Mary’s Place

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Wednesday my legislative aide, Monica Ghosh, and I took a couple of armfuls of raincoats and jackets to Mary’s Place. The coats, collected from closets on the Second and Third floors of City Hall, were greeted with happy chatter.

Mary’s Place is a day shelter for women and their children. It was established in 1999 in response to concerns over homeless women’s need for a place to have their needs met: meals, laundry, medical care, the use of a phone, and a way to apply for housing and employment.

The facility flourished when it occupied space in the basement of the First Methodist Church on Fifth Avenue. But, when the congregation moved to a new site on Denny Way, Mary’s Place itself became homeless.

Advocates, led by founders like Rev. Jean Kim, reopened Mary’s Place in borrowed digs in Belltown. Many of their charges, then as now, are women who find themselves homeless due to domestic abuse. Others come to Mary’s Place after bouts with unemployment and illness.

Although in cramped quarters, the staff nevertheless succeeded in providing a caring atmosphere. And now, thanks to many generous backers – individuals, faith-based groups and corporate angels – Mary’s Place has a home to call its own at 9th and Stewart in a wing of Gesthemane Lutheran Church.

It was to the new shelter, bright and spacious compared to the old facility, that we took the coats and jackets. I had guessed that they might be needed because of a story I had heard from one of the volunteers who visited the Belltown shelter. The volunteer told me that when she arrived she had hung her raincoat – the ultimate Seattle uniform – on a rack beside the door. When she was ready to leave, she looked but couldn’t find the coat. Puzzled, she asked a staff member is she’d seen her coat.

“You hung it where?” asked the staffer. “That’s the rack we keep stocked with donated coats in case someone needs one.”

As a matter of fact, many of the homeless come to the shelter with barely the clothes on their backs and their needs involve the basics: meals, clothing, laundry and a warm shower. Marty Hartman, who runs the shelter, said that they are always looking for supplies and for the essentials. It’s not only raincoats, but even underwear and socks.

It’s true the need is great, but the rewards for those who tour the facility and assist with its mission are priceless.

The day that I was there, the new digs were filled to capacity with women and children, safely off the street and enjoying companionship. There was a circle of women knitting and teaching others to knit. One woman had made an entire blanket of donated scraps. Others were completing warm hats and scarves.

At another table, there were some adorable youngsters. One child with a braid nearly as tall as she was, offered me a brightly heart-bedecked card and promised to be my valentine. Surely I have some unused yarn and some warm socks to take the next time.