Construction of homeless center to begin in February
Chief Seattle Club moving to renovated historic hotel
SEATTLE -- Forty-five homeless people died on the streets of Seattle in
2005. Each death shows how nightmarish life on the streets can be.
Rhonda Starr, 39, Warm Springs, died of unknown causes in January 2005.
Susan Eileen Redhorn, 51, Yakima/Blackfeet, died of an infection in May.
Jesse Madera, a 55-year-old American Indian, died of unknown causes in
June. Alpheus George, 38, Tlingit, fell onto Interstate 5 in September.
Davina Garrison, 43, Navajo, was murdered in November.
All told, six homeless people were murdered; seven committed suicide.
Others died of an overdose, heart disease or infections. One was run over
by a train, another by a truck.
When Chief Seattle Club opens at its new site in January 2007, it won't be
able to give American Indians and Alaska Natives a place to sleep at night
because of neighborhood regulations preventing the establishment of a
homeless shelter. But the club will be better equipped to help homeless
Native people get off the streets.
The club is $650,000 short in its fund-raising goal of nearly $5.4 million,
but a donor has pledged to donate whatever the club doesn't raise, clearing
the way for construction to begin by mid-February, club Executive Director
Jim Burns said.
Chief Seattle Club will redevelop the former Monterey Hotel, a historic
structure in Seattle's Pioneer Square, into an 11,000-square-foot center.
The project was designed by Seattle-based architect Johnpaul Jones,
Cherokee/Choctaw, lead designer of the National Museum of the American
Indian in Washington, D.C.
As with his other Indian country projects, Jones incorporated Native
culture, history and art into the building design. "When a Native American
walks in the door, he or she will know they're home," said Margo Spellman,
who is promoting the fund-raising campaign.
During the day, club members will be able to visit the center for showers,
laundry and meals; use computers and telephones for job searches; get
transportation for hospital visits and emergencies; and get help accessing
health care services and substance abuse treatment. They will be able to
get clothing, blankets and personal hygiene items. The club also offers
cultural activities and rides to gatherings and religious services.
The club currently provides its services out of two locations -- a leased
day center with limited hours, and an office.
"We will be open longer so members will be able to be indoors in a safe
environment," said Program Director Jenine Grey, Tlingit. "And they'll get
Grey said the new site will enable the club to offer Alcoholics Anonymous
meetings, casework and counseling. There will be a gallery to sell art made
by club members. She'd like to start a job placement program, too.
Ultimately, the club wants to develop some kind of housing, Grey said.
Arlene Zahne, Navajo, a secretary at the club, knows the dangers of living
on the streets. Until two years ago, she was an administrative assistant at
U.S. District Court and lived in Seattle with her two teenage daughters.
Her life took a downward turn when she got into debt. "I was in over my
head. I didn't know how to handle it," she said. She turned to drugs and
alcohol and, because of it, lost her job. Arrested for domestic violence,
she was kicked out of her subsidized home.
"I never thought I'd be homeless," she said.
She lived on the streets for two years, became accustomed to sleepless
nights and being forced to move at midnight, and was beaten up. "I had two
black eyes for two weeks," she said. In jail in July, she signed up for
drug and alcohol treatment. "I didn't want my children to see me like
Zahne has been sober since November, is living in "clean and sober" housing
and is employed by the club. She knew two of the people who died on the
streets in 2005 and wants to help others get sober and avoid that fate.
Chief Seattle Club was an important part of her recovery. "It felt safe to
be around people who shared a culture," she said. "Being here is important
Grey said keeping people off the streets is crucial to keeping them sober.
"Most people relapse because they're out on the street," she said.
Through the state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment and Support Act, a club
member can get treatment and housing for three months. When they get out,
and until they are employed or qualify for other financial assistance, Grey
can connect them with a general assistance grant from the BIA so they don't
have a lapse in income.
The reasons for homelessness are many. Some club members wound up in
Seattle looking for work that didn't pan out. Others suffer depression or
addictions. Being raised in foster homes, sent to boarding schools or being
otherwise displaced are common causes of the substance abuse that leads to
the streets, Grey said. Although American Indians and Alaska Natives are
traditionally communal peoples, two-thirds now live in urban areas.
In Seattle, the traditional home of the Duwamish people, only 1 percent of
the population -- some 5,659 people -- is full-blooded American Indian or
Alaska Native. A total of 10,417 Seattle residents claimed mixed American
Indian or Alaska Native ancestry in the 2000 Census. Seattle's total
population is 563,374.
"Anytime people have been displaced from their homes, they are going to
suffer a trauma there," Grey said. "Everything around you is a reminder of
your people. It's where you are from. I'm always intrigued when I meet
someone who is Duwamish or Suquamish, because we are on their land."
ABOUT CHIEF SEATTLE CLUB
Chief Seattle Club was founded in 1970 by the Rev. Raymond Talbott as a day
center for homeless American Indians and Alaska Natives. The club's mission
is to "provide a sacred space to nurture, affirm and renew the spirit of
urban Native Peoples." It has 741 members, up from 726 in 2005. To be a
member, you must be American Indian or Alaska Native and you must be sober
when using the club. About 130 men and women are served daily.
The clublub is a nonprofit run by a 13-member board of directors. The
annual budget is $275,000 and is composed of contributions from
individuals, charitable foundations, churches, corporations and tribal
Foundations have donated more than $1.5 million toward the new center, half
of which came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Corporate donors
have contributed more than $60,000, including $43,500 from the Boeing
Employees Charitable Fund. Private contributions total $2.6 million and
include the purchase of the building by board members Steve and Tricia
Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.