Welcome Message

In the next 30 days I will be documenting my own educational, travel-based adventure!

The Mission: To discover the root causes of urban poverty in the United States through service-learning experiences across the US.

The Method:
Completing service projects in 11 cities of the US that each explores one of the root causes of urban poverty in America.

The Outcome:
To create an educational dialogue that provides citizens across the US with the tools on how they can contribute the little time they have to helping their own communities come together and problem solve for a better tomorrow.

I invite you to open your mind and join me on my journey!
Those that let their minds soar, fly JetBlue!


Friday, September 24, 2010

"MAIL CALL!"

The small window flew open and I feasted my eyes upon a line wrapping out the door and around the building.  It was mail pickup day at Transition Projects, Portland.  When I arrived that morning for service I was given my task which seemed pretty straight forward.  Sort the mail alphabetically and then when the client arrives check their ID and give them their mail.  Seems simple right?

Well as soon as that window opened, chaos erupted in the mail room.  Cabinets were flying as I attempted to find each person’s mail while trying to shrink the line down to avoid traffic being stopped on the main drag.  My head seemed to be spinning as each client came up with a nice demeanor asking for their mail politely and watching me run around this tiny, tiny room searching for their stuff.  Now although I was somewhat freaking out, I made sure that my emotions were in check on the outside, but basically I was anxiety stricken! Luckily as the line got under control, I was able to relax, get a system down, and remain calm as each person came in to request their mail.  I have to give kudos to those that run the mailroom on a daily basis, cause to be thrown into that can potentially cause a early heart attack for someone like me. 

Anyways, Transition Projects is a fantastic organization that is located right near downtown Portland.  Being one of the largest homeless services in the city, it has played a huge role in providing for that population since 1969.  Transition Projects has many shelters across the city serving both single men and women helping those that need a place to stay to transition out of poverty. 

The mission of Transition Projects is to serve people's basic needs as they transition from homelessness to housing.  The amenities that are provided include a place to stay, a hot dinner everyday of the week, new clothes, shower facilities, a permanent address, and several other things that individuals lose once they have become homeless. 

By providing these amenities, Transition Projects facilitates additional mentoring, job skill trainings, and other services to help the individuals they serve “transition” into affordable housing in the city of Portland.  Transition Projects receives funding both from local government and private grants.  However, their recent partnership with the Portland local government has produced HUGE upcoming plans.

Having already broken ground on the project in November of 2009, Transition Projects is partnering with other organizations and local government in the creation of a brand new Resource Access Center for the homeless population of Portland.  They will be constructing basically a “luxury” shelter with over eight floors of services.  On the bottom floor will be a place for temporary shelter as well as a long-term bed option.  In the floors above they will have service ranging from employment support, medical services, computer labs, clothing drive storage, and many other things still in the works.  They expect that once the building is finish to serve roughly 1,000 clients per day in various ways! 

On the top five floors, luxury studio apartments will be constructed and sold as affordable housing units.  Many of these rooms will house some of the most medically severe clients as well as get many people into apartments of their own.  And the project will be completely green and hopes to reach the prestigious Platinum LEED certification! Check out the pictures below and find out more about Transition Projects at the following address!

http://www.tprojects.org/default.cfm

The Building is starting to take shape

Going to be HUGE!

Lents International Farmer's Market


Signage for the Market
Entrance with the flagsI hung up!
 Early morning rose on the city of Portland as I rolled out of bed.  Excitement ran through my body as I showered and got ready for a very eventful morning working at a Farmer’s Market.  To give you all a little background about why I was so thrilled to be awake at 5:30am, I was in Portland two summers ago on an Alternative Break with the national alternative breaks office, Break Away.  For a week we worked with organizations throughout the city that focused their work on sustainability practices and teaching me and 59 other students from across the country on how to be a steward to the environment. 

One of the organizations that I worked with, Zenger Farm, creates opportunity, education, and a TON of produce through their organic farm found on the outskirts of the city.  The farm stretches several acres and grows just about everything you could imagine as well as maintaining a giant flock of chickens (see picture)! While working there, we discovered that not only does Zenger Farm create amazing fruits and vegetables but has numerous other programs throughout the year that reach out to the community. 

