Chat transcript: Invisible Families
Seattle Times reporter Lornet Turnbull and photographer Erika Schultz talked on Wednesday, Sept. 1 about the multi-part series Invisible Families: The homeless you don't see. Read a rewind of their chat below.
1:00 Sona Patel, Times:
Thanks for joining us, everyone. We'll be starting started shortly. Please feel free to submit questions and comments.
1:03 Matt Kreamer, Times:
Hello. Welcome to The Seattle Times live chat about the Invisible Families project. Reporter Lornet Turnbull and photographer Erika Schultz are here to talk with you and answer your questions.
Let's get started.
1:03 [Comment From Julie Kettman:]
The stories were very emotional and demonstrated a strong personal investment by the reporting team. How did you maintain your professional boundaries throughout this process?
1:07 Erika Schultz, Times:
It was difficult. There is a lot of grey area during the reporting process. Along the way, we had to make decisions if we should refer them to services. Would that change their story? If they were hungry, could we buy them burgers? We tried to walk the line of being a journalist and being human.
1:08 [Comment From Guest:]
If you want to help families with kids, how do you weed out the people abusing the system form the honest people in need that just hit a bump in the road? Is there an organization that qualifies people?
1:10 Lornet Turnbull, Times:
Homeless agencies try to help families exactly where they find them. Are there families who might be abusing the system? Possibly. But I think most of the organizations that work with parents and children who are unsheltered are committed to helping them get back on their feet.
1:10 [Comment From Margo:]
Technical Question - will the chat be archived to reference at a later date?
1:11 Matt Kreamer, Times:
Yes, it will be archived on seattletimes.com.
1:11 [Comment From Guest:]
Will the Seattle Times do follow up stories with the families?
1:11 Erika Schultz, Times:
We will publish a short followup story about response from readers to the series.
1:14 [Comment From invisible:]
what was the idea behind getting the other blogs involved?
1:15 Bob Payne, Times:
When we applied for the Seattle U. grant, we knew that having an established network of local web-site partners would be a real benefit for something like this. Their coverage would help us provide a wider take on the issue geographically, because the issue of homelessness is obviously different in, say, Mercer Island, than in the Rainier Valley. And seven of the sites volunteered to participate and they did a great job.
1:17 [Comment From Mike Buchman:]
Some of the providers of services to people who are homeless who are mentioned in Lornet's stories are upset at the characterization that providers were callous, did not return calls, etc. What the article(s) never mentioned was the capacity issues of a system that has but 200 units of emergency shelter for homeless families and more than 800 families homeless on any given night, nor the limits of staffing resources, etc. I know that this information was shared with the reporters. Why was the decision made not to include it in the stories?
1:17 Lornet Turnbull, Times:
We recognize that there are many agencies providing services to families in need whose work may not have been reflected in the series. I think the main story did, however, attempt to point out that shelter space is limited, which is one of the reasons families are often unable to get into shelter more quickly.
1:18 [Comment From Cathy MacCaul:]
What 2 or 3 things surprised you the most about the issue of family homelessness?
1:18 Erika Schultz, Times:
I found it interesting that childcare was a big issue for parents. When you think about it - it makes sense that parents need childcare resources to help them find work. I also thought it was interesting how much income is needed to be a self sufficient parent.
1:20 [Comment From Bleeding Heart:]
What positive responses have you had? Offers to help and solve the issue?
1:20 Lornet Turnbull, Times:
We've been surprised by the tremendous response by readers to the series. Employers have called with employment offers for the family featured on Sunday. They've offered cash and furniture and creative ideas of ways to address some of the problems they read about.
1:22 [Comment From Bill Kirlin-Hackett:]
Will Seattle U. continue/advance this work or does the specific funding limit the effort? What about the Times? Prior to this fine effort, the record is sketchy on how the Times covers the issue.
1:22 Bob Payne, Times:
Bill, I don't think we've thought much beyond getting this project launched, so I'm not sure what the future holds as far as the Times is concerned. But thanks for the note - it's something we need to think about. And I can't speak for what Seattle U.'s plans are.
1:23 [Comment From Guest:]
Is this the first time the times has a live chat on a story online?
1:23 [Comment From Mike Beebe:]
How were your assumptions and stereotypes about poverty changed by doing this story?
