Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Denture Program is Back!

Last week you heard from Greater Seattle Cares blogger Christie Houghton about the wonderful new partnership between GSC, Medical Teams International, and the Husky Health Bridge: together we provide dental care to residents of Tent City 3. (And last Saturday the team ran a successful clinic at Camp Second Chance as well.)

But what about those camp residents who can’t take advantage of this incredible service because they have no teeth?

Some of you may remember that in 2012 Greater Seattle Cares initiated a program to help residents of Tent City 3 get dentures. It was a huge success! With our donors’ generous help, 26 camp residents received full or partial dentures - and many of them were able to get work and move back into permanent housing!

With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, GSC suspended the program, since expanded health coverage gave more residents of homeless camps access to dental care and dentures – or so we thought. For the past several years, GSC has been referring folks for dentures, believing that Medicaid would pay. Only recently did we discover, to our dismay, that this is not always the case.

So, the Denture Program is back!

Why dentures? 

What does it mean to not have teeth? It means you can’t eat the meals that generous supporters provide to the encampment. You can eat only things that are very soft. You tend not to smile very much so your lack of teeth doesn’t show. People who meet you make automatic negative judgments. And if you’re living with chronic infections from broken teeth, that can even become life threatening.

Well-fitted dentures change all that and can be literally life-changing. Here are a couple of alumni from our 2012 program, Trudi and Shawn, before and after getting their dentures. Look at those smiles!

Trudi before
Trudi after

Trudi hadn’t had any upper teeth since someone stole her dentures while she was living in a shelter. After getting her new dentures, Trudi found she could eat things she hadn’t tasted in years. Best of all, when Trudi’s daughter got married that summer, Trudi was able to meet her daughter’s in-laws with confidence.

Shawn before
Shawn after

After getting his dentures, Shawn told us, “Last year I was out with some friends and someone made a comment about my bad teeth. It made me feel really bad. I like to smile. Now I can without feeling ashamed. Having the dentures gives a great uplifting feeling. I am able to chew my food, and I am regaining my health with better nutrition. I was one of the first to sign up – I was so excited I actually cried. Bless the people who donated money to make this happen for me.”

But we need your help. 

Clearly, this is an opportunity for us to make a significant difference in the life of a person who is experiencing homelessness – a difference that can lead to improved health, increased self-esteem, and the hope of moving back into the mainstream. GSC has developed a good working relationship with a first-class dentist and a denturist in Seattle who are helping us out with lowered prices. Now we just need the funds. Can you lend a hand?
  • $300 buys one tooth
  • $525 buys an upper or lower denture
  • $1150 provides an entire set of teeth
  • And any amount helps! 

Donating is easy! 

GSC has started a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $10,000 for this program. Click here to add your donation to the effort. And please share this blog post with your friends so we can get our camp residents smiling again!

Springtime is a time of hope. Let’s put some hope into the hearts of these homeless camp residents – and some teeth in their mouths!

Thank you. And God bless you.
The Greater Seattle Cares Board

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Dental Care Partners

By Christy Houghton


Who likes to go to the dentist? Nobody I know! But Greater Seattle Cares (GSC) and Medical Teams International (MTI) have a new partner that is helping make that visit to the dentist a little easier for residents of Tent City 3 and other formal homeless encampments.

It’s 8:00 a.m. on March 22nd, and the door of the UW Fisheries Science Building opens, admitting a volunteer who escorts a man walking with a cane. A black Lab with a graying muzzle ambles over for a polite sniff. In the middle of the great hall, a small fluffy white Maltese sits near three reclining dental chairs. Open-mouthed patients lie in the chairs, each tended by a small team of dental students with a faculty advisor. Behind them, a long table is laid out with dental supplies, while on the other side a separate room has been designated for X-rays. Down the hall, other dental students are checking patients in, helping them fill out paperwork, or sitting to chat with them while they wait to be seen. Outside, the big red MTI Mobile Dental Van is parked next to Tent City 3, accommodating two more third-year dental students and another of the dental school’s faculty. This is Husky Health Bridge at work.

The little white dog is mine,” says Brandon Walker, a former U.S. Marine turned dental student. “Earlier this morning, Teddy sat on a patient’s lap during her whole procedure.” Brandon is the “Media and PR guy” for Husky Health Bridge, a nonprofit formed last October by a group of first-year UW dental students who wanted to extend dental services to underserved groups in the area. He and a faculty advisor even brought their dogs today to help ensure the best possible dental experience for people who may be pretty scared after not having seen a dentist in a while.