Several of their programs are youth focused where children can come and learn about organic farming, tend their own small gardens, and work as a team to produce some rockin’ vegetarian treats.  Another program that the farm has is it donates parts of its own land to immigrant families who are looking to make a living but have not found many opportunities yet.  Many of the families bring their own cultural agriculture methods to the farm which helps to enrich the sharing of knowledge between community farmers in the area.  Zenger also partners with Lents International Farmer’s Market located at SE 92nd and Foster in the Lents neighborhood to help sell the crops that are produced in these families plots and all of the money goes directly back to them.
The Break Away Crew at Zenger Farm!
The Chickens

Caught one!
So, Lents is where I was off to that early morning in Portland to help in the setup and do a little shopping myself! Upon arriving I met several wonderful people who have been participating on the board of directors for the market for several years now as well as other volunteers.  Setup went pretty smoothly setting up several tents for vendors, stringing up signs and flags, and setting up the community table in the center of the market. 

Lents International Farmer’s Market was quite unique to any organic farmer’s market I had been to before.  It is very community based and has several programs throughout the day in addition to the selling of produce by the vendors.  When you arrive in the market, you are greeted by a volunteer who is running the educational program for the day.  I was lucky enough to be able to take part in the dot survey that day and was the only one from outside Portland at the market! Off in the corner is a mini grass stage where musical performances by community artists and cooking demonstrations are held.  There is a professional gardeners table, which provides individuals the opportunity to perfect their gardening skills and troubleshoot with the panel of professional gardeners. 

In the center of the market is the community table which is definitely unique to Lents.  Any and all local community gardeners can sell their produce here at the table and make a little profit from the food they have worked hard growing.  This adds to the community feeling of the market and helps increase sustainability efforts within the community as well!

Now as you all know, I have this weird erotic affliction with fruit according to my last encounter with a Golden Nectarine in Seattle.  Similarly, I fell in love with one of the vendors strawberries.  They were the perfect ripeness and were the perfect breakfast treat after a hard mornings work!  I encourage all of you to go out and support your local farmer’s markets.  What I like to do is plan a Sunday dinner based off my trip to the market. Eating Healthy, Fresh Organic Produce, and Supporting Your Community. A simple way to support your community and tummy every week!         

Tent City 3

As I approached the enclosure I was a bit apprehensive to what I was getting myself into.  I had made the appointment for a tour of Tent City 3 through its sister organization, SHAPE, that works as a resource center and contact for the physical tent city.  At the entrance I was greeted by several people, acting as guards just like in 18th century English castles, minus the drawbridge and moats and such.   After signing in, I met Roger who had been giving tours and living in the encampment for several years.  After a brief introduction and background about the tent city, Roger and I were off and running ducking in and around tents as he toured me through the city. 

Tent Cities have been a concept for many years and stem from the development of shanty towns, which are areas of land where impoverished people live together in housing made from scrap materials.  They have only recently developed to the point of becoming permanent living choices in some of the major cities in the United States. Tent City 3 is run just like any other city.  They have a mayor figure and a “city-council” that help to enforce laws and advocate on behalf of the entire city.  These positions are elected by the members of the community and each candidate canvasses on their behalf to be elected.  Once elected, these representatives ensure to keep order of the community by maintaining all the by-laws of Tent City.   

Citizens of Tent City 3 are expected to be highly involved in their community.  Each member must adhere to all the by-laws, which are located in a book about the size of a college science textbook! Chores are given out to help upkeep the community and help
residents build a sense of ownership over their community.

Anyone can be admitted into Tent City 3 and can stay as long as they want.  More long-term residents often times have their own tents that they set up in a designated area.  Residents who are brand new to the city are often set up in dormitory style tents with three bed platforms that are made out of wooden pallets, milk crates, and cardboard pieces.  All of the tents are raised up on platforms constructed out of wooden pallets in order to prevent rain water from leaking into the tents.  Although the quarters are not luxury, the simplistic nature by which the residents live is honorable and something we can all take a lesson from. 

