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An inside look at life on Seattle's streets

Harsh scenes stand cheek to cheek with symbols of hope during a night out with the Union Gospel Mission.

Editor's Note: Twice a day, the Union Gospel Mission, a faith-based homeless services organization, deploys teams of volunteers throughout Seattle to provide assistance to homeless individuals and families. Known as Search and Rescue, the nighttime contingent of that program distributes food, drinks, clothes, shoes, socks, blankets and other personal grooming products to those living on the margins. Kyle Kesterson, the founder and CEO of Freak'n Genius and himself formerly homeless, is one of those volunteers. Here, he documents a night on the street.

Union Gospel Mission

Dru, Director of Search & Rescue, welcomes the volunteers. Formerly homeless himself, Dru has been clean and sober and working for Union Gospel Mission for the last three years. His brief introduction highlights the purpose of the Union Gospel Mission, what to expect, how to engage and house rules for maintaining safety.

Union Gospel Mission

The Search & Rescue team combs various areas of the city, looking for people to serve. Michael, the man living in this trailer, chose to show his optimism and hope through the smiley face emblazoned on the back of his trailer.

Union Gospel Mission

These two American flags tell two different stories. Kato, who lives in what's considered a mansion on the street, is trying to survive at rock bottom, while large corporations conduct business as usual. The same country, the same city, the same neighborhood, the same people.

Union Gospel Mission

When Search & Rescue first approached this man, the team wasn't sure whether he was even alive. When he did come to, distant and obviously very hungry, he began shoveling food into his mouth. The resources that Search & Rescue provides often come at a crucial time in a person's life, when individuals feel beyond hope and may be considering suicide.

Union Gospel Mission

A simple prayer from a compassionate stranger can provide a burst of light in a dark time. This man prays with members of the Search & Rescue team.

Union Gospel Mission

Most people don't actively choose homelessness, but addiction, mental health issues, poor choices and unfortunate circumstances can all lead there. After giving up trying to find a vein in his arm, this man searches for one in his leg.

Union Gospel Mission

Down near the waterfront, under the viaduct, is an area referred to as Rat City, where people live in harsh conditions, often fighting drug addictions. One volunteer hand-delivers sandwiches to Rat City residents.

Union Gospel Mission

With a lot of time on their hands, some choose to read inspirational material, like Steve Jobs' biography.

Union Gospel Mission

Sixty-two-year-old Michael Anthony put his two daughters (a doctor and dentist) through school, before walking in on his wife and best friend together. He says a fight over the matter escalated quickly, and his best friend pulled a gun on him. Being an ex-Marine, Anthony managed to get the gun away from him and shot his best friend. This year he was released from prison after serving five years for manslaughter.

Union Gospel Mission

Meet Bella. Dogs are a regular companion to those on the streets, and they too need love and support. At the time of this photo, Bella was living in a tent shelter with a temporary owner and her brother, Thor. Her original owner wound up in prison, leaving Bella and Thor to live with his girlfriend, who is unable to care for them. Just this week, Bella found a forever home, but Thor is still looking for a permanent home. Every Wednesday, Mission Gospel Mission provides a free veterinary clinic for pets living on the streets.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 3, 8:47 a.m. Inappropriate

We like to talk 'neighborhoods' in Seattle but often forget this one. Excellent article, brilliant photos ... more please!

chazbear

Posted Thu, Jul 3, 2:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Kyle, your photo descriptions were irritatingly sappy. I think your message is real, but you might think more about using adult language, and not trite phrases if you really want to garner stronger support for your project. The 'forever home' language for the dog makes me want to barf, not because I don't want the dog to have a permanent home (I do), but the use of the English language for serious problems shouldn't be the level of what a 5th grader uses.

Posted Tue, Jul 8, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

I think all English lit grammar elitist should keep their judgmental mouths shut.

Instead of insulting the messenger about his writing skill's keep your eye on the message and maybe you will learn something like empathy.

By the way, only an anal retentive person would be more worried about the way a writer wrote about a homeless dog than the experience the victims of homelessness experience every day.

jeff

Posted Tue, Jul 8, 4:42 p.m. Inappropriate

My opinion and yours are equal.

