One Human, One Block, One Year: An Idea for Solving Homelessness

So file this under pie in the sky, hopeless ideas that have no chance of coming true.

Unless, that is, one person tries to get it going.

NPR published an interesting article the other day about Homelessness in Seattle. One stat stood out: “According to the latest count, in January, more than 3,700 people live on the streets of King County. The number of people sleeping outside shot up by 20 percent in just the past year.”



That number sounds enormous when you are thinking about how a government agency could fix the problem. And the government has proven it can’t do it. Here’s another stat from the article, one that should make you pretty mad. “All told, under a 10-year plan put together a decade ago by a public-private partnership called the Committee to End Homelessness, roughly $1 billion has gone to the cause.”

$1 Billion spent in 10 years. 3,700 homeless. At $100 million spent per year, we could just pay every homeless person an annual salary of $27,000 and just close down whatever services are trying to solve the problem.

But 3,700 is also a really small number.

King County has 2.044 Million people. For every 1 homeless person in Seattle, there are 550 non-homeless. This is the math I use to think there’s an opportunity at fixing this problem.

One Human, One Block, One Year
The idea is simple philosophically. Homelessness stops being a macro issue that we need “leaders” and “organizations” to try to solve. Homeless people need to stop being nameless, anonymous shadows that we can easily ignore on the side of the on ramp.

Let’s make homelessness a neighborhood cause. And not just a neighborhood cause, but a block cause.

I’m going to guess that almost every city block contains the following things:
– A house with an unused shed, mother-in-law attachment, garage or other structure that could be fitted with a simple bathroom. (And if not, a group of 20 people who’d split the rent on an apartment for someone.)
– At least one if not more people who hire part-time help.
– Someone who is or knows a psychologist, therapist or life coach.
– A teacher.
– A retired person willing to occasionally give someone a ride.
– Someone who’d spring for a bus pass.
– Neighbors with extra clothing they can give to a specific human.
– People who will donate money to make sure someone they know is well fed.

When you think of the idea that 550 people working together could help a single person get off the street, it seems almost mathematically insane that we have homeless people in the first place.

Now yes, I know that there are gigantic holes in this idea. Addiction, dementia, stubbornness, safety. These are all issues that would have to be dealt with. Then you’d have to get through the government red tape of permits, zoning, etc…

But doesn’t it seem doable? Doesn’t it seem like if everyone who lived on your block assembled for two hours one Sunday afternoon, you could come up with everything you need to get someone a home, a part-time job, a wardrobe, counseling, a bus pass, some education and tutoring, addiction treatment if necessary, and most of all – friends in a neighborhood. Friends who want to see their guest succeed and move on to successfully re-start their own life in 12 months.

That’s my utopian idea. One human, being helped by one block of neighbors, for one year.

A Quick Thought About A Common Dilemma

I don’t think I’m the only person who regularly gets asked for money by homeless people. On any given day, I can be hit up by one when I get on I-5, one when I get off I-5 and anywhere between 1 and 3 within 20 yards of the Wallingford QFC. So long ago I drew a line in the sand and just decided not to give out dollar bills to guys who may simply take my dollar bill and buy some cheap booze.

So here’s what I’d like to have. I’d like to be able to donate $100, $200, $300, however much to a shelter. I’d like them to mail me a bunch of $1 “gift cards” that can only be redeemed at that shelter. And I’d like the shelter to make the recipient do something to redeem it. Work in the kitchen, take a skills class, whatever. And then I’d like all the “gift cards” they’ve collected to be put towards something they need. Or let the shelter act as a bank and hold the cards for them. In fact, I’d even have the cards contain a # to a taxi company where the person could ride to the Mission for free and have the ride paid for as part of this program.

I know, this can’t work for a hundred reasons. But I’d like it to. I’d feel way more comfortable giving a card to someone than 1/2 the money he needs for a 40.

My Dumb Idea to Help with Homelessness

If you were to line up all the causes I wish I could support more, Homelessness comes to the front.  It’s not that I think it is more or less worthy than others, but it feels like something we should be able to make more progress against.