This is the second time that Husky Health Bridge, MTI and GSC have organized a dental clinic for Tent City 3 while it has been hosted at the UW. Justin, a camp resident, had a molar extracted by this same group just one month earlier. “They were very nice. I was nervous because they were students, but they were very knowledgeable,” he says. Today, they’ve given him fluoride toothpaste and a soft brush to help with the sensitivity in his mouth while the area around the extraction heals.

Greater Seattle Cares has collaborated with MTI for several years, bringing free dental care to the residents of Tent City 3. MTI provides the mobile dental van, which has two dental chairs, onsite x-rays, and some advanced dental equipment. Usually, MTI also finds volunteer dentists to serve on the van. Greater Seattle Cares serves as liaison with the camp and assures a constant flow of patients through the clinic. And this year, Husky Health Bridge (HHB) joined the partnership, bringing enough dental equipment and volunteers to treat another three people at a time. Even more importantly, HHB has committed to “adopting” Tent City 3, providing volunteers to bring the MTI dental van to the camp, wherever it is, on a monthly basis.

For today, however, this dental services partnership is closing up shop. HHB volunteers pack up the mobile dental chairs, the dental equipment, the generator and the extra supplies. The MTI Clinic Manager ties down everything in the Mobile Dental Van with bungee cords and maneuvers the huge red vehicle carefully out of the parking lot, heading back to the MTI headquarters in Redmond. The GSC Dental Program Coordinator secures all the dental charts for storage in a locked filing cabinet in her garage. “All together, the Husky Health Bridge/MTI/GSC team saw 20 patients today, many with complex dental problems,” she reports. “Though the clinic was supposed to close at 2 PM, the volunteers have all stayed until well after 5 PM in order to make sure that every patient could be seen. This kind of commitment really sends a message to people living in homelessness that they are important, that they matter.”

And that can make coming to the dentist not so scary after all.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What’s New with GSC?

Innovations, Dental Clinics, and a Blog. 

Residents at Camp United We Stand are working on a new type of shelter made from Styrofoam insulation material. These shelters, called BOBs (Built On Blessings), are easy to build, relatively inexpensive, and collapsible for moving. Once tarped, they are warmer and drier than a tent, with room to stand up and with a lockable door. The camp is experimenting with these to see if they might replace tents. If you have a chance, stop by camp and ask to see one.

Oh, by the way, CUWS is moving to Haller Lake United Methodist Church on May 13th. They would really appreciate any help with the move, whether it’s a pick-up truck, a delivery of food and water, or strong arms to help load and unload. Put it on your calendar!

Camp Second Chance is now officially sponsored by the City of Seattle, and is growing rapidly. The City has moved the fence back and laid down gravel to give the camp more room to grow. They will soon be hooking up electricity and providing a more stable source of water. Pretty good for the little camp that could!

Tent City 3 has moved to private land at the corner of S 129th St. and Martin Luther King Way. We half-jokingly call this site “Valley Forge,” as there is no water or electricity but lots of mud. Efforts to get some wood chips donated have stalled out. With your financial support, however, we have been able to provide gasoline for the camp generator and water, at least to some degree, as well as the usual food, clothing and toiletry donations.
What this camp really needs is a new host! Think your church might be interested? If so, contact SHARE at shelters@sharewheel.org. There’s no commitment in just learning what’s involved in hosting. You can also read about what a wonderfully unifying experience this can be on our website.
Husky Health Bridge, the student-run UW Dental School non-profit that organized two dental clinics for the camp while it was at UW, has decided to adopt the Tent City 3! They have a clinic planned next at Camp Second Chance on April 29th with Medical Teams International and then will continue to provide services on a monthly basis to Tent City 3 after that.

Camp Unity Eastside is currently at St. Jude’s Catholic Church in Redmond. The camp is pretty small right now – just 16 residents – but St. Jude’s is also supporting a “safe parking” program right next door. This program gives people who are living out of their cars a legal place to park them. Never heard of this program? Here’s a really helpful article that explains it.

In other news, Greater Seattle Cares has a new blogger! Christy Houghton is a volunteer in Edmonds who visits the camps every couple of weeks and writes about her experiences. Follow her on our website or on our Facebook page.

