Dear friends, my heart is full of gratitude, appreciation, love, and compassion for the opportunity to serve as a member of the EGH team. Prior to my arrival in September 2017, I had limited knowledge and understanding of what it means to be homeless, and, as quiet as its kept, I still have more to learn. I embraced this new calling, I drew upon and was comforted by the Psalms to help with experiences of sorrow and joy, hesitation and confidence, pain and comfort, desperateness and hope, anger and contentment, as well as retaliation and forgiveness. Hence, Psalm 151: Praise for the Simple Things. Wait, hold it! Before an opinion is formed or judgment is made, let me quickly explain my song of praise, my victory through prayer, and the opportunity to humbly share my praise with you.
Psalm 151 will never be included in the sacred text, but it will forever be written in my heart. For the past 15 months, I have been enrolled in an intense continuing education program of pastoral care and counseling with a focus on the question, “How do you mend a broken heart?” I am now able to offer a response. I had to show up and be willing to help someone find their way. Yes, as I discovered, some behaviors and attitudes required a bit quieter, yet a confident set of skills to help one woman at a time come from behind the mask they wear to survive on the lonely, dangerous streets associated with homelessness. This undertaking required me to set aside my ego, realize that showing up on the scene was not about me, but about service unto God. I have never experienced homelessness, (it could happen), but I have experienced rejection, injustice, discrimination and the efforts of some to keep me in my place. Nonetheless, I chose to jump in, partner with staff and volunteers to do the best we could to help at least one of God’s children. There was no room for me to ‘fake the funk’ – I needed to show up for real or not at all, which I did with the help of outstanding volunteers and team members.
Over time, I felt less and less like an outsider, fear of failing decreased, and the self-imposed weight on my shoulders became lighter, my confidence increased as I prayed more and more about everything and took notice of the support surrounding me in the faces of the women, I had the privilege to serve. (Whew! What a long sentence – yet necessary!) Then one day it hit me. I discovered what energized me to keep going! I saw Pride, Determination, and Resilience in the faces of the women. Yes, the women who come to EGH are homeless, and they are filled with Pride, Determination, and Resilience. They battle the elements of life each and every day and they come to EGH for just a little rest, a morsel of food, the opportunity to wash their clothes, enjoy a shower, use the computers to search for a job or an apartment, all in an effort to seek help for a better life, maintain their dignity and their integrity. I’m full. The women of EGH taught me, they took me under their wings and helped me to fly high. They prayed for me. They encouraged me to listen to the cawing of the crows, to respect the earth, to stick my feet in the water! They showed me how to smile when doing so was absolutely the last thing they wanted to do. The women of EGH are the bomb-diggity. They are examples of awesome sauce. For many, the women of EGH appear to be wanderers; however, make no mistake that as they wander, they teach us to be mindful of those less fortunate. My reward for fully showing up was the gift, on many occasions, of hearing a woman speak for herself in her own voice.
My friends, my season is complete and it’s time for me to rest, be still, play, travel and listen as I receive instructions for the new season in my life. It’s someone else’s turn.
Thank you for every act of kindness and leadership. Thank you for the laughter, hugs, dance moves, and spoken words. Today, I am a much stronger, wiser and more aware person because of what you poured into my spirit in your own special way. Nurture “Your Everyday Spirituality (YES).” Remember to say, “Yes, Yes” when you discover something wonderful about the fruit of your spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) — rise, my friends, rise my sisters and “stay woke.”
Rev. Valerie A. Smith, M. Div. (aka Ms. Valerie/Ms. V)
For the past year and a half, Paige Chernow (L) and Mary Hillman (R) have been making weekly visits to assist clients with computer use. Paige is the Adult Services Librarian at the University Branch of the Seattle Public Library (located just a few blocks from EGH). Mary is a retired librarian who is an active volunteer and a member of University Lutheran Church, which is where the EGH Day Center is located.
“We help EGH clients search and apply for employment, create or recover their access to email and social media accounts, or simply find bus routes to local social service agencies,” said Paige. “We also provide referrals for health clinics, nonprofits that assist with furniture and household items and how to locate and apply for discounted cell phone providers.”
In addition to providing computer help, Paige and Mary try to build relationships with clients. “Just listening is sometimes the most important service we can offer,” said Mary.
Paige and Mary have also encouraged clients to go to the library for additional help and services. Paige has been able to waive fines on clients’ library accounts so that they can use their library cards again to check out materials. EGH clients who go to the University District branch have reported feeling more comfortable approaching library staff for assistance.