1:24 Erika Schultz, Times:
I think there is a tendency for people to assume homelessness is an issue involving single men or people with mental health or substance abuse issues. It's not. A lot of homelessness is hidden away. Many families don't have homes, but stay with friends or relatives. People from all walks of life, for a variety of reasons, find themselves in this situation.
1:24 [Comment From Guest:]
Many of us working with homeless people and families learn along the way how to recognize those that are using and abusing the system. We are encouraged to never work harder to help someone than they are willing to work to help themselves. It empowers the client, and ultimately teaches them to depend on themselves as much as possible.
1:25 [Comment From Alex Lee:]
Once a month on the 2nd of each month, we feed as many homeless people as possible at the park next to the court house in Downtown Seattle.. We will be there tomorrow at noon. It seems that no one has ever cared about homeless people before. Hopefully after this story people will begin to notice them. Yes Erika.. We do feed them Burgers.....
1:25 Sona Patel, Times:
We do regular live chats on a variety of topics, notably sports and newsmakers. We'll likely be having a few for the November election. Suggestions on types of chats and panelists are welcome.
1:26 [Comment From Margaret Foster:]
Did you notice a difference in reader comments and reactions to the different stories, and what reactions did you find most compelling? Is the TImes committed to continuing coverage of homelessness issues in this region?
1:26 Lornet Turnbull, Times:
The family in the Sunday story seemed to resonate with readers. People were moved by the family's struggle and many were very impressed by Cody, the son. The story about refugee families who are also struggling with homelessness did not seem to make as much of an impression. While many readers called with offers to help or to learn more about their plight, most wanted to know why we are still continuing to bring refugees here.
1:27 [Comment From Guest:]
This was an incredible series and I'm so glad you did it! I was homeless when I was a child and we lived in our car- I'm glad you included so many parents with children because it's shocking how many children do not have a bed to sleep in at night- but go to school everyday. You would never know! We have a boy in our church who was homeless this winter and we just didn't know it because he was too ashamed to say anything or ask for help.
1:27 [Comment From Daniel Berman:]
For Erika, How often were you with the family, and for how long at a time?
1:27 Erika Schultz, Times:
We have been working on this project since about April. The first month we researched, met with social service agencies and made calls. May through July, I spent a lot of time with the families and was in constant communication with them. By end of July and early August we were in the production stage— editing, writing captions, producing multimedia.
1:28 [Comment From Catherine Hinrichsen:]
Re the question on Seattle U's plans - I can speak to that. The Times was one of six news organizations involved in this project, and you will see more coverage this fall from the other journalists who were Fellows. We're also doing a series of outreach events in the community.
1:30 [Comment From JB:]
Cody needs to get a JOB
1:30 Matt Kreamer, Times:
Cody has had several job offers since he appeared in Sunday's paper. He has an interview today.
1:32 [Comment From Guest:]
How did you choose which homeless families to profile for this series?
1:32 Lornet Turnbull, Times:
I suspected it would be tough to get families to participate in the project, I didn't imagine it would be as difficult as it turned out to be. No family wanted to be the face of homelessness and understandably, parents were relectant to have their children included in a series that would live forever on the Internet. In the end, the family contacted us, completely unsolicited, after they had tried and failed to find help.
1:32 Bob Payne, Times:
Margaret, re: reader comments. I moderated the reader comments that were submitted at the bottom of both the Sunday and Monday stories, and it was interesting work. For the Sunday story on Cody and Cherie, I was surprised by the compassion for their plight. And it was a challenge to figure out how much criticism of them personally to allow -- We have to respect that people were willing to expose their lives for these stories, so we shouldn't allow people to attack them mercilessly. As for the refugee story, some people directly tied it to illegal immigration (which is completely different issue), so their rants were ignored.
1:33 [Comment From Bill Kirlin-Hackett:]
We tried to have the series indicate the upcoming event on September 15th, the 10th annual Creating the Political Will to End Homelessness event, at St. Mark's Cathedral (info at www.itfhomeless.org). Might "Fellows" consider this gathering as an opportunity to explore further with those gathered -- from experts to beginners -- the issues at hand, remedies ahead?
1:33 [Comment From Guest:]
Whoohoo!!! Good for Cody!! I hope he will be able to work around his school schedule! A job is merely a band-aid for a young man with no education.