At the end of the tour, I was introduced to one of the residents named Matt.  He was known around camp as the beast because he soared 6’ 5” and weighed around 350lbs.  After sharing a few words back and forth he handed me a short story he had written.  Matt suffers from a condition known as Basal Cell Nevus Syndrome, which causes lesions to form all across the body resulting in the need for multiple surgeries to have them removed.  Due to the high cost of medical treatment, he has found himself unable to hold stable housing for about 10 years and has been living at Tent City 3 off and on during that time.  The short story he shared with me was a brief look into the emotional roller coaster he has gone through with every surgery.  Very detailed, the story allows the reader to enter Matt’s world and understand how one can feel trapped and no longer in control.  Please take the time to read his story in an upcoming post! Meanwhile, discover a little more about Matt in an interview found at: http://www.youthnoise.com/page.php?page_id=2641

Tent City 3 provides a place for individuals to call home who are not otherwise afforded the opportunity of a permanent residence.  The strength of community that Tent City builds is stronger than many of our own.  How invested are you in the well-being of your neighbors?  Would you lend a helping hand or come to their defense whenever they needed it?  By living simply and supporting one another the citizens of Tent City 3 lead a relatively happy and fulfilling life.  Take a lesson from their sense of community and start becoming more involved in your own. 

I have included below a list of items that Tent City is in need of to continue running their programs and supporting individuals who finally need a place they can call home.  If you live in the Seattle area please contact SHARE to arrange a drop off of materials to Tent City itself.


Donated Items Needed for Tent City 3

General
•    Tents (complete with poles)
•    Tarps, rope
•    Sleeping bags, blankets, and mats
•    Flashlights, lanterns, staple gun w/staples
•    Toilet paper, paper towels, wet-wipes
•    Hand sanitizer, rubber & work gloves
•    Towels, wash cloths
•    Soap, shampoo, feminine hygiene supplies
•    Bleach-bottled and/or cleaning wipes
•    Slippers, sandals, flip-flops
•    AA/D batteries
•    First-aid kits/band-aids/gauze strips/anti biotic creams/cold & flu medicine
•    ICE to keep food cold
•    Paper plates, napkins, plastic cups & flatware
•    Reusable ice packs
Food
•    Coffee, tea, cream, sugar
•    Canned protein: tuna, ham, spam. chicken, chili, soup (canned or packaged)
•    Canned fruit and vegetables
•    Butter, margarine, salt/pepper, seasonings
•    Peanut butter
Move Day Supplies (Next Move Day is tomorrow September 25th)
•    Duct tape (36 rolls), 3 Crowbars
•    33 gallon heavy duty trash bags (500)
•    300 feet of twine, 200 feet of rope
•    Black Sharpie pens
•    Zip ties-2 jars, 1500/jar
•    8 lbs box of nails (2 1/2 inches long)
•    Roofing nails (6 lbs) box
•    lxlx8 fencing wood-bundle of 36
http://no4corners.com/life/?p=3539

http://www.greaterseattlecares.org/

http://www.greaterseattlecares.org/

http://www.greaterseattlecares.org/
  

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Real Change News: A Paper Changing the City of Seattle


On my last day in Seattle I was lucky enough to meet with Tim Harris, the Executive Director of Real Change News.  Real Change was developed originally as a street newspaper to be distributed to the community by members of the homeless population in Seattle.  If you have ever read through a “street newspaper” the majority of the material is not substantial enough to entice readers to keep coming back for more.  After talking with Tim I learned that Real Change does things a little differently to ensure that their readers anticipate each weekly addition and build a strong relationship with their vendor to heighten the sense of community through their readership.

When Real Change started in 1994, it was founded as a way the homeless population to sell and be apart of the process of creating the paper. The street vendors purchase the paper for 35 cents on the dollar and then resell it at $1 a paper. The entire profit that is made goes straight back to the vendor as there is no vendor fee associated with this organization. Vendors are encouraged to identify their own territory and build relationships with their clients to gain a better rapport with them.