And doesn't that just rub you the wrong way?!

Posted Thu, Jul 3, 5:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Hi common1sense, yes the message is real, thank you for highlighting that. The language served its purpose and described what was happening, and if anything, was toned down quite a bit to how it affected me personally and my own perspective to it. It's raw, emotional, and jarring. It sticks with you, and you want to do something with it. If you haven't gone out and experienced it, give it a shot, maybe it'll help soften some of your cynicism. Each time you share your thoughts, you're either building momentum towards solving the issue, or you're a vacuum helping widen the vortex of despair and destruction. You have an opportunity to use your powers for good, my friend.

Thanks.

Posted Sat, Jul 5, 7:08 p.m. Inappropriate

As cynical as I may be, I did gave you constructive criticism in terms of helping you enhance your writing skills, instead of suggesting (this is the cynical coming out, because you invited it) that you posed your photos for extra drama, and wrote prose that didn't stick with me, simply annoyed me because you wrote silly things such as "With a lot of time on their hands, some choose to read inspirational material, like Steve Jobs' biography." Mostly I think you found the magazine in a pile, stacked it just so in the photo, so you could write something attention getting like that.

To each their own. Editors exist for a reason Kyle, and it's best to take criticism gracefully if you're out selling a message.

If you're just out to sell photos or make a name for yourself, well then you don't care about my editorial input.

Posted Thu, Jul 3, 8:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Good article, great pictures Kyle. The work these volunteers do is a true labor of love. I agree with you that direct experience often is a powerful way to learn.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The only enemy is someone whose story you haven't heard."

nwcitizen

Posted Fri, Jul 4, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

The author doesn't mention that as a volunteer with UGM, he was required to sign a Statement of Faith declaring that Jesus was his personal savior, etc. UGM does a lot of good work in the community and has a deep institutional knowledge of homelessness; it is also one of the few aid organizations which requires that employees, volunteers, and often clients align with its narrow definition of religious faith.

sarah90

Posted Fri, Jul 4, 2:40 p.m. Inappropriate

How horrible,faith. Whats next. What is it you do sara90 to help the homeless?

tjp

Posted Sat, Jul 5, 7:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Why should any brand of religion/faith be necessary to help the homeless?

Posted Sun, Jul 6, 1:53 p.m. Inappropriate

you meant to reply to sara90, your just confused.
No need for faith at all. With research you will see the vast majority of responses to most tragedy come from the faith based community.

No reason to knock faith. Don't like it, don't bother with it.

tjp

Posted Tue, Jul 8, 4:46 p.m. Inappropriate

tjp, the way the comment system works here, there was no way to reply to Sarah90, so it hit under your comment.

And to Kyle, you are pretty darned patronizing.

Posted Sat, Jul 5, 7:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey Sarah, I didn't mention it, because I have no idea what you're talking about. The only thing I've ever signed is my name on an iPad to state I was present that day.

UGM may have a foundation in its faith, and some volunteers come from the community in their church, but they've been pretty informal and unassertive in putting their beliefs onto others, but rather lead by example.

There is a short prayer that is said before going out, and some of the homeless ask you if you'd say a prayer for them, but 99% of the time and energy is just focused on loving people with loving words and actions. Also to note, an athiest volunteered just last week and had a great time.

Posted Sat, Jul 5, 6:45 p.m. Inappropriate

I know this, Kyle, for one good reason: I tried to register as a volunteer at a roving winter shelter in my area last year, and was told by a UGM employee that I must sign the Statement of Faith. Others in my community know that was true, because they looked at the volunteer form themselves. If UGM has changed its policies over the last year, I applaud them doing so.

sarah90

Posted Sun, Jul 6, 8:27 p.m. Inappropriate

This is UGM's statement of faith, which they ask volunteers to sign:
Statement of faith

"Serving those in greatest need is how we put our faith into action. We serve anyone in need regardless of their religious beliefs or backgrounds.

We affirm our Christian identity with the following statements:
1.We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the infallible, authoritative Word of God.

2.We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three Persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

3.We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father and in His personal return in power and glory.