1:33 [Comment From Bill Kirlin-Hackett:]
There is an enormous stigma to being homeless. Many hold jobs and employers have no idea.
1:34 [Comment From JB:]
Small sacrifices pay off in the long run.
1:36 [Comment From Angered:]
The story with the boy in tent city was so sad. I found myself angry at the mother for her poor, poor choices. Who moves without a plan? Any idea if they are stable now? It looked so shaky.
1:36 Lornet Turnbull, Times:
We checked into the backgrounds of all the families that we featured in the stories. In the case of the familiy featured in Sunday's paper, we struggled to ensure the information we were presenting was accurate. We checked what she told us with current and former employers and with many of the people she said he encountered along the way. In cases where I couldn't verify what she told us, I did not include the information or I made it clear that those were her words.
1:36 [Comment From Guest:]
how did you research and verify the information you presented in your stories?
1:36 Erika Schultz, Times:
In Chicago, Kim was unemployed and spent months looking for work in the Midwest. She came to Seattle, after reading an article online that jobs would be opening up in our area. She hoped the job market would be better here than Chicago, and that she could provide a better life for her family. She is currently looking for work. Jack will soon be in school.
1:37 [Comment From Margaret Foster:]
Those working to solve the issues around homelessness in our state understand the vulnerable nature of people who are experiencing homelessness. I appreciate the Times judgment in respecting that vulnerability and not over-exposing them to less informed and negative comments.
1:39 [Comment From Bill Kirlin-Hackett:]
One fact of homelessness is those homeless likely have made one or more bad choices and had no safety net left. We all, AND I MEAN ALL, make bad choices and can hide many of them because we have safety nets, sometimes even ones we hav enot intentionally created. Thus,anger at bad choices really doesn't help
1:41 [Comment From Terica Taylor:]
I do not BLAME anyone in these stories- not the people who are in these circumstances or those who try to help. The reality is that many homeless people either have mental illness and do not have the capacity to "pull themselves out of it" or have some mental trauma that has impacted their ability to make logical decisions. You just don't understand their plight- I bet this mother who made these "choices" was actually choosing between the "bear" and the "lion". We can never know what the other path may have held for her or whether it would be worse than having her child sleep in a tent?
1:41 [Comment From Alex Lee:]
If we spend more time and money on helping the homeless instead of building new prisons to put them in.. there will be less people in prison for petty crimes..Save our tax money & prisons for people that really deserve to be there. We can make a difference people.
1:41 [Comment From Guest:]
Childless adults are in trouble too, what about them? I am very disappointed that there isn't much help for childless families. I have given thousands to 'safety net' organizations and I never stated that the funds were to be limited to families with children. I was shocked to learn that 211 doesn't have much to offer these adults. Just because your children are grown or if you didn't have children doesn't mean you don't need help in times of trouble. Forty and fifty year old adults that have lost their jobs after a 'lifetime' of work don't seem to have much help available to them. I suspect the ranks of the homeless will swell with these people soon since no one wants to hire 'older workers'.
1:42 [Comment From Patricia Gray:]
Are you aware that some agencies are already doing homelessness prevention work and Rapid Rehousing programs for many years. The article made it sound as if these ideas were new in this region.
1:43 [Comment From Margo:]
How about shared housing? Seniors that want to stay in their homes can rent out a room to a young family (teenage mom) that can do chores and help the senior.
1:43 [Comment From Margo:]
How did you feel about Cody/Cherie holding onto their big screen tv and movie collection? Couldn't they had sold those items? The items are not needs, they are wants. Did any readers mention that?
1:43 Bob Payne, Times:
Margo: Yes, many commenters noted the TV and DVDs and questioned why Cherie hadn't sold them, but others were quick to point out that having a few nice things -- especially distractions from everyday life -- ought to be allowed given the circumstances.
1:44 [Comment From June Wiley:]
There are *wonderful* programs available at the YWCA for worker retraining and employment services. There are WorkSource sites at Opportunty Place downtown Seattle, and in South King County as well.
1:45 [Comment From Guest:]
I'm concerned with the way 211 (community info/crisis clinic) was profiled in your Sunday story. There is no funding to staff the line 24 hours a day. 211 is an amazing resource across the state of Washington and deserves recognition of such.