Now many of you in the various cities you live in I am sure you have come across a street vendor selling a newspaper. I would also assume that you may have purchased that paper based on the fact that you wanted to help out the person selling it but had no intent in diving into the articles found within.  Real Change found this to occur with over 60% of it's readers and wanted to change the way that individuals viewed the newspaper.

By using the newspaper as an advocacy tool, Real Change has changed the way that the city of Seattle looks at “street-newspapers”.  As an organization, they have played an integral part in educating and fighting for many prevalent community issues on many different platforms in the last 5 years.  They were the primary player in getting the mayor to veto the panhandling law that was enacted in the city of Seattle in April 2010.  Although the city counsel had a majority of supporting votes to pass the bill, it was not enough to stop a direct veto of the bill by the mayor. 

The ordinance laid down strict behavior rules for beggars such as no panhandling at ATMs or at parking stations, no blocking a person's path, or repeatedly begging after someone has already said no. A statement given by the city’s mayor Mike McGinn showed his support of the creation of strong community within Seattle:

"Adding this new law doesn't add anything towards existing laws and has the risk of essentially criminalizing being poor and that's not right."
~ Mike McGinn, Seattle City Mayor

What I learned during my conversation with Tim is that there is a need for resources in cities that allow the creation of a community voice.  Real Change News accomplishes this in Seattle through their very unique model for a street newspaper to be used as a advocacy avenue.  Articles are based on what the public needs to know and wants to understand about the community they are living in but would otherwise not be shown if it wasn’t for their committed readership to each weekly edition of Real Change News. 

When I asked Tim if his model could be implemented in other cities, he said that he wished more cities would look at Real Change’s model to create as equally as successful papers that they have.  It’s important for people to understand the audience when developing a street newspaper.  There is no need to publish homeless resources as your centerfold article every week unless you are creating a street newsletter for the common homeless person who is looking for that information.  Tim strongly advocates for creating articles that are intellectually stimulating and controversial to keep the readers interested in what the writers are going to report on week after week.  Tim is very open to speaking with anyone interested in creating a street newspaper in their own city but warns those interested that they have to prepared to put all of their effort into creating a newspapers that can go up against most local and even national newspapers. 

Check out the video below of Tim talking about his organization and start to follow this newspaper online at: http://www.realchangenews.org/index.php/site/curr-issue-index/


Cheers,
Bryan   
 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Millionair Club: Executive Director Jim Miller

So while at the Millionair Club I was able to have a great conversation with the Executive Director, Jim Miller.  Having worked with their organization for 4 days I was able to ask more in depth questions to start identifying if my root causes of poverty could be seen by other's in the field.  

Some of the questions I asked him revolved around the potential barriers faced by the homeless population in Seattle, what kind of advocacy work his and other agencies are doing, and the changes that need to be made in order to start attacking the issues of poverty in America.  Also listen in towards the end of the film, where he encourages and shares with us the importance of getting out into our communities and helping out first hand! 

Jim was my test subject with my new camera, so I apologize for my interjections and the weird movie transitions but I hope you all enjoy! 

Again please visit the Millionair Club Charity's website and find out even more about the great programs that they offer! 


video


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Millionair Club Charity: Access to Resources

“I haven’t checked my email in about 6 months!” said Nathan as he entered into the Resource Center for the first time.  Nathan is one of the many clients that the Millionair Club serves on an average day.  As a veteran, he found himself homeless about 10 years ago and has been struggling to get back on track for some time.  Thanks to the veteran assistance programs in Seattle as well as gaining employment skills from the Millionair Club, he is now living in an affordable housing complex town and is starting on the road to self-sufficiency.

After helping Nathan to log into his account again, the inbox count popped up to be above 18,000 new messages! As I helped him go through his mail, together we found many important messages he had received months ago. Many of those emails were time sensitive but Nathan was unable to gain access to a computer.  That’s where the new Resource Center comes in at the Millionair Club.

Being a job referral agency and working towards its clients being self-sufficient, the Millionair Club has recently added a Resource Center for its clients. It provides a total of four computers that access the internet, are installed with Microsoft Office Suite, and will soon have a typing program for people to work on their typing skills.  In today’s world, it is impossible to progress in the job market without computer skills.  Technology has found its way into every profession imaginable and often time if an individual does not have basic knowledge of these skills their opportunity to gain full-time employment is greatly reduced.

