After Desmond Pullen retired from his job as a school principal in 2005, he started volunteering at a local homeless shelter for families, close to his home in Snohomish. Today, Desmond works at that same shelter as an advocate for children living there.
Desmond came to StoryCorps with his 9-year-old granddaughter Thandi Venema to talk about his work at the shelter and how Thandi has become involved.
THANDI: What have you learned from working with families at the shelter?
DESMOND: Sometimes we get the idea that people that are homeless are bums, vagabonds, people who sit outside and smoke cigarettes.
But when I saw children that came, who literally looked lost, and some of them they were blaming themselves for the family’s homelessness, like now what did I do that got us kicked out of the apartment, that got us evicted.
That’s what really got to me, and I felt maybe I can work with them, so that they don’t believe that they are to blame, that no one really chooses to be homeless.
THANDI: Up until I was about like 7 I thought that everyone basically had a home and was pretty much safe all the time. But then I learned that some people don’t really have a home and it made me want to do something.
Me and some other friends try to raise money and we buy like toys or blankets or donate the money to the shelter.
DESMOND: One of the best presents that you guys bought was that, what is it called, a water slide? It’s a plastic mat and you hose it down and the kids slide down. It was gratifying to hear kids laughing, to see kids forgetting that they live in a shelter. That made my day.
THANDI: What are your hopes for the children that you help?
DESMOND: I hope one day to see, in my old age when I’m 99 years old, that these homeless children are going to be the ones that are going to play a big part in trying to end homelessness.
You know, it’s one thing to empathize with people and it’s another thing to do something about it. So I want to thank you for being so sensitive and also for wanting to help.
THANDI: Thank you.
DESMOND: You’re welcome.
This interview was recorded in partnership with the Interfaith Association of Northwest Washington and the YWCA as part of the “Finding Our Way” project. From 2014 to 2015, StoryCorps recorded over 90 interviews with families experiencing homelessness in the Puget Sound area. The work was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The recordings would not have been possible without partnership with the YWCA of Seattle, King and Snohomish; Catholic Community Services of Tacoma; Seattle University’s Center for Strategic Communications; and many other organizations.
To learn how you can help, please visit Seattle University's Project on Family Homeless.
Produced by Eve Claxton for StoryCorps.
Consulting Producer: Dan Collison.
Music: “By Grace” by Podington Bear. Found using the Free Music Archive.