1:46 [Comment From Mike Beebe:]
Erika thanks for your response. I think you are right that 'many people' assume that homelessness is mostly single men but I really was asking in what way were your personal assumptions and stereotypes challenged? or was there a way your awareness about your assumptions were highlighted by doing this coverage?
1:46 Erika Schultz, Times:
I try to approach my stories with an open mind. I feel that every person's story is unique. I think seeing past stereotypes, and getting to know the families as real people is important.
1:47 [Comment From Guest:]
How much time in your life have you spent with the homeless population? how well would you say you personally understand being homeless?
1:47 Lornet Turnbull, Times:
As a reporter I work with people from various backgrounds and from many different walks of life. While I have interviewed and written about the homeless throughout my career, this was the most time and the closest I'd gotten to anyone - family or individual. Erika and I spent time off and on for four months with this family. And while I would say I understand their individual circumstances, I also acknowledge that the experiences of every individual and every family are different.
1:48 [Comment From Bill Kirlin-Hackett:]
Before this ends or I have to sign off I just want to thank Gates, Seattle U., the Times, the "Fellows," and any others, because this has been a wholly underreported crisis for almost 10 years, minimum. Keep it up!
1:49 [Comment From Bill Kirlin-Hackett:]
I am glad you did not try to speak "as the homeless person" since none of us with a roof over our bed can really know the trauma of being homeless
1:51 [Comment From Bill Kirlin-Hackett:]
Will the series be put into a published format that can be distributed? Including charts, sidebars?
1:51 Matt Kreamer, Times:
There are no plans to re-publish it anywhere other than the way it already has been in The Seattle TImes and seattletimes.com.
1:53 [Comment From Guest:]
what is the ultimate goal of this project?
1:53 Sona Patel, Times:
From Kathy Best, Managing Editor for Digital News and Innovation: The goal of the project was to shed light on a growing, but too often invisible, social issue affecting our region: family homelessness. By doing so, we hoped not only to explain the root causes of the problem, but also point toward holes in the safety net and potential ways to fix them.
We combined the resources of our newsroom with those of our community partners so we could tell the big-picture story but also show readers how this issue was affecting their neighborhoods. We put a heavy emphasis on photos and video because we wanted to take readers beyond the statistics and allow them to meet some of their neighbors who have either lost their homes, are on the verge of losing them or are just beginning to make their way back from homelessness.
1:53 [Comment From Alex Lee:]
Erika.. How many homeless people did you meet during this process that were homeless because of prior criminal convictions that can't get work or rent a place because of mistakes they've made in the past. Despite how much they want to change.. Society for the most part is pretty unforgiving.. If we want this to change, we have start looking at homeless people as people... not outcasts.. How many times have we gotten our cars broken into and all that was taken was your change.. 1 dollars or 2 dollars can feed these people for a day.. It is a never ending cycle.
1:53 Erika Schultz, Times:
We met with dozens of families during the course of this project. I can only think of a few that had a prior convictions. And, those families sometimes face additional challenges when trying to find a place to live or a job, especially if they are convicted of a felony. I don't know how many of them were homeless because of their criminal background.
1:54 [Comment From Julie Kettman:]
I hope someone will be able to respond to the comment posted about 211...
1:54 [Comment From Guest:]
I'm also concerned with the negative comments regarding the YWCA and Solid Ground. Both agencies assisted and continue to assist the family you profiled Sunday. Why such a negative tone? The family is stabilized now.
1:54 [Comment From annoyed:]
the article was very judgemental about people working in the field. It seemed one sided and as I and my staff work hard for our clients I don't see this as a help, i would like to know what the point of the story is. what are you trying to achieve? there were not always truths in this story, I know this for fact.
1:55 [Comment From Julie Kettman:]
I wonder how supporters of Crisis Clinic (which runs 2-1-1) felt about the series?
1:55 Lornet Turnbull, Times:
There are many agencies and organizations in the system doing wonderful work in the area of homelessness - both on behalf of families and struggling individuals. The 2-1-1 information line does a fine job providing resources to those in need of help. We acknowledged in the story that thousands of people each year escape homelessness as a result of the help these agencies provide. The family that we worked with had a different experience, however, and our stories reflected that experience.
