Family has always come first to Umlesh Kaur, even when that means making great personal sacrifices.
When she was 20, she immigrated from the Fiji Islands to the United States where she got married and had four children. The family faced hard times and last year, after making the choice to take her children and leave her husband for the sake of her children, she began working two jobs to keep a roof over their heads.
But after her oldest daughter ran away, she realized she needed to be home more with her children, so she gave up one of her jobs. Caught between working enough to pay the rent or being with her children who needed her, she fell behind on the rent. Last November, she and her children were evicted without anywhere to go.
Umlesh Kaur drives to pick her daughters up at school. Umlesh became homeless almost a year ago and has been staying at Mary's Place in Seattle Washington.
“That first night we slept in the car from 12 to 6 a.m.,” she said. “At 7 a.m. we went to church and freshened up a bit, and then we went to Mary’s Place.”
Mary’s Place provides shelter and support services for women, children and families in King County. The non-profit provides not only a safe, warm place to sleep and nutritious meals, but also access to help finding housing, a job, or easier things, like getting a copy of ID required for work or to rent an apartment, said Marty Hartman, executive director of Mary’s Place.
“Our goal is for families to be safe and warm tonight and to move into housing tomorrow,” she said.
With an estimated 2,300 families with children experiencing homelessness in King County, there’s a staggering need. Thanks to donations from The Starbucks Foundation and the community to the No Child Sleeps Outside campaign, Mary's Place has provided shelter to more than 640 families over the last two years. This year, Starbucks is partnering again with Mary’s Place with a goal of raising $2 million to open and operate another shelter for three years, helping 900 families find permanent housing. Customers can donate through the Starbucks mobile app from Nov. 15-21 or at the website through December 31: starbucks.nochildsleepsoutside.org.
Six-year-old Treerindia Kaur looks through the window of her mother’s car.
Like Kaur, many people are only one crisis away from becoming homeless, said Linda Mitchell, chief communications officer for Mary’s Place. “Forty-seven percent of people are not able to absorb a $400 emergency expense.”
Kaur said that when she arrived at Mary’s Place, she had no idea what to expect. She’d never been homeless before. But from the moment she arrived, when she was offered tea from a staff worker, she felt welcomed.
Mary’s Place is “a place for people who are sleeping outside, in a car or in a tent to find food here. To find shelter here. To find everything here,” she said. “I’ve never felt like I was left behind here.”
Kaur and her family have lived at Mary’s Place for a year while she works full-time to pay off the debt from her eviction and get back into her own home. More than 70 percent of the adult residents at Mary’s Place are working – sometimes two or three jobs, said Hartman. “We know they all deeply love their children and would do anything for them,” she said.
Umlesh Kaur picks up her daughter Treerindia from school.
While parents are working, their children can go to Mary’s Place Kids Club for everything from homework help to craft classes to Scouting meetings, birthday celebrations and more. “It allows kids to be able to be kids and have fun, new experiences and to know they are not defined by where they live,” said Hartman.
Kaur dreams of the day when she can take her furniture out of storage and have a home to call her own again. But along the way, her family has learned the importance of helping others and coming together for a greater good.
“My children, when they came here, they learned how to become a part of a bigger family,” she said. “That’s what Mary’s Place has done for them.”
After school Umlesh Kaur makes her daughters Treerindia, 6, left and Eriindia, 10, right, noodles before they head upstairs to Mary’s Place Kids Club.
Ten-year-old Eriindia Kaur eats noodles before heading to Kids Club at Mary's Place.
Umlesh Kaur came to Mary's Place a year ago after becoming homeless for the first time with her daughters. She is now four months pregnant and is thankful for the community that Mary's Place gives her.
Six-year-old Treerindia Kaur tucks in her doll to bed while playing at Kids Club.
Umlesh Kaur does a workbook activity with her ten-year-old daughter Eriindia in their private room.
Umlesh Kaur hangs posters on the wall to decorate in her private room at Mary's Place.
Umlesh takes care of her neighbors 11 month old boy Samuel before bed.
Six-year-old Treerindia Kuar helps clean after dinner at Mary's Place.