The first homeless person Barbara Poppe encountered was an infant. The year was 1983 and Poppe, a medical student, was trying to understand why a child she was treating was failing to thrive. She ultimately discovered the newborn went to sleep each night in a car.
Last June, Poppe picked up a copy of the Seattle Times and saw a story about a couple living in a station wagon with two infants. For Poppe, those occurrences, separated by 33 years, are representative of a disturbing problem that demands a solution.
“We have strong enough evidence that there is no level of homelessness that is not harmful to children,” Poppe told a full house at a State of Homelessness in Seattle forum held last week at Town Hall in downtown Seattle. “And in particular, we know that homelessness to pregnant women and to infants increases substantially the risk that infants will die before the age of 1.”
Starbucks is working with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce to engage the business community and service providers, as well as the city and King County, to address the crisis confronting unsheltered families and children sleeping outside in cars, tents and doorways – places deemed “unfit for human habitation.”
Starbucks sponsored the February 2 forum in partnership with the Chamber, the Downtown Seattle Association, Visit Seattle and the Alliance for Pioneer Square. The panel, moderated by award-winning journalist Dave Ross, included Poppe alongside City of Seattle Director of Homelessness George Scarola and Mark Putnam, director of All Home, a coalition of government, business, faith communities, nonprofits and homeless advocates.
“You are the most innovative business community,” said Poppe, who has worked with Seattle to produce “The Path Forward” report that addresses the crisis in the city. “That’s where I enter into this. I don’t understand. You are smart, you are caring, you know how to get stuff done. I don’t know why you don’t get it done.”
An Urgent Appeal for Action
With major gifts from the Starbucks Foundation, the Schultz Family Foundation and Microsoft, more than 50 local businesses and organizations responded to the call for urgent action to expand housing capacity and resources through the annual No Child Sleeps Outside campaign. Over the holiday season, a record $4.5 million was raised through the campaign online and at over 200 local Starbucks® stores for Mary’s Place, the region’s largest family emergency shelter provider.
John Kelly, Starbucks senior vice president, Global Responsibility, Community & Public Policy, echoed Poppe’s frustration with the area’s inability to effectively address the issue. At the end of the forum, he offered Starbucks stores as meeting places for local businesses, government and community organizations to keep pressing for answers and said that two additional forums will be announced in the near future.
“Children are outside through no fault of their own,” he said. “It’s an invisible problem that Mary’s Place, among other providers, are doing incredible work to help solve, but we haven’t come close to solving it.”