Questions? Concerns? Like to ask a question, volunteer, or make a donation? Feel free to check out our website or contact us at info@GreaterSeattleCares.org.

Thank you all for your support and especially your big hearts and generous spirits in doing what you can to help those experiencing homelessness :) 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ordinary people helping others

Recently Greater Seattle Cares volunteer David Baum did a radio interview with Mind over Matters of KEXP 90.3 FM.

David is the founder of his own non-profit called Rumblecrash, and in this article he talks about his work with homeless communities in Seattle.

Take a listen!


 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tent City 3 – Immediate Needs

Dear friends of Tent City 3,
Tent City 3 moved last weekend to private land on the southeast corner of S 129th St. and Martin Luther King Way, an easy jump off of I-5. Many residents abandoned the camp when it moved, and 18 stalwart souls moved everything for a camp that usually serves 100. The current site is very muddy, with no electricity, no water and no church host. Since moving, the camp has grown back up to 30, with several families with small children. Until the camp moves to St. Joseph’s in June, there will be an on-going need for the following:
  • Refills for the propane tanks, so they can use their gas grill to cook. 
  • Gasoline cards, so they can run a generator for electricity. 
 Please search your hearts and see if you could provide some support for this camp. Without a church host, with no water and no electricity, this camp really needs help right now. Here’s what you can do:
  • Pick up empty propane tanks, fill and return them to camp. 
  • Pick up empty gas cans, fill and return them to camp. (There is a Shell station on 129th just to the west of the camp.) 
  • Drop off some gas cards at camp – something they can use at the Shell station. 
  • Make a donation to Greater Seattle Cares earmarked for Tent City 3, so that we can meet these needs. 

Many thanks for anything you can do to help!
Please contact the camp directly to see if this may have changed. Also, please see the general needs list for ongoing needs.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Move Day

 By Christy Houghton 

8:00 AM
"Camp United We Stand, it's 8 AM on Move Day!", someone shouts from the middle of the homeless encampment. "Camp United We Stand, it's 8 AM on Move Day!" Time for people to get up and start packing. Pastor Rick, who runs a late-night shelter referral system in Seattle called Operation Nightwatch, brings much appreciated hot coffee and donuts. Saturday morning, February 18th, begins chilly and damp.

“We All Do What We Can to Help.” 

Packing up
"It's good to be part of the Camp UWS community”, a camper says, “We all do what we can to help." The camp’s leaders expect people to help with whatever is needed during the move. With a shy smile, a young woman adds, "It's my first move and I'm excited for it. Everyone has each other's backs, for the most part.” One moving truck waits to be loaded, with another expected at 10 AM. Volunteers will arrive at noon to help. As others get out of their tents and go looking for coffee, it starts to rain.
Tom, who worked in construction for 25 years, had been elected Advance Camp Master for the move. He’ll coordinate setup at the new location. Another camp resident has been elected to coordinate the packing up at the old site. Earlier in the week, Tom had worked with a camp resident who is an electrician to design the new site’s layout and tent spots. There are fire codes and city regulations to be met. Tom explains that the community tents will go up first, and electricity hooked up. Then a fence will be built around the camp, except where the thick sticker bushes on one side provide a natural protection. Carport structure flooring and raised walkways for the community tents need to be rebuilt, along with the pallet tent floors for the campers.

A Grueling Day 

For most of the 35 camp residents, it’s a grueling day that starts in the morning and will end long after dark. Before the move, supplies were packed up from the community areas: kitchen, donations, office, and TV room. After the move, there’s unpacking and setup to be done. Moving the camp to a new location takes a full week of effort.

11:30 AM 

An old rock song plays on a radio, and there’s a lot of movement in the encampment. People are taking apart the plywood flooring from the community tents, or loading personal belongings and tents into the trucks.
Assembling a community tent
At the new site, Shoreline Free Methodist Church, the steady drizzle has turned to a steady rain. Volunteers unload kitchen supplies from the trunk of a car. A few people are working on setting up the carport structures which house the kitchen, the donations, and the security desk. There's only clear packing tape in the supplies box, so Tom asks someone to call the old camp to get the duct tape they need to secure the fitted pipes for the carport frames.

