response to this declaration, additional funding has been granted to publically funded organizations such as Mary’s Place, located at the heart of downtown Seattle. It’s great to see the Mayor take action to alleviate the need by increasing the number of beds in Seattle (this is just one example, you can find the full proposed investment here), but I have actually been more impressed with privately funded efforts in the area; specifically the coordination between Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and New Horizons to open a new overnight youth shelter. The only privately-funded young adult shelter in Washington provides an alternative to the conventional public approach and shows us why different  participants can work together to address a multi-faceted issue.

I actually work at this new shelter and to be honest, didn’t quite know the difference between other organizations. As I began to work overnight shifts, I began to hear a common trend from the guests; they are fully aware of their options, but choose where they stay each night based on the “vibe” of the shelter and organization. Certain cliques or groups of young adults stay at different organizations and having another option for people helps remove tension between groups and individuals. People who might otherwise worry about who they sleep next to in the shelter have the freedom to process through other aspects of their life such as drug use, unemployment, housing and whatnot.

Our group in this course has touched on the necessity of choice in decision-making and I have observed firsthand its positive impact within the context of homelessness in Seattle. Subtle differences in staff structure, organizational approaches and implementation of facilities and programming make a difference. Certain young adults have consistently come back by choice because of how their needs are met. This is not to say that one organization is doing a better job than the other. Differences in preference are to be celebrated; this provides more opportunities to help support young adults work towards their goals and encourage healthy living. Standardization is convenient- you can predict the outcome and have more control over the process, but diversity matches the characteristics of the challenge at hand. You are more likely to meet the needs of the population you are serving when your solutions are as different and unique as the people they look to help.


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About miriamhacker

A native to the Pacific Northwest, Miriam completed both her undergraduate and graduate studies in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington. Her current research interests focus on the relationships between cultural understanding and access to sanitation technology as well as social sustainability in international development. Prior to her doctoral studies, Miriam worked in stormwater regulation for a local municipality. Outside of research, Miriam enjoys volunteering with a local non-profit organization, exploring local coffee shops and watching professional basketball.

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