1:57 [Comment From Margaret Foster:]
Please continue this coverage. Changing perceptions about what it means to be homeless and what folks find themselves in this situation is vital to our work in continuing to fund programs, change policies, and strengthen our communities.
1:58 [Comment From Observer:]
In response to the comments about providers being portrayed negatively, as an outside observer, I didn't get that impression. When reading the articles, it simply showed that there are huge constrains on organizations--on those working in the field. That's why these families couldn't get help. It was not a negative jab at any organization.
1:59 [Comment From DKR:]
Thank you for this compassionate and well-written series. As the new parent of a baby boy, I can't imagine how hard it would be as a mother to find yourself homeless and caring for your child. I just called Urban Rest Stop to ask about making a donation. In addition to the items listed on their site, they also take shampoo and soap so if you travel you can collect the toiletries and donate. They also need books and magazines. Thanks for highlighting this organization--I didn't know it existed.
1:59 [Comment From Alex Lee:]
Thank You Seattle Times for finally bringing this issue forth.. It's been ignored for too long..
1:59 [Comment From Guest:]
Has Cody's mother been able to find work? She was only working a few hours/week
1:59 Lornet Turnbull, Times:
Cherie's hours are still limited.
2:01 [Comment From Observer:]
Keep in mind that these are people that are hard to help. I think reporter did a good job showing that. It goes beyond lack of resources. Who alienates everyone in their life? Every single person? There is an issue of self responsibility in play here too.
2:01 [Comment From Learning:]
This whole series, in my opinion, is a gift to the organizations that specialize in caring for the homeless - they can either respond in a defensive way and say, "We're helping all of these people, what are they talking about?" Or they can reflect on the ways that homeless families have experienced them/their assistance and ask, "How can we do what we do even better?"
2:02 [Comment From Guest:]
thank you for bringing up the issue of family homelessness. I appreciate and agree that everyone should be aware it is an issue. We don't have enough money to do everything that we could do and maybe this article will bring with it donations and funds for our families.
2:03 Matt Kreamer, Times:
We have a few more minutes left. Thanks for all the great questions and comments.
2:04 [Comment From Guest:]
I had a question for Erika: I have been very impressed by the power of both your video and photography. What do you look for in your photography for this series to impart the emotion?
2:04 Erika Schultz, Times:
I spend a lot of time with people, trying to understand who they are. I try to capture their relationships, and their circumstances. The stories are not only about homelessness, but family bonds. Commiting the time to be with people enables us to see them in moments that reveal who they are. And, we our success depends on people letting us into their lives.
2:05 [Comment From Guest:]
Erika's pictures are fabulous and dramatic! Very nice.
2:06 [Comment From Catherine Hinrichsen:]
Come hear from some of the journalists who participated in this program Oct. 21 at Town Hall and ask more questions there.
2:06 [Comment From Ben from Aurora|Seattle:]
Lornett, you did a fabulous job - and I appreciated your help as I worked on my refugee story. Bob and Nina, the same goes for you - thanks for your guidance as I looked as these issues along Aurora.
2:06 [Comment From Guest:]
What time at City Hall?
2:08 [Comment From Catherine Hinrichsen:]
Town Hall, Thursday, Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m. -- Journalists from this fellowship program talk about covering family homelessness in this region. More info: http://www.seattleu.edu/artsci/communication/csc
2:09 Erika Schultz, Times:
A big thank you to Seattle University and all of the social service agencies who helped us with this project. Thanks for returning all of our calls, and educating us about the issue. Also, a big thank you to all the families we met, too.
2:09 [Comment From June Wiley:]
You are welcome!!!
2:11 Lornet Turnbull, Times:
From the start I was unsure just how readers might respond to the series. I've been humbled by the responses we've gotten. The telephone calls and email messages suggest there many people who truly care about their neighbors and about those less fortunate.
2:12 Sona Patel, Times:
Thanks to everyone for participating in our chat and for reading the Invisible Families series. We've received several inquiries from readers asking about ways to help. We've compiled a list of local resources you can contact should you wish to donate, volunteer, etc. You can find that list here: http://seati.ms/aqgorR. Although we’ve ended this chat, we encourage readers to continue the conversation in our comment threads.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.