Seattle Shelter Focuses On Native Peoples Experiencing Homelessness

Dec 30, 2019
Originally published on December 30, 2019 9:33 am

A new homeless shelter in Seattle is exclusively serving Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Pacific Islanders. It's one of the first facilities of its kind in the country helping to house the more than 1,000 Native people in the city experiencing homelessness.

Eagle Village sits near Seattle's industrial district south of downtown. It's pressed up against railroad tracks and next to a large bus terminal. Gary Fisher has lived here about a month after bouncing around other shelters in the city for three years.

"A lot of times even sleeping outside in conditions like that might be a better, safer environment than some of the shelters that I've been in," Fisher said in Eagle Village's meeting room.

Fisher says other shelters he's been to have too many people coming and going. "You don't stay by the same person every night," he said," so it's always new people you don't know."

But Eagle Village, he says, is nothing like that. This site is made up of modular trailers divided into small apartments, each with its own private bathroom and kitchenette.

Fisher says the rooms here are comfortable for two people. They've got plenty of closet space, and Fisher has his own bathroom.

Disproportionate homelessness

Thirty people live at Eagle Village full-time, which has capacity for 31 residents. Everybody here — residents, employees, case managers — are all Indigenous peoples, a group that housing advocates say have been largely undeserved by social services. Like in most of the country, Native people in King County, where Seattle is located, make up a disproportionate number of people experiencing homelessness.

"We make up less than one percent of the total population and make up over 10% of our homeless population," says Colleen Echohawk, executive director of Chief Seattle Club, which runs Eagle Village.

Residents are painting the exterior of each trailer in Eagle Village with Native imagery.
Casey Martin / KUOW

Echohawk says because of the history of mistreatment by the U.S. government a lot of Native people don't trust traditional government-run shelters.

"If you had attended boarding school, for instance, or you were in the foster care system or you were one of those folks who have been forcibly sterilized," she says, "the likelihood of you going into a shelter which has those same kind of systems, that same kind of feel, it's unlikely because of how much it will trigger your trauma."

Culturally sensitive

Echohawk describes Eagle Village as "culturally responsible housing," and Chief Seattle Club intentionally chose to use the term village instead of shelter or camp. Eagle Village residents have community meetings, drum circles, and, come springtime, a new medicine garden.

"Before anyone ever got there," Echohawk says, "we had traditional medicine people come through, and they prayed. They offered songs. They smudged and cleansed the entire place."

Residents also come up with dinner ideas and cook for themselves. Eagle Village site manager, Donalda Lyons, says the food is one of the biggest differences here.

"Say they're Lakota and they're like, 'Oh we like this. This is the type of soup we do.' And if we can purchase this stuff here, OK, this is a traditional Lakota soup," Lyons says, "or even from my own res, if there's something that I would like to share with them."

The cost to build Eagle Village was a little over $3 million, paid for in-part by the county and state. Colleen Echohawk says the government is long overdue to fund homeless services for Native people.

"I see this as sort of a way for government officials to fulfill those old obligations that have been forgotten by most part," Echohawk says.

A few years ago she helped launch the Coalition to End Urban Native Homelessness. At the time, it was just based in Seattle. Now Echohawk hopes to partner with other cities to build similar shelters.

"Looking for best practices and looking for what other cities have done, so we'll collaborate," Echohawk says. "It's going to just be this amazing time to to say, 'Oh, what are you doing in Minneapolis? And they're doing great things in Minneapolis. And what are you doing in Seattle and in New York?"

Eagle Village resident Gary Fisher says this is a model not just for Native shelters but for all shelters.

"Homeless shelters are filthy, rotten places for a human being," Fisher says, gesturing around the tidy community room to point out how different Eagle Village is. "Look around you. There's $3 million worth of brand new stuff all around you and I'm part of it. So I'm enjoying it. I'm loving it."

Fisher thinks if Native homelessness can be solved, then all homelessness could be solved as well.

Copyright 2019 KUOW. To see more, visit KUOW.

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right as we get very close to the end of the decade, the stock market is finishing this year on a remarkable upswing - the S&P 500 is up almost 30%, stock indices have been hitting records - and that is not what most people were predicting at the start of this decade. NPR's Jim Zarroli has the story.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Wall Street in 2008 was a fearful and anxious place, strewn with the wreckage of the financial crisis - fortunes had been decimated, retirement accounts deflated. On CNBC, the newscaster spoke about what was happening in ominous terms.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It was an historic day, with Wall Street shaken to its very foundation today, and even the health of the most trusted firms are now being called into question.

ZARROLI: Back in those days, it seemed America's financial system was near collapse. Few people would have bet that stocks were about to embark on a record bull market, and yet that's exactly what happened. If you'd put money in stocks in March 2009 at the market bottom, it would be worth many times that today, a decade later. David Kotok is chief investment officer of Cumberland Advisors.

DAVID KOTOK: From the bottom in 2009 to today, the U.S. stock market measured by the broad index, the Standard and Poor's 500 index, has gone up fivefold.

ZARROLI: Tech stocks in particular have soared. Microsoft sold for $17 a share in March 2009; today, it goes for almost $160. What happened to turn things around? Quincy Krosby of Prudential Financial credits the world's central bankers, especially the Federal Reserve. They took bold action to prop up the financial system, even lowering interest rates to zero.

QUINCY KROSBY: It was a cumulative effort, but certainly, the Fed led - and they led in an environment that was dark. They weren't certain, you know, what would ignite confidence. But ultimately, the global economy started to come off the bottom.

ZARROLI: Within a few years, she says, sentiment began to change.

KROSBY: When things started to get less bad, you could see it; you could feel it. People started going back and buying vehicles. They started buying houses. And people just started having more confidence.

ZARROLI: By March 2013, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was hitting records again, and it has kept doing so multiple times since then. But the bull market has coincided with much greater public distrust of Wall Street.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Occupy Wall Street - all day, all week.

ZARROLI: In 2011, protesters began camping out in a small park in the financial district in Lower Manhattan. The Occupy Wall Street movement shined a spotlight on the fact that many Americans weren't benefiting from the riches of the stock market. Eighty four percent of all stocks owned by Americans belong to the wealthiest 10%. Only about half of Americans own stocks, even through their retirement funds. Many people were angry about how taxpayer money was used to rescue big banks that had caused the financial crisis.

Here is Vermont Senator and current Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

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BERNIE SANDERS: The American people bailed out Wall Street; now it is time for Wall Street to come to the aid of the middle class of this country.

ZARROLI: Sanders and other legislators have called for a tax on Wall Street financial transactions. But the market has often seemed to overlook politics. When President Trump was elected, some analysts predicted his erratic style would send the market crashing. Instead, the exact opposite has happened; stocks have soared in value, coinciding with the longest economic expansion on record. All the major stock indexes are closing this year at record highs. David Kotok thinks stocks may actually have gone up too much.

KOTOK: I personally believe most of the healing is over. And if anything, we now have too much optimism and complacency and euphoria.

ZARROLI: For now, the euphoria is winning. But all bull markets come to an end; the only question is when.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF TROMBONE SHORTY'S "TRIPPED OUT SLIM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.