To complement our series Seattle’s Homeless: No End In Sight, we asked organizations who work with homeless people around King County to participate in an online survey.
We wanted to know – direct from the people who do this work every day – what is most challenging about providing services for the homeless right now? And what, perhaps, do outsiders misunderstand about the work?
A selection of responses we received are published below; some have been edited for brevity.
To add your perspective, complete the survey. We may update this post with additional contributions.
"Turning away moms, families with children, each night from our day center. Even with our now six emergency family night shelters across downtown Seattle, we still turn away 5-6 families with children a night. It's heartbreaking." —Marty Hartman, executive director, Mary’s Place
"... Locating housing programs and landlords willing to house folks with a criminal history. It is so discouraging for clients who are working hard to rebuild their lives to continue to face discrimination in housing, time and time again. And of course, the absolute lack of affordable housing in the Seattle area." —Allison Howard, housing case manager, King County Drug Court
"Seeing first hand that our client base (homeless women) is getting older and have more needs than five years ago, I am certain that our costs will grow significantly in the next five years." —Natalie Reber, executive director, Hospitality House
"A lot being expected for a relatively low wage. And protecting myself emotionally from burnout." —Liz Speigel, Safe Place coordinator, YouthCare
"It can be a difficult process to witness, to watch someone die while the systems don't come together in time in order to get them the support that they need. It's also difficult to have people die suddenly and unexpectedly outside or in a horrific way. I feel honored to know the people who I know through my work, and I grieve them when they pass.
From a work perspective, the biggest challenge is trying to coordinate services within systems that approach our people from a very punitive perspective. For instance, I once went to the hospital with someone. The receptionist at the ER told him, 'You can't come here because you have already been here too many times already.'
I've also had hospitals wait until I leave and then discharge my people to the streets ... there sometimes seem to be impossible barriers to overcome in order to help someone achieve a greater level of stability." —Dawn Klapach Charm, case manager, REACH project
"It is a misunderstanding that the population we serve is vastly different than us, the staff. We all struggle together." –Helen Hammer, housing advocate, LifeWire
"People misunderstand our client base. Most people subscribe to homeless myths. 'People choose to be homeless,' 'they could work if they wanted to,' etc. For homeless women, domestic violence can be a driving factor of the homelessness. Women are hit particularly hard in a recession and many of our clients are educated, have had careers and are experiencing homelessness for the first time." —Natalie Reber, executive director, Hospitality House
"Everything. People do not typically respond with enthusiasm when hearing about helping homeless addicts." —Mary Pacha, case manager, REACH program
"People don't understand the number of homeless families in hiding, afraid they'll be broken up." —Marty Hartman, executive director, Mary's Place
"... Homelessness can't be defined by one, or even 10, reasons. It is hard to explain that homelessness is very rarely caused by one singular incident. More often, we see women and families who lost a job, had a prolonged illness and were evicted. We see more combined reasons than anything else. Making people aware of the variety and complexity of these reasons takes time to explain, and people are often just looking for a drive-by answer." —Liz McDaniel, program director, Mary’s Place
See The Data: Who Are Seattle's Homeless?
"As a social worker, I get to hear people's faulty perspectives around homelessness and addiction every time I explain what I do for a living. For instance, people still tell me that people who are homeless are choosing that lifestyle and don't want housing. People also think that the most challenging part of my work is working with people who are homeless and addicted. That's actually the easiest part for me. I enjoy the people I work with — their resilience and creativity, their humor in the midst of adversity. I think the average person doesn't understand how much beauty there can be in the midst of suffering." —Dawn Klapach Charm, case manager, REACH project
"There is often this assumption that there are so many resources and programs available for homeless people ... The reality is, yes, we are a resource-rich county, but significant cuts to a variety of social service programs over the years have drastically reduced our safety network for the low-income populations we serve." —Allison Howard, housing case manager, King County Drug Court
Read more: What Homelessness Looks Like Here
"At times the general public, those in leadership positions, decision-makers have trouble understanding poverty in general." –Susan Vaughn, regional chief of operations, Catholic Community Services