4:00 PM 

At the old site, the shy woman looks tired, but says with a ready smile, "It's going well. People are helping each other." A man carrying a heavy-looking bundle nods his head in agreement. Their clothing is wet and muddy.
At the new site, there’s a small table with some dishes and food. Some wonderful neighbor had dropped off spaghetti and garlic bread. There are more people working on setup, and the music plays here now. A long extension cord runs across this side of the church’s parking lot, and pallets are stacked in piles. People keep moving, doing whatever is needed to help. It's still raining.

Up Past Midnight 

Early on Sunday, Christopher, one of the camp’s elected leaders, is the first person back to the old site. It’s mostly bare, but there's a small structure that will be hauled with a trailer, and a few tarp-covered piles left to move. He says everyone cleared out of here at 10:30 last night. They were all up past midnight, pitching their own tents after reassembling the pallet floors. Warming up by the propane heater in one of the community tents kept Christopher going. He’s gotten about three and half hours of sleep.

“This Really Sucks.” 

The temporary homeless camps get a 90-day permit, with an extension if needed. Every three months or so, the whole camp must move.
Morning after Move Day at the new site
Tom and Linda were with Tent City 3 for six years, and CUWS for two years. This is their 30th move. Christopher is another move veteran. He believes the worst part of moving is that people have to stop their daily activities to participate in Move Day. Tanya missed a class. Others miss work, or scheduled time with their children. It takes the residents a week or two after the move to get familiar with the new area and bus routes. An experienced resident sums it up, "This really sucks. We need a spot where we don't have to move every three months."

More Work to Do 

Sunday morning at the new site, Tom carries a partial pallet under each arm, looking exhausted. He hadn't set up his own tent or slept, because people needed help all night. Three campers chose not to participate in the move. Since they didn’t help the camp move, they'll be 'site barred' according to the community’s rules: not welcome to stay for the next three months. For everyone else, there’s still more work to do. A fence to be put up and community tents to be organized.
The next Move Day is May 13th.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

First Visit to a Homeless Camp

 By Christy Houghton 

I’m a new writer for Greater Seattle Cares (GSC). This is my first article. Before volunteering with GSC, my experience with the homeless came from the TV news, and seeing (and smelling) drunk and dirty people begging on the streets near Pike Place Market or Pioneer Square in Seattle. So, when I made my first visit to Camp United We Stand, an organized, self-managed transitional encampment in Shoreline, I was in for some surprises.

Safer Than My Own Neighborhood 
I live in the suburbs, where a woman can walk alone at night - alert, but unafraid. My neighborhood, though, doesn't have anywhere near the level of security that I found at Camp United We Stand. Only one entrance to the small homeless encampment; and before going in further, a camp resident politely insisted that I write the time, my name, and purpose for the visit in their guest notebook. He also warned me that no alcohol or drugs are permitted in the camp.

Wary but Welcoming 
Before my visit, I told myself that I had no business at a homeless camp, and the people there would resent my presence. I’d thought that homeless people preferred to be invisible in our society, and steeled myself for hostility or at least indifference. Then I met Christopher, Tom, Monty, and Isaac. They welcomed me to the camp with kindness, and willingly posed for pictures after hearing that I was a new writer for GSC. I learned that just like everyone else, they want to be seen and heard and respected.
Isaac and Bowser, outside of Camp United We Stand
Cleaner Than You'd Think 
Everyone I met appeared as clean as people without a shower on premises could possibly be expected to look. The camp was well-maintained, orderly, and spotless. If I hadn’t known it was a homeless camp, I might’ve asked about the campground rates.

Some Problems are Small Enough to Fix 
Christopher was one of the three resident ECs (elected Executive Council member) that week, and in charge. When he showed me the Donation Tent, Christopher pointed out that they were short on men’s pants, sizes 30-39. They also needed a stapler before Move Day. I have an extra stapler at home. I had thought that if you help the homeless, you enable the homeless problem to continue. Greater Seattle Cares helped me see that people must have their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and safety met before they can even think about next steps to improve their lives.

Even Little Things Make a Difference 
Before volunteering as a writer for GSC, I worried that it would make me feel bad to know more about the homeless problem because it’s so big that I couldn’t make a difference. I learned that even little things make a difference. Listening to someone, and speaking with respect and warmth. Writing about real people in our community, who want to be seen and heard. I can do these things.