Since its inception in 1982, Bread & Roses has provided hospitality to the poor and homeless of our community in a wide variety of ways. When I joined the household as a live-in volunteer in 2003, the Cherry Street community kitchen and day center had just closed and the new Advocacy Center was getting started. Shortly after that, our Devoe Street men’s shelter was replaced by Catholic Community Services’ Drexel House. We published the Voice of Olympia street newspaper for several years. Other organizations have also benefited from our support, including the Tenants’ Union, Partners in Prevention Education, EGYHOP, the Family Emergency Shelter, SideWalk, and Interfaith Works. Throughout it all, we have continued to provide hospitality at the Women’s Guesthouse shelter.
We took a break from sheltering for the month of August to provide a break for the live-in volunteers, to deep clean the house and to conduct much-needed repairs. (This is the first such break in decades—literally every day for over fifteen years, live-in volunteers have shared life in these houses with our homeless guests.) We also used the month to reflect on our mission, our history, and our role as providers of hospitality.
The demand for our shelter services has changed significantly over the last two years. Rent assistance programs at SideWalk and at the Community Action Council have been highly successful at quickly moving the homeless off the streets and into permanent housing. Overall shelter demand among women has fallen so quickly that when we closed our doors in August the only impact was that the Salvation Army filled a few of its empty beds. For this and other reasons, we will not reopen as a shelter in September.
Bread & Roses will continue to offer hospitality, but in a new way. Beginning this September, we will provide affordable housing to low-income people who have demonstrated a sincere commitment to service. We will rent rooms to low-income students, Americorps volunteers, and other community volunteers, and provide an environment tailored to support their service and encourage collaboration.
Residents will also benefit from the combined wisdom and experience of Selena, Phil, and Meta, the hosts at Bread & Roses who, along with many current and past board members, have contributed significantly to the creation of a long list of local projects. Our hosts are a vital asset of this intentional community who will mentor and develop a new generation of social justice leaders and activists.
There is still a very serious and specific need for shelter and intensive, long-term services for homeless women with severe disabilities. We’ve found that an increasing percentage of the women who seek shelter have complex needs that cannot be met at Bread & Roses.
An unprecedented number of our guests in the past 18 months moved to adult family homes or other supportive housing, were hospitalized, or were admitted to inpatient treatment facilities. At least five of our recent guests required mobility assistance devices, in a house where every bed is at the top of a flight of stairs.
One guest experienced severe and frightening hallucinations on a daily basis; most days she was unable to prepare food for herself, bathe or tend to other necessary self-care tasks. It took us four months of persistent advocating with mental health providers to get her access to appropriate medication, and another month before she was hospitalized. While it has not been unusual for us to have one or two guests each year with similar issues, during those same four months we had eight other guests with serious mental health symptoms, two of whom were developmentally disabled young adults, and at least four of whom struggled with active substance abuse problems.
These women deserve accessible and affordable treatment and permanent housing. In the absence of adequate support services, we cannot provide hospitality to such high-needs individuals without risking their safety and ours. Nor can we count moving them to an apartment, without those services, a success.
Fortunately, our advocacy efforts and the efforts of others have paid off: The local mental health system is preparing for long-overdue reforms, the county is recognizing the need to create permanent supportive housing, and increasing inpatient treatment and psychiatric beds has become a priority at the state level. Lastly, the Interfaith Works shelter is opening a year-round location this November and will be admitting the most vulnerable among the homeless. Despite these positive developments, we will continue to advocate for a functional, responsive, and well-funded safety net for the most vulnerable in our communities.
Over the next year, as we host our first intentional community of service volunteers, we will continue to examine how we can best serve the community. We invite you to become part of that conversation. There are a lot of possibilities and we are certain – with your continued support – that Bread & Roses will be as vital and as valuable as ever.
B&R is a 501(c)3 non-profit inspired by the Catholic Worker movement and dedicated to serving the homeless, poor and marginalized of Thurston County. Over the years, thousands of generous people throughout this community and beyond have contributaed to the success and accomplishments of B&R. Current live-in volunteers are Selena Kilmoyer, Meta Hogan, and Phil Owen. We continue to operate from the original House of Hospitality and Guesthouse on 8th Avenue on Olympia’s east side. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Meta at 360-259-9619, Selena at 360-951-0326, or Phil at 360-545-3174