4.We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful men, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.

5.We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

6.We believe in the bodily resurrection of the just and unjust, the everlasting blessedness of the saved and the everlasting conscious punishment of the lost.

7.We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in Christ."

sarah90

Posted Mon, Jul 7, 9:15 a.m. Inappropriate

UGM employee here - While our staff must sign a statement of faith, our volunteers do not have to. Our volunteers come from many different backgrounds, and are not judged or patronized for their beliefs - just like we do not judge or patronize those that we are serving.

Great article Kyle!

Posted Mon, Jul 7, 1:07 p.m. Inappropriate

"it is also one of the few aid organizations which requires that employees, volunteers, and often clients align with its narrow definition of religious faith."

Why bother to let the facts get in the way, sarah90?

CharlieE

Posted Mon, Jul 7, 2:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Sarah, I understand you're responding from a place of frustration from your previous experience with UGM and seemingly not being aligned in beliefs, but if you take a step back, you'll see that the point of this piece was to highlight the unfortunate and largely overlooked reality that is happening every night on the streets of our city.

Whether UGM, as an organization, is a fit for you, I'd ask that you find other constructive ways to participating in our poverty issue, whether it be hands on with other volunteer efforts, or a productive conversation here on Crosscut.

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 9:20 p.m. Inappropriate

It's a place of concern, Kyle. I understand the aim of your article, and don't quarrel with it, and my participation in advocating for homeless services is already full up, but you couldn't have known that, I realize, since you don't know me. What I'd suggest is that you understand that when you place articles in today's journalism, you get comments, and those comments may be critical. That's difficult to get used to, I know, but get used to it you must, or stop writing articles. The former would be best, if you enjoy writing and want to get your point across.

What I am increasingly worried about is the expanding role of proselytizing organizations in the provision of human services. UGM has its own criteria for clients and guests as well as volunteers, and in accordance with their religious beliefs, they are not a harm-reduction provider of services. That means that if someone blows anything -- .001 -- on a breathalyzer, that person does not get a place in a shelter. Very few other providers are that strict, including many which come from other religious religious background. The Archdiocese and the Lutherans provide services and I greatly admire what they do. As a matter of fact, most services are indeed provided by religious organizations, if they stopped doing so, we would be in a horrific situation. So my criticism is not due to what you call my non-alignment of beliefs with UGM, but what they do as a result of their beliefs. From what I've read of Jesus, I'd bet that he would agree to giving help, and accepting help, without such strict requirements.

sarah90

Posted Mon, Jul 14, 8:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Hey Sarah, thanks for your comment. I do fully understand creating and sharing content to a large, and unknown audience, leads to a variety of reactions. Some of those reactions are from a place of constructive criticism and worth a thoughtful response, which I'm happy to engage in conversations with and learn from, which is where I think your most recent comment fits.

Some comments come off as just a bit uninformed and need more context, which is where I'd put your original comment in, because it appeared you thought I was intentionally leaving out details you felt were important which I knew nothing of, and I personally don't have the same emotional response to the organization I've been volunteering with.

Then of course there are the straight up self-centered and destruction-oriented trolls that think just because they can put a series of words together in a seemingly intellectual manner, that their voice is worth being heard. common1sense lives and feeds in this grimy bucket.

I personally appreciate that you've taken the time and energy to respond more thoughtfully with your second paragraph, and I gained new perspective that I didn't previously have. At this point in time, I can't say I fully understand the how and why UGM has formed their sets of beliefs and guidelines. Questions I'd have to learn more is -- Are the rules due to specific instances where they needed to start enforcing? Are they because they need some sort of filtering mechanism due to the sheer quantity of people coming to them for help? What else led to their mode of operation?

Even though I don't know the answer to some of these questions, I do know that when I go out and provide basic necessities, remember names, and have conversations, it means the world to those few, and I like to think it brings them one step closer to climbing out of that pit of despair.

If I get to the point where I dig in so far and want to affect change at a much deeper level, and I have an issue with how an organization operates or there isn't room for what I want to bring, I'll likely just start my own and make my own rules.

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