Every time I go into my neighborhood QFC, I pass between 1 and 3 homeless people asking for money.  One man stands at the front of the store with a “Homeless Vet” sign, one woman sits across the street by the parking lot and occasionally there is a representative from “Real Change.” Clearly, we can do better than this as a society.

Now, there are a couple of problems that we all face.  If we write big checks to a charity that helps with homelessness, we don’t know where the money goes and if it is being used to help people get out of their situation or just make their situation more tolerable.  If you give money directly to a person, you don’t know if they’ll spend it down the street at 7-11 on a bottle of Boone’s.

So here’s my dumb idea that will likely offend a bunch of people.

I would like to try to focus some efforts on the homeless who are closest to climb their way out.  The  people who have cleaned themselves up, paid their debts to society or taken other steps to get back to a position where they can succeed.  There are plenty of people who just need that little burst of cash to get the first and last months rent, a nice set of clothes, a moped or bus pas, or whatever is keeping them just 1-2 degrees from that point.

So how do we do this? I’d like to propose a kind of combination of Anonymous LinkedIn and Kickstarter managed by some reputable organization.  In this system, i could look at the anonymous profiles of  everyone who is applying for personal donations and what they will be need the money for.  They set personal goals and achievements that they need to hit.  With each success, they get closer to collecting their donation from me and the others who are rooting / supporting them.  The reputable organization then makes the purchase of the apartment, clothes, car, whatever on behalf of the client.

So in a nutshell – the homeless person “earns” the money they need by achieving some set of goals and objectives, people like us get to choose the unnamed profiles we want to support based on our preference, and there is a group in between making sure everyone stays anonymous in the process.

I can already hear the 100 reasons this is unfair to a whole set of people and not a solution to a massive problem.  But I’m not trying to boil the entire ocean here.  I’m just trying to help a few people out.  Anyway, that’s my latest dumb idea.

Teen Feed

Catherine has been volunteering for a little while with a group called Teen Feed.

Now, for a little while there, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about what Catherine was up to. But I have had the great opportunity to volunteer with her a few times in the last few weeks, and want to relay a thought or two.

It’s hard to find something much more disturbing than a room full of 18-25 year olds with no home, no food and a pretty hopeless outlook. If someone is 40, you can put some level of blame on them for being in the spot they are in. But it’s kind of hard to fault an 18 year old.

For about $100-$150, a Teen Feed organizer puts together a menu and buys all the groceries for about 50-60 people. Anywhere between 4 and 8 volunteers take over a kitchen of a neighborhood church, and prepare the meal. The kids arrive at 7pm, and dinner ends promptly at 8pm.

The kids who show up for the free food have no place to go, and in some cases no other food to eat. Some just spend the entire hour taking advantage of the heat and chairs they are allowed to rest in. But they are all polite, thankful, and just happy someone cares.

I’m going to write more about this over the next few weeks. But I really want to commend the volunteers of Teen Feed, and urge you guys to consider Teen Feed when you are considering where to donate some of your time or money. In my mind, 18-25 year olds are still save-able. We should be working on ways to do that.

#ParkaParty Taking On Life of its Own

Congrats to @Roosiehood.  What started as a little project to raise a few hundred bucks for local food banks is taking on a life of its own.

#ParkaParty is in full effect in the Seattle Twittersphere, and shows no sign of letting down.  If you haven’t jumped on board yet, this article from should explain it all.

Now I’m just waiting for my #ParkaParty avatar to arrive…….

In the meantime, here’s a fun little Flickr slideshow from the web site to show some of the folks who have donated.  



Going Once…Gone. Seattle Loses Legend Dick Friel

If you don’t know the name Dick Friel, well then you simply need to re-evaluate how much money you give to charity, because it’s not enough.  There’s a small number of A-list auctioneers in this town, so if your event was any good, you had about a 1 in 3 chance of seeing Dick and Sharon Friel at the mic.

The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that Mr. Friel has passed away at the age of 76.  I had the pleasure of working with him and his wife on the Cure Autism Now Auction back in the early 2000’s.  He was a genuine professional, with a jovial smile and demeanor that was all about business – the business of making money for charity.