With the Resource Center, the Millionair Club hopes to provide an opportunity to their clients to gain access to resources online, partake in computer skill trainings, and interact with community members who are experts in these areas.  I am excited to see how the club develops the Resource Center in the next year to better service clients as they gain more and more skills through their day labor employment.

In addition to Nathan, I had the opportunity to interact with numerous other clients in my three days at the club.  Charles for example used the resource center to apply and search for job opportunities and went to an open interview the same day.  Several clients were able to understand the process of getting a state photo ID so that they could start working.  Another gentleman by the name of Sam (who convinced me to join the military in the next 2 years if I’m not employed) was excited to start learning computer skills so he could navigate job searches for himself.

Sometimes it is as simple as providing resources that the majority of us take for granted to individuals that can help them to advance themselves towards self-sufficiency.  Opportunity and access to resources play a huge role in developing chronic homelessness in today’s society.  If everyone was given the same opportunities or afforded equal resources, then and only then could we blame someone’s economic state off of their actions alone.  Until then we need to start critically analyzing what structures are in place in today’s society that cause individuals to fall below a defined poverty line, and in turn become homeless.  I encourage you to ask these questions the next time you sign on to your computer to read my blog.  Try working without a computer for a week and see how messed up your life becomes.

Cheers & Happy Browsing

Bryan

Millionair Club Charity: Job Placement Services

http://www.millionairclub.org/index.html

The majority of my time at the Millionair Club Charity was focused on understanding their job placement programs.  To give you a brief background, the Millionair Club provides a work referral service for all of its clients.  Employers which include homeowners, investment property owners, and businesses around the Seattle metro area contact the club with jobs that need to be filled 3 days prior to the actual date of hire.  The Millionair Club then compiles the jobs into a database system and doles them out to members based off of skill set, specific requests by the employers, and through a seniority rotation process. 

Jobs are generally awarded to members in the morning between 6-8am and in the afternoon from 12-2pm.  Clients are welcomed to a hot meal for breakfast and lunch before they are hired for the day.  On average, members are hired between 2 and 4 days a week depending on the season.  In the summer, more jobs are available especially since the homeowner employers increase projects during this time.  When demand is high, the Millionair Club has placed up to 120 jobs in one day during the summer months. 

In order to qualify for jobs through the Millionair Club, clients must become an official member of the club. Unlike their food services program, which is opened to the public, the job placement program is for members only.  All club members go through an extensive screening process before given their official Millionair Club Member Card.  This is to ensure employers that they will be hiring employees who have had background checks and are prepared to work both physically and mentally. 

The Millionair Club advocates strong relationship building between the employer and their employee.  Employers are required/suggested to hire their workers for a minimum of 4 hours and pay above the minimum wage salary in Seattle which is at roughly $9.00/hour.  Many times, employers are so thrilled with the work ethic of the Millionair Club members that they often pay way above the suggested $9.00/hour.  Most club members are fed on the job by their employers and are also given bus passes, called taxis, or picked up by their employers on the day they are hired.  Members are encouraged to build strong relationships with their one-time employers in order to create opportunity for them to work for that organization again or be hired part-time!

The creation of employment opportunities is at the root of the Millionair Club’s mission.  Instead of solely providing a hot meal and a shelter at night for its clients, this organization works to improve the lives of those struck with homelessness.  Many times it takes a middle man to provide opportunities to a population that otherwise would not have access to such opportunity.  If you are a Seattle resident or know someone who lives in the metro area of Seattle, please take the time to look at the programs that the Millionair Club provides.  Hire a worker for a day, go down and join the clients during one of their meals, or act as a reference for someone else who needs some day labor.  Not only will you gain services from this organization, but you will provide someone with a day of honest work and more importantly will meet a great member of the community of Seattle!

You can request a job hire at the following link!
http://www.millionairclub.org/hire_form.html

Cheers,
Bryan