We are excited to launch our new Job Readiness Program soon! We anticipate starting this summer with women living in the Transitional House and adding a class for Day Center clients in the fall. The Program will be divided into three separate modules:
- The first module explores individuals and their personal operating styles.
- The second module explores strengths and communication.
- The third module is a time to review what has been learned, practice interviewing and meet one-on-one with a coach.
It is our hope that the Job Readiness Program will prepare and help to guide our clients in their efforts to re-enter and successfully navigate the current job market.
At times, I find myself getting discouraged when reading statistics concerning homelessness, such as the growing numbers of people without homes compounded by the decrease in affordable housing throughout our region. What I find helpful in fostering optimism and hope is reminding myself of strides that are being made. For instance, on a legislative level, the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness just last month celebrated that every single one of their legislative priority bills passed at the state level! Examples of what was passed into law:
- HB 1570: increased and protected a significant portion of funding for programs that prevent and end homelessness (raised an additional $24.6 million for homelessness assistance and services per year).
- HB 2578: banned discrimination based on a renter’s source of income.
- HB 2667: removed barriers to housing assistance for people with disabilities and seniors by increasing access to HEN (Housing and Essential Needs funding) and preventing homelessness when people switch from HEN to ABD (Aging, Blind or Disabled cash assistance program.)
Closer to home, EGH is also celebrating recent successes. We had the most successful Annual Spring Dinner ever in March – 14 sponsors and 350 attendees – yielding income totaling over $180,000. Our board of directors continues to grow in both talents and numbers, with 14 of the 15 available seats filled as of April. Given the expanding numbers and needs of women, we rented additional space at University Lutheran Church beginning in January. This enables us to plan for a critical initiative: expanding the number of days that our Day Center is open. Our EGH strategy is to add one day at a time, and as reflected in the featured story on Annie, Sunday is the hardest day on those who are experiencing homelessness and thus will be the next day to be added.
I thank you for your support of EGH and invite you to consider additional ways you might get involved. Opportunities abound! For instance, you could:
- Check our website for donated items needed and sponsor a neighborhood collection event
- Call us or visit our website to explore existing volunteer opportunities or perhaps generate new possibilities
- Reach out to me for a tour or a chat (206-729-0262, extension 1007)
- Tell your friends or others in your circles about supporting Elizabeth Gregory Home by contributing through Seattle Foundation’s GIVEBIG event on May 9th
There has certainly been no shortage of change at EGH over the past year, and I’m excited to share plans around what’s next.
But first I want to highlight what is, or has been. A year has gone by since our Day Center expansion was completed. In that span of time, new programs emerged (such as showers, established resting space, knitting, Qigong, Coordinated Entry for All assessments, and managing finances classes.) We welcomed two new employees (Elizabeth Stevenson, our Development Manager, and Cynthia Morehouse Dugan, our Day Center Coordinator,) as well as three new board members (Roger Morris, Glen Garrison and Jay Corker Free.) We were honored by gifts of financial support from new sources, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bravo Roofing, and Wheat Ridge Ministries.
So what’s next?
We bid farewell to Maisy Lane, who has served as Program Manager since September 2015, and welcome Christine Carr in that capacity effective July 1st. July also marks the first time that EGH joins United Way of King County as a partner agency, enabling us to participate in their coordinated efforts to combat homelessness. We are in the throes of developing new programs derived from client-identified needs, such as job readiness skills training and onsite health care screenings and referrals. We will be managing a much-needed refurbishing of our transitional house furniture, thanks to the generosity of the Archibald Foundation.
Our capacity to fulfill our mission of providing a welcoming and respectful refuge where homeless and at-risk women have access to compassionate care would not be possible without the synergistic efforts of employees, volunteers, board and advisory council members, and the community of individual friends and donors.
With deepest gratitude for all of your support, I thank you.
As you enter Elizabeth Gregory Home’s Day Center in the morning, you are often greeted by the smell of biscuits hot from the oven. A hot protein-dense breakfast is already on the table as women file into our kitchen and dining area to eat after a night in a shelter.
Sharing a meal at Elizabeth Gregory Home is an essential part of the welcoming feeling at the core of EGH. “We’re family!” said Teresa. “We sit at the table in the kitchen and we talk, we tell jokes and laugh a lot.”