I was naive to how auctions worked when I first saw him prepping.  He asked for the attendee list and list of items.  He then ran through his mental rolodex as easily as I remember baseball stats.  “Oh, Mr. Brown loves vacations.  He’s good for $1000 every event so let’s save this Italy trip and focus on him.” “The Jacobsons would go nuts for this necklace, but they always leave by 9:00.  Let’s move it to Item 3.”   “I know Mike and John are Pearl Jam freaks.  Let’s get a bidding war on that studio session and then convince Eddie to let them both in.”  From a marketing perspective, it was a thing of beauty to watch.  And the winners were always the charities.  

Farewell, Mr. Friel.

Andy 3, Bridge 0

Team "No Runner Left Behind" attacked the Beat the Bridge run for the 3rd time this weekend, and we’re proud to announce a clean sweep.  Everyone cruised across with no problems, (except for the guy pushing the baby stroller, which we are not counting as failure.)  In fact, we set a team record with everyone finishing between 42:00 and 47:00.

Make sure to book mid-May 2009 to join us next year for this event.  It’s a great time fo ra very worthwile cause.

Join Team “No Runner Left Behind” at the Beat the Bridge Run

btb02.JPGIn the 2007 Beat the Bridge Run, our small but dedicated 10 man team got 90% of us across the bridge in time (full story here.) While that’s pretty good, that is still leaving one behind and we don’t want to do that in 2008.

If you didn’t join us last year, you missed out on a fun Sunday morning.  So now’s your chance to join the 2008 team.  It should be a blast again.  I mean, I hate running more than just about anything (except eggs) and I manage to get through this 5 miles and immediately start looking forward to next year’s race.

It’s easy to join "No Runner Left Behind."  Just find one of the links I’ve conveniently dropped all over the post.  A few clicks later, you’re on the squad.  6 weeks left – better start training.

A Feel Good Story, Courtesy of the New York Yankees

Maybe it’s because the new Yankees regime is headed by the Boss, Part Deux.  Or maybe they just seem softer now that Red Sox Nation has taken over the mantle of "Most Obnoxious Fans Alive."  But for whatever reason, the Bronx Bombers trip from Tampa to Virginia Tech to play an exhibition game and visit the student memorials certainly feels like altruism and genuine caring, not a marketing stunt.  Amongst all the hate and rhetoric being thrown around the political fields these days, it’s nice to read something like this article.

Relief 4 Teeth – Fundraiser this weekend

I don’t usually do this, but I’m plugging a charity fundraiser a friend of mine is hosting for another friend of hers.  The event benefits a guy who did not have health insurance, and suffered a pretty severe head injury. In a lot of ways, this is a unique fundraiser because you can actually see and meet the beneficiary of your generosity.  Heck, you can probably choose which bill you want to pay.  Here are the details:

Location: SodoPop – 2424 1st Avenue South, Seattle, WA US

Date: Saturday, July 19, 2008 at 8:00pm

Here’s a link to the evite.  And here’s all the info you need to know:

Hey all!  This evite is a two-for-one deal (1) Join us for a kickass party and (2) Support our dear friend Orion with some seriously steep medical bills.

The party: Killer bands.  Stellar DJ’s.  A charming MC to delight and entertain.  Drinks. Dancing.  Friends.

The background:  Orion (whom you may know from such favorites as North Hill Bakery, The Hopvine, Uptown Espresso, or just being an all-around sweet and stand-up guy) took a really nasty spill on his bicycle, losing several teeth and fracturing some bones in his face.  Without insurance…we’re talking about five-figure bills.  No joke- add insult to injury, squared.

The benefit:  Stunning art will be auctioned. Incredible gift certificates will be furiously bid upon. Drinks are hosted but all tips are donated to the cause, capiche?  So bring your checks and your cash, dig deep into your pockets, and with only a $10 cover for the best party in town, everybody wins.

Please forward this evite, and we hope to see you there.  If you must send your regrets, you could also consider sending $!  Simply make a check out to "Relief for Teeth," and mail to our PO Box at:

Relief for Teeth
1463 E Republican
Mailbox B55
Seattle, WA 98112