[Hpn] Seattle: Homeless Women's Forum Celebrates Tent Village

Anitra Freeman anitra@speakeasy.org
Thu, 16 Nov 2000 19:50:05 -0800 (PST)

Yesterday (Wednesday November 15) an organizing group of homeless and
formerly homeless women, WHEEL, held our sixth annual Homeless Women's
Forum. 200 people -- public officials and civic leaders, homeless women
and service providers -- gathered in a Big Top tent on the grounds of El
Centro de la Raza, hosts of the SHARE/WHEEL homeless camp, Tent Village.

Each year WHEEL celebrates achievements of the previous year and
presents community goals for the next year. This year we celebrated the
courage of the people of Tent Village and the courage of our supporters
in the community.

El Centro de la Raza stood firm in hosting us even after the City began
levying fines of $75 a day for zoning violations.  Our application for a
Temporary Use Permit to legalize our stay is still pending, but during
the comment period DCLU (Department of Construction and Land Use)
received 395 letters -- 377 for, 18 against.  Immediately after the
comment period closed with that landslide in our favor, the Chamber of
Commerce began trying to stir neighbors against the Tent Village, but El
Centro has still held firm.  

Each year WHEEL presents a Woman of Light award to someone who has been
of great help and support to our community.  This year we gave two
awards.  One went to Pat Taylor, the pastor of All Saints Episcopal
Church, the first church to host Tent City.  As Pat said, "It took me
one minute to make up my mind.  It took my congregation ten minutes.  
This was something we knew we had to do."  Our other Woman of Light
award went to Estella Ortega of El Centro de la Raza.  Estella said, "We
do not feel that we have done Tent Village a favor.  We feel that they
have done us a favor."

Reneene Robertson, a formerly homeless woman who works with the
StreetWrites writers' program, emceed the event.  Rango, a currwntly
homeless woman with WHEEL, StreetWrites and Mary's Place, gave the
keynote speech.  The heart of the program, on the theme of "It Takes a
Village", was personal stories from several Tent Villagers -- Mary Eck,
Louisa O'Shea, Carol Lopez and Crystal W. -- as well as formerly
homeless women, Belinda Springer and Cynthia Ozimek.  Cynthia almost
brought the tent down with a presentation of "Things that make you go
hmmm," including credit checks for the homeless applying for services,
and the large donations of romance novels to homeless women's shelters.  
Then she moved the audience to silence with two of her poems about life
in shelters, and finally warmed the whole day by calling a series of
women who have helped her own journey to stand and be recognized.

Anitra Freeman presented WHEEL's platform of goals for 2001, the most
extensive WHEEL platform yet.  "The pilot program to prove we *can* end
homelessness in Seattle has succeeded," Freeman said.  "It is time for
Seattle to commit itself to the full effort."  The first goal is shelter
for every woman, a call for the fulfillment of Mayor Paul Schell's
promise of 1998 to "get every woman and child in off the streets."  
When asked later by a reporter how WHEEL feels now about that promise,
Freeman said cheerfully, "It makes a great fire to hold the Mayor's feet

Two shelters, one for 25 women with chronic and severe mental illness,
and one women-only shelter for severe weather, could be opened by
Christmas of this year if funding were available.

A few hours later, at 5PM, 150 activists rallied in front of the Seattle
Municipal Building to urge the City Council to support a Homeless
Strategic Response Proposal put forth by Councilmember Peter
Steinbrueck, calling for an additional $12 million in funding for
homeless shelters and service in the 2001-2002 budget -- on top of the
$26 million that Mayor Paul Schell has already proposed.  The three
council memebrs who already support the proposal -- Nick Licata, Judy
Nicastro, and Steinbrueck himself -- were present.  Steinbrueck said at
the rally, "If we cannot afford to help the homeless during a time of
unprecedented prosperity in Seattle, when can we?" and he led the crowd
in a repeated chant of, "If not now, when?"

Coverage of the Homeless Women's Forum is posted on Seattle newspaper
websites.  The Seattle P-I link is:

The Seattle Times direct URL is long:
-- alternatively, you can go to the front page,
click on "Local News"
and click on the headline "Share city's prosperity, activists for the
homeless urge council"

Write On! / Anitra L. Freeman / http://www.speakeasy.org/~anitra/
"Never doubt that a small group of imperfect people can improve the
world--indeed they are the only ones who ever have." Not Margaret Mead