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Justice Leadership Northwest takes group on tour of history, approaches
Pilgrimage introduces participants to homelessness

The first Justice Leadership Northwest Pilgrimage on Homelessness was a rousing success, said organizer Rich Gamble, executive director of the Justice Leadership Program of the PNC.

Pilgrimage Participants and staff from the Pacific Apartments met with Jon Gould (center) who shared the story of how the group “Operation Homestead” occupied the Pacific Apartments in order to save the building as a source of low income housing. The Pacific Apartments are now managed by Plymouth Housing a low income housing program started by Plymouth UCC.

Photo courtesy of Rich Gamble

During Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week—from March 26 to 28—nine people spent about seven hours each day steeping themselves in the issue of homelessness and exploring social justice responses.

Participants heard from some of the key leaders in the struggle to end homelessness in Seattle.

The first day started with a history of homelessness.

Prior to the late 1970s homelessness was not a word in common use in America, said Rich.

Homelessness grew out of a confluence of three major movements in America:

• The first was the redevelopment of urban centers. Buildings that had been sources of affordable housing for low-income people were knocked down to make way for office buildings, condos, sports stadiums and in, Seattle, the Convention Center.

• Between 1978 and 1983 under President Ronald Reagan, the primary federal program tasked with building low-income housing had its budget cut by more than 75 percent.

• Adding to this was the release of people from state mental institutions without the build-up of local support systems for people with mental health issues.

“These three forces converged to create homelessness as we now know it,” said Rich.

The focus of the pilgrimage was to look at how people in Seattle have responded to the crisis of homelessness.

Over the course of the pilgrimage, participants heard from a homeless shelter chaplain, a community organizer of homeless people, the executive director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, the founder of Real Change newspaper, an advocate who has worked for nearly 40 years to slow down the loss of affordable housing, an activist who was a leader in a group who occupied an abandoned building and through their efforts saved the building as a source of low-income housing, among others.

Participants visited a homeless shelter, a tent and tiny house encampment, a tenant supported transitional housing site, and model housing program for the most vulnerable of those who are homeless alcoholics.

The Pilgrimage organizers were Hunter Paulson-Smith and Rich from the Justice Leadership Program and Keystone UCC. They were joined by David Bloom former associate director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle in planning the three-day event.  

Evaluations of the pilgrimage by the participants were uniformly positive. They agreed that the most inspiring impact of the event was meeting those who have spent decades working to end homelessness.

One participant said that the pilgrimage “restored my faith in my call social justice.”

Inspiring people to join the ranks of advocates, activists and organizers was the goal of the pilgrimage and all the Justice Leadership Programs.

“All the participants in the pilgrimage said that they were inspired to become more involved in the work to end homelessness,” said Rich.

Given the success of this pilot program it is likely that there will be future pilgrimages, possibly covering other social justice issues.

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Pacific Northwest United Church News © April-May 2018

Pacific NW United Church Conference News April 2018 - Justice Leadership Northwest Pilgrimage takes participants to sites to learn about homelessness


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