Thanks to our partnership with Food Lifeline, volunteers drive each Wednesday to the Food Lifeline warehouse and pick-up 1,500 – 1,700 pounds of food for the EGH Day Center.
In 2016, EGH received 86,865 pounds of food valued at $138,984. This food is prepared by clients, staff and volunteers as congregate meals, in addition to allowing individuals to cook food for themselves. This provides rare and welcome opportunities for women to address special dietary needs or cultural expression.
Several women have earned their food handler’s permits in order to both help prepare meals for the Day Center, as well as acquire job readiness skills. “Getting here first thing to cook really helps me to get out of bed in the morning and it gives me self-confidence,” Linda said.
Every Thursday, Food Lifeline’s program known as “Seattle’s Table” facilitates the delivery of prepackaged foods, such as salads and sandwiches that women can either eat at our Day Center or take with them at the end of the day. This nationally recognized program gleans prepared and perishable foods from local restaurants, hotels, universities and corporate cafeterias and delivers it to over 50 meal programs in King County. For more information about this and other Food Lifeline programs, visit their website at www.foodlifeline.org.
Images from top right volunteers Lonness and Amy who regularly pick up food on Wednesday’s were able to pack 1,372 pounds of food into Amy’s Prius.
Being homeless can be grueling. Imagine trying to get a good night’s sleep in a night shelter with as many as twenty-five strangers sleeping somewhere between a few feet to a few inches away from you. You have to worry about the safety of your personal belongings, as well as prepared to be woken up throughout the night with the noises of others. “You can’t let your guard down to really sleep deeply because you have everything you own with you,” said Mary, one of our clients. “Even though it might not be worth much, when it’s everything you have, it’s important. So you keep it close and try to keep an eye open when you try to sleep.”
Part of Elizabeth Gregory Home’s mission is to provide a welcoming and respectful refuge for homeless women, which is why EGH launched a sleeping program in September. By offering a safe, quiet place for women to rest during the day, they are better equipped physically and emotionally to tackle tasks that will help them move towards getting housed and accessing a source of income. For now, EGH is the only drop-in Day Center in the Seattle area that allows women to rest during the day.
EGH is incredibly grateful for the use of the University Lutheran Church’s choir room during the hours our drop-in Day Center is open Monday through Friday. The space is quiet, serene and comfortably accommodates up to eight mats at a time.
Thanks to everyone who helped to make showers at the EGH Day Center a reality! The women we serve are happily showering to their hearts content.
Special thanks to Nalani Askov for creating this womderful showers video.
Fifteen years ago, the members of University Lutheran Church (ULC) decided to make some space available within its facility for a new mission. After a year-long process of inquiry and research within the congregation and in the community, a task force concluded that this space would best be used for homeless women.
A board was elected to pursue this vision, establish a separate 501(c)3 organization, raise funds for the new organization, and determine when and how to commence operation. Over the course of the next 4 years, the groundwork was laid and funds were raised to open a transitional home for Elizabeth Gregory Home (EGH). A year later (2007), a day center was opened.
I have been privileged to be a significant part of this journey, both as the pastor of ULC and as a board member of EGH for the past 15 years. Although having been credited with being the “founder” of EGH, this fabulous organization would not have happened had it not been for the vision and support of the members of ULC and of the broader community, as well as the staff and board members throughout the years. Back then, everyone knew that homelessness was on the rise and that women needed their own place to find refuge apart from the men who tended to prey on them. The path that was chosen to meet this need was pretty obvious. All that it took was the desire, the will, some tenacity, and the finances to put the vision into action. The current stability of EGH is a credit to all who have been a part of this endeavor.
As I leave the board of EGH and depart from ULC, I will cherish all of you who have been on the front lines of making Elizabeth Gregory Home what it is today, as well as all of you who have ensured the viability and sustainability of EGH with your gifts, time, and prayers. Most importantly, I will hold in my memory all of the women who have entered the doors of EGH and found a place to call “home,” whether for a moment, a week, a month, or a year. To leave this place knowing that the women of EGH will continue to have this home as their refuge is a dream come true and a source of hope for all of the women who are yet to pass through the doors of EGH.
The EGH Annual Beatles-Sing-A-Long was held on January 23rd. More than 200 people sang and danced the night away!
Thanks to the hard work of our beloved Plasticine Porters and numerous volunteers, more than $3,400 was raised to help homeless women through Elizabeth Gregory Home’s programs and services.