[Hpn] Homeless women turn to WHEEL for aid in Seattle WA USA fw

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Mon, 20 Nov 2000 23:49:20 -0800 (PST)

1902 Second Avenue
Seattle WA 98101
Phone: (206) 448-7889
Email: Anitra Freeman <anitra@speakeasy.org>

FWD  [WA, USA] Seattle Post-Intelligencer / November 16, 2000


     They talk about the courage it takes
     to leave an abusive spouse or sleep on mean streets


Mean words pierced her spirit. Blows from a wrench bruised her body. And
when Victoria Blackwell could take it no more, she gathered her children
and fled the California home where her partner, she says, abused her.

     Today, Blackwell and her three children are homeless in Seattle. In
less than a month, they have traded a drafty tent on Beacon Hill for
shelter in a pay-by-the-week hotel off Aurora Avenue. But the 31-year-old
woman is not hopeless.

     "I'm going to be the queen of my own place one day," she said with pride.

     Such bravado would ring hollow if she did not have a helping hand.

     Blackwell credits the Women's Housing, Equality and Enhancement League
(WHEEL) -- an umbrella organization that offers links to jobs, housing and
educational opportunities -- for leading her to shelter and providing a
gleam of hope.

     Yesterday, Blackwell joined more than 150 women -- there were a few
men, too -- under a white tent at El Centro De La Raza for a homeless
women's forum touted as "a celebration of courage."

     Over the course of more than one hour, tears gave way to smiles, and
smiles gave way to cheers.

     Woman after woman spoke both publicly and privately about the courage
it takes to leave an abusive spouse or sleep on dangerous streets or rise
above a situation that seems so dark.

     Homeless women in the crowd were joined by women who had righted
foundering lives; volunteers sat next to people they had either helped or
wanted to help.

    "I want to see if there is some place I am needed or if there are some
things I can give," said Cynthia Zantz, who made the pilgrimage to the tent
and in the past has donated clothes and toys.

     The first forum for homeless women began in 1995.

     Zantz, who has attended five of the six annual gatherings, said
bluntly: "I can't understand how some people are without compassion."

     Anitra Freeman, who was homeless before she became an activist for
WHEEL, said the gathering shed light on accomplishments of past years and
offered an agenda for the coming year.

     For example, a forum in 1997 led to the creation of the Dorothy Day
House, a single resident occupancy building for women near downtown.

     WHEEL's upcoming platform, released yesterday, called for several
goals, including:

* $153,000 to pay for remodeling and staffing of a new shelter for mentally
ill women at the Kerner-Scott Shelter.

* Money for a women-only shelter during severe weather at the First United
Methodist Church. (The cost of the shelter would be about $100 a night for
25 women.)

* A new day shelter for women.

     Alan Painter, director of the city's Human Services Department, said
his office was working closely with the advocacy groups.

     Late yesterday, WHEEL representatives and other social advocates held
a rally at City Hall to encourage the City Council to spend more money on
social services.

     Many of them were mindful of a promise Mayor Paul Schell made in 1998
when he vowed to get every woman and child off the streets by Christmas of
that year.

     "That is a good fire to keep holding to the mayor's feet," Freeman
joked. Turning serious, she said the homeless problem is greater than the
number of shelter spaces to handle it.

     Councilman Peter Steinbrueck, who is chairman of the council's housing
committee, wants to add $10 million to human services funding. That's in
addition to the $3 million increase Schell has requested.

     The City Council will decide on those budget issues next week.

      Aside from budget matters, yesterday's forum offered a platform for
other homeless issues -- some of them quite visible. A tent city of about
100 people rose from a lot near El Centro De La Raza.

     Homeless advocates have applied for a permit with the city that would
allow them to use the lot through mid-January.

     Should the city grant a use permit, it would serve as a procedural
precedent for tent cities to be set up in other areas of Seattle, Freeman

     Blackwell who was flanked by her three children -- Nichole 7; Katie,
4; and Jarifari, 6 months -- had no interest in tents. She stayed one night
at the Beacon Hill tent city with her children, and that was enough.

     "It's really good to come here and listen to women speak about what
they have been through," she said. "They have struggled, too. But they have
goals. And my goal is to get an apartment or a house."


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