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Spreading HOPE for the homeless | Klaas
A woman reaches into her child's bag for a crayon so she can jot down a number to call for help.
On one side of the room, a man plays a ditty on his small guitar, humming the simple lyrics to himself.
Another woman, wrapped in a blanket, weeps.
A teen arrives late for the meeting, drops his large skateboard by his feet, tucks it under a table and joins the long line waiting patiently to be served a hot lunch.
As the audience fills a smattering of seats, a man gets up, carefully takes the microphone from its stand and invites the people to start the community gathering in an old, familiar way — with a deep, heartfelt prayer.
"Lord," says the Rev. Jimmie James, pauses, begins again, "let's house the homeless. ... Let's come together to house the homeless. ... I cannot do this by myself ... but together we can."
James calls himself "an apostle," a man determined to do the Lord's work by reaching out to help others, especially those marginalized, shunned or pushed aside. He tries to help the many – young and old – who belong to the valley's growing number of homeless.
The problem, hidden or not, exists on the streets of Kent, Auburn and other cities throughout King County. James, who began his ministry in the area 11 years ago and calls Kent home, is shaken by what he sees: 1,000 homeless people struggling to survive on Kent's streets today.
Veterans sleeping in Dumpsters ... families living in cars ... people desperate to escape the cold.
There was an estimated 636,000 homeless in the nation at the end of last year, according to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Chronic long-term unemployment, more foreclosures, and a record 47 million Americans on food stamps further compound the problem.
There's so much more that needs to be done, James says.
While sympathetic city and county officials are doing what they can to address the homeless community, it simply isn't enough, James said. Some city leaders haven't grasped the reality of the situation, James insists.
Today's resources are limited, inadequate.
When KentHOPE failed to land a day center/shelter in downtown, James took action. The homeless community is not being heard, he said, so the reverend organized a group for a stronger voice.
"At the City Council meeting, prior to that decision (not to turn a former city resource center into a shelter) about 100 people there in the chambers advocated for the shelter," James said.
KentHOPE – a partnership of faith-based groups, including Seattle's Union Gospel Mission and other local community service agencies and concerned individuals – looks to establish a homeless day center and eventually an overnight shelter in the area.
KentHOPE vows to continue the pursuit.
James supports KentHope's efforts, but wants to do more, bringing immediate help for the homeless. His organization, also called HOPE (Holistic Opportunities for Personal Empowerment), has come together. It sponsored its first public forum at the Kent Commons last Saturday to examine the problem, listen to pleas of the homeless and find workable solutions.
Leaders and advocates from area housing services, churches, businesses, neighbors, schools and youth organizations formed a panel to listen to concerns and provide some help.
The forum attracted Franklyn Smith, program manager for Sober Solutions, a transitional housing center in Auburn. He supports the call for more help and additional resources.
"The situation is serious. The solutions lies within the citizens, more so than the city government," Smith said. "It takes a village, all of us, to solve this."
Smith says the priority is to tap into funding sources and provide a "broader line of assistance to embrace more individuals who are experiencing homelessness in South King County."
Smith calls James and others "foot soldiers," those willing to tackle the problem head on.
James says his campaign is not political, it's an urgent call for more help, especially as the cold nights set in.
"Not everyone reads the newspaper, watches the news or visits the City's website," James said. "So we are starting to inform the community at large. This is the first step."
James says if people are informed about problems and solutions, the community as a whole will get involved.
The next step is finding supportive housing now. And that's just what James' group vows to do.
"We need to get people off the street. They need a roof over their heads," James said.
"We have massive amounts of homeless and homeless kids on our streets, and we can't ignore them," he said. "They are in our community. They live here. They are not going to leave."