Federal Way Mirror
by Carrie Rodriguez
Good thing Therese Khalid had a car.
“My trunk became my closet and my glove compartment became my lingerie drawer,” Khalid said in a video, as hundreds of people in the audience — including Khalid herself — watched her story unfold on a big screen during Reach Out’s annual breakfast fundraiser on Tuesday morning at the Christian Faith Center.
A former Reach Out client, Khalid said she couldn’t make ends meet and ended up being homeless for three months.
“I ended up not telling too many people because there is such a stigma that goes with homelessness and a perception of who these people are,” she said.
She also had a bad arthritic condition in her hip that needed surgery right away, but it was impossible for her to get her condition treated because she didn’t have a home to recuperate in.
Khalid heard about Reach Out through Catholic Community Services and said the organization was warm and welcoming. A social worker helped her work on problem solving, housing and taking the next step beyond homelessness.
For the next month, she began each day at Reach Out’s women’s shelter. She got up each morning, rushed to get her service dog to daycare and went to work. She came back to the shelter at night, did some chores and then repeated her 18-hour day.
“It’s an amazing drain of time and how it wears you down,” Khalid said, noting, “This is a reality for so many homeless women is that you need a place to live so you can look for work. You need work so you can have a place to live and it’s really a catch 22. Oftentimes, many women end up just throwing your hands up and not even trying at all.”
But she did find comfort at Reach Out’s shelter with her “shelter sisters,” and some women even bonded with her service animal, who they dubbed their house service dog.
Then she found transitional housing.
“I ran and told everyone, ‘I’m going to have a closet! I’m going to have a closet!’ I was just so very grateful because I could start to be a normal person again,” she said, noting she finally got hip replacement surgery, went back to work and now volunteers for homeless women with Reach Out.
“I’m able to encourage them and comfort them and let them know that they too can pass through this and regain their independence and their life back,” Khalid said.
During the event, King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer cited homeless statistics in King County, including that 3,772 homeless individuals live on the street this year — a 21 percent increase from 2014. He also announced he would donate an additional $2,500 to what he’s already contributed to Reach Out, in honor of Nancy Jaenicke’s departure from the organization.
The longtime community development director, who was recognized for her contributions to the community during the event, said she will still continue working to implement the Federal Way Day Shelter Advisory Committee. Jaenicke will be succeeded by Kathy Varney.
Reach Out officials also recognized their annual Pay it Forward honorees, including Andrea Diep and Hope Elder. Diep is a high school student who is a leader in many organizations, including the Make the Dash Count Board, Advancing Leadership Youth and her school’s food pantry. Elder has organized the Monday Night Community Supper at Steel Lake Presbyterian Church for 14 years and is involved in the Federal Way Caregiving Network.
Event emcee Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, spoke about his encounter with homelessness the night before the event, after eating pizza for dinner at a restaurant.
“My wife and I were walking back to our car and we came through a group of men,” Fain recalled of the approximately eight men who were sitting and lying down on the street. “It was pretty easy to tell that this was not night three or night four on the streets for these gentlemen. This was well beyond falling on tough times. This was something that turned into the culture of homelessness.”
But Fain didn’t stop and speak with these men.
“… It’s a little bit shameful to admit because even knowing that I was going to be here with you this morning and even knowing that these issues are so important and even knowing that I was going to give this talk this morning, there’s still that sense of detachment that you have when you’re walking through that crowd,” he said. “There’s still that sense, that split-second, that almost reflexive reaction that you have when you’re in that environment, when you’ve left that restaurant and you’re walking through that crowd … that maybe this is about poor life choices and it’s about situations of one’s own making.”
But sometimes homelessness is not what you expect.
As a legislator, Fain has spent a lot of time working on education issues — a paramount duty in Washington state, he said.
However, he wonders how a student feels whose family is facing the choice between a meal or medicine, or whether their sleep that evening will be on a couch, a bed, a cot or some cardboard.
“And I wonder how we can truly ever say we are living up to our paramount duty in this state when the reality is that children are facing this crisis each and every day,” Fain said, bringing the audience back to that group of homeless men he encountered. “And I wonder how I can have that subconscious, reflexive reaction about poor life choices, when who I’m walking past is really that child all grown up.”
He added that everyone has a responsibility to address homelessness.
“It’s a push for responsibility and it’s what got each and every one of you out of bed this morning because there is a moment,” Fain said. “There is a moment that falls between falling on rough times and that culture of homelessness. There is a moment and that’s where Reach Out and its network of churches and business leaders and civic organizations and civic leaders, it’s that moment where Reach Out is so incredibly effective and it’s where its Army of servant leaders spring into action.”
Reach Out expanded shelter operations for both the men and women’s shelters to six months this year. The shelters open on Oct. 1. For more information, visit www.reachoutfederalway.org. If you or someone you know is in need of shelter, call South King County Shelter Services at 253-854-0077.
Photos courtesy of Ed Streit Productions.