In the mid-1980s I came to Seattle as a seminary intern. Back then, people were still thinking of homelessness as being a short-term crisis, akin to the displacement of people that occurs during natural disasters.
During that time I worked with a downtown agency doing emergency financial assistance.
It was brutal.
Each day, all day, I listened to stories from people who were being evicted. We had only enough money to help about one in 20 of the families. To everyone else, I could only offer information about the eviction process and, if there was room, the homeless shelters available to them. The experience planted a deep desire in me to find structural solutions to the suffering caused by our political and economic systems.
Since then, I have participated in a host of social justice actions and campaigns and met many amazing people working to end homelessness, and I have come to the conclusion that a lot more such people are needed in the struggle.
What if those who are interested in ending homelessness were provided with an opportunity to hear, learn from and be inspired by those who have been doing that work?
That is the idea behind the Pilgrimage Northwest program. The Pilgrimage offers people an opportunity to move from a general concern to active, informed participation in providing solutions.
Pilgrimage Northwest intertwines building an understanding of the issue of homelessness and examining a range of social justice approaches as they apply to that issue.
Designed as a three-day intensive experience, Pilgrimage Northwest intertwines building an understanding of the issue of homelessness and examining a range of social justice approaches as they apply to that issue.
Participants will hear from experts in the field about what they have learned as they have practiced community organizing, advocacy, direct action, activism or educational approaches, and participants will visit some of the sites where the history of the work to end homelessness happened.
Pilgrimage Northwest on Homelessness is the latest approach to the work of empowering and educating people to carry forward the work of social justice created by the Justice Leadership Program (JLP).
JLP started more than six years ago with an 11-month intensive program for young adults.
Participants in the program work as interns in social justice agencies in Seattle. They participate in a curriculum of classes and workshops designed to give them greater breadth in their understanding of the work of justice.
They live simply and in intentional community. JLP partners with religious and secular organizations, such as the Church Council of Greater Seattle, the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness and Real Change.
Last year we began Justice Leadership Jubilee, a similar, though less intensive, program for older adults.
The goal of these programs is to empower and prepare participants for the work of social justice in the community so as to enhance their lifelong contributions to that work.
The pilgrimage will take place from March 26 to 28. Application to the program is open to the general public online.
This is also the time for younger and older adults interested in spending 11 months learning about and practicing social justice to apply.
Rich Gamble is the executive director of the Justice Leadership Program and pastor of Keystone United Church of Christ.
Wait, there's more. Check out the full March 7 - 13 issue.