On Feb. 9, 16 LSJ undergraduates and 14 alumni gathered together at 1811 Eastlake, a housing project of the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) to take part in the second annual LSJ Day of Service.
The DESC opened its first facility in 1979, and has been in continuous operation ever since. Among its missions is to take Seattle’s homeless out of institutions and get them into community support programs. In these programs, the most vulnerable individuals are provided with the tools to develop basic survival skills.
1811 Eastlake is not your typical housing project. It is designed for chronic alcoholics who have tried and failed traditional methods of rehabilitation 10 or more times. It is controversial in some quarters because its residents are allowed to drink. Yet the facility saved King County about $4 million in its first year because residents were going to jail or to a hospital emergency room with much less frequency.
“Most people don’t know how expensive it is to have homelessness in our community,” said volunteer Sara Marckx. With medical and jail costs, the expense of having people on the streets pile up.
Marckx said she enjoyed working with the LSJ group, because she was glad to have a “friendly audience” to partake in her passion of caring for some of “the most vilified in our community.”
During the event, students and alumni performed a variety of tasks: alphabetizing thousands of documents the DESC had collected over the course of a year; organizing a storage facility; and deep-cleaning community spaces.
“This is a little bit different from what we did last time,” said Jill Anderson, a 2008 graduate of the LSJ program, referring to the previous year’s Day of Service at another DESC facility. “It’s interesting to me how much I forgot about the organization from the last time, so it was nice to hear more about the DESC again.”
Anu Sidhu, an LSJ junior, also attended last year’s Day of Service event at the DESC. She was part of the group cleaning out storage and the basement of the building, but also got the opportunity to interact with some of the community residents.
“I ended up wandering over to the kitchen area and started cleaning there,” Sidhu said. “The residents were just sitting in the lobby area. They were making some comments and just talking to us. It was cool.”
The residents of the housing project are people the everyday Seattle community may not be comfortable around. DESC brochures provided at the event reported that 66 percent of the people who are served through the organization have “severe and persistent mental illness,” and 53 percent struggle with addiction. But programs like 1811 and the DESC in general are helping.
“Most people at 1811 have decreased their drinking, and their quality of life has increased,” said Marckx as she spoke to the volunteers. The organization does not even have a waitlist; their target recipients are those who they determine “need it most.”
Doug McManaway, a 2010 alumnus who lives just up the street from 1811, said that seeing the work that the DESC does first hand is great.
“It’s really an education. I think what 1811 does is very aggressive, and I ultimately think it’s effective,” he said. “I’m glad to be part of it in some way.”
McManaway, who has been working with younger students since his days as an undergraduate FIG leader, also enjoyed being able to work alongside them during the Day of Service.
“There’s a lot of energy coming from [working with them]. That energy always picks up your day a little bit, and it’s always really positive,” he said.
“I think it went great,” said Sidhu. “Whenever we do an LSJ Day of Service it’s just great doing things hands-on. We learn all these things in classrooms, but seeing it first-hand helped me out. It’s always a great experience.”
This article composed by Kristine Kim.