Jewels Helping Hands runs with volunteers
Jewels Helping Hands grew from a single mother's desire to heal others after healing from traumas in her life, having stayed 16 years in an abusive marriage.
"I started doing this because I was hurt and broken. I knew I had hurt people in the process," said Julie Garcia. "It took years for me to reverse the trauma I caused and help my children heal so my grandchildren do not experience trauma.
Although she did not experience homelessness, she empathizes with people on the street. So in the winter of 2017, she started handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in front of the House of Charity.
Julie continued the next winter and, when it was cold, she recruited friends, family and neighbors to give coats, blankets, clothing and shoes to hand out. Reaching out on social media, she was amazed by the community support.
"One carload of clothes became two carloads and then three truck loads," Julie said. "People kept donating."
The group who helped hand out food and clothing called themselves Jewels Helping Hands.
In 2018, they opened a warming center and delivered hot, home-cooked meals that volunteers served every night on the streets and by bridges. They served 100,000 meals.
In 2019, Jewels Helping Hands became a nonprofit so it could apply for the City of Spokane's Request for Proposal (RFP) to open a shelter in the old Grocery Outlet at Havana and Sprague. They did not get the contract, but continued to feed people.
Because Jewels Helping Hands served meals in 2018 at three warming shelters run by the Guardian Foundation, that agency gave Jewels a four-stall shower trailer.
"We raised $2,000 to make it functional over the summer, when we ran two cooling centers at 215 W. Second," Julie said. "In October 2019, we gained a $740,000 city contract to open a warming center at Cannon St."
When COVID hit in January 2020, Jewels sought to be fiscally responsible, using the $740,000 to run COVID shelters at both Cannon St. and the Downtown Public Library, serving 15,899 unique individuals 159 days. Of those, 49 found permanent housing.
Jewels Helping Hands' 95 employees are homeless or formerly homeless people who gain job skills so they can move out of homelessness.
"People need a second chance and a patient employer to teach them skills to move into other jobs as they overcome barriers from addiction and criminal behaviors," Julie said. "Most move to other jobs in homeless work, such as with the Salvation Army, the Guardians, City Gate and CHAS.
"We give them stability and experience for their resumes," she said.
Julie grew up in Grand Junction, Colo., the daughter of the pastor of a Hispanic church. From her mother, she learned to do community service.
After marrying, Julie moved to Spokane when her husband came for a job.
"I had experienced eight of 10 ACES (adverse childhood experiences). I made some bad choices," she said.
She began feeling sick in 2014, when she was 44. In 2015, she had two heart attacks.
"I decided to fix my life, heal and be productive. I looked up trauma based healing on the internet and learned from House of Charities' trauma informed care," Julie said.
"My goal is to help more people than I had hurt. I wanted to give people hope by using my life experiences," she said. "I'm not a counselor, drug therapist or housing specialist. I just apply what worked for me."
"I succeeded because people loved me, believed in me, said I was worthy and knew I could succeed. Even though I did not struggle with addiction or homelessness, I believe in others. I tell them they are worthy and will succeed," she said.
Jewels Helping Hands is "just a group of folks" who began providing shelter and connected with people who were good at doing that, Julie said.
"We do not try to reinvent what is being done, but refer people," she said. "We work in the community with anyone assisting homeless people, regardless of their approach.
"People need one-on-one personal connections to overcome addiction or criminal behavior which may come from being homeless," she said.
"Eliminating trauma is a slow process of teaching people to respond rather than react to their situations," Julie said.
"We can put people into housing, but unless we address their trauma, they may lose the housing again," she explained. "They need to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves, that they are part of a community and have a support system.
"We will not fix their issues, but listen, give advice and refer people to resources so they emerge from survival mode," Julie said. "We also believe people need accountability."
People cannot move ahead unless their basic needs are met. Many in poverty struggle to feed, clothe and house their family. They feel threatened every day.
"Many live one paycheck away from being homeless. It's scary," she said. "The mental health struggles are horrible. The homeless do not have doors to shut to hide their indiscretions."
"Spokane struggles to provide basic needs. We lack low barrier shelter space," she said. "The city still lacks warming centers. On cold nights, we bring people inside at night without expensive programs.
Now Jewels Helping Hands runs a 24-hour, non-city-funded warming center for 30 persons at City Church, 3816 N. Madison. It is open until Feb. 28. With volunteers and community funding, Julie said, they can provide 30 beds for $26,000 a month.
Every night it's full with 20 regulars and 10 who vary.
Jewels Helping Hands also distributes food boxes—50,000 pounds of food a week with its mobile food bank.
At their mobile clothing bank from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays, at the Monroe Service Center, 2003 N. Monroe St., they provide showers, hot meals, haircuts, a laundry card and a bus pass, along with clothing.
They also offer free showers in six locations each week.
Jewels Helping Hands has a nightly outreach to those outside when shelters are full or closed. Four nights a week, they accompany Street Medicine on its rounds to assess people and provide minor medical treatment.
"We serve homeless people from Coeur d'Alene to Cheney, in camps and on streets," said Julie, who volunteers with it. "We are on the street 24/7, because we know crises happen at 2 a.m."
Julie said Jewels Helping Hands doubled its case load in the last six months and hopes the eviction moratorium will be extended.
"People need housing, stabilization, and places to stay without being criminalized for sitting on the streets. Police still sweep homeless people off streets even though it's against the law if there are no shelter beds," she added.
Jason Green, her husband of four years who helped start Jewels Helping Hands, is CFO of the Eat Good Food Group, which serves 11 restaurants.
From working with four downtown restaurants, he knows Jewels Helping Hands shares common ground with them: not wanting homeless people to have to sleep on streets.
In Jason and Julie's home, they have up to nine people experiencing homelessness stay at a time.
Each person living there has to have an exit plan and agrees not to use drugs or alcohol.
Fourteen families who have stayed with them now work and have their own homes, Julie pointed out.
While her belief in God motivates her commitment, Jewels Helping Hands does not require that homeless people believe in God for them to help.
"Where would Jesus be? Jesus would not be in a church but would be where the least are, places we venture every day," she said.
"The world needs more helpers, people who roll up their sleeves and help. What better way to show my God than to live God's love," she added.
Jewels Helping Hands receives support and volunteers from many churches who share that belief.
Believing that "how we see people is how we treat people," Julie appreciates that board member Maurice Smith helps Jewels Helping Hands change the conversation and overcome misunderstandings about people experiencing homelessness by sharing individuals' stories in video documentaries.
For information, call 263-5502, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Jewels Helping Hands website.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February, 2021