The unfortunate consequences of We Heart Seattle’s involvement in a space they’re unqualified to be in

March 15, 2022

The story

A firsthand account, relayed and submitted by one of our friends in the field last week:

Wayne states that Suarez told him that he and his partner could get into a hotel that she would pay for. He didn’t realize until after they started that the rest of the WHS group started throwing away his belongings and tent. He was under the impression that Suarez would assist further with resources and housing, but basically that’s all she did was get them into a hotel which they got kicked out of because the staff said his partner, who has untreated mental illness, was making other guests uncomfortable. So they lost much of their belongings through this interaction.

Why this is problematic…oh, let us count the ways

Working with the unhoused requires (a professional) understanding of how to accommodate the specific needs of those individuals and the circumstances that led to homelessness for them should there be any hope of safely and successfully bringing them inside.  When people without the proper training and experience get involved, we end up with cases such as the above, or the way things have gone with Charles Woodward in Ballard (an update about him is coming up next so stay tuned).

Not only did these individuals re-enter homelessness just a few days following their move indoors, but they had to do so without access to any of the vital possessions that had formerly helped them to survive. Had the couple’s case been managed by someone qualified to do so, the factors ultimately responsible for displacing them from the hotel would have been considered as part of their housing placement criteria and their support system would have extended beyond simply moving inside.

On the broader spectrum

It is important to also recognize the long term harm in which scenarios like this often causes. Many individuals experiencing homelessness, and especially those enduring chronic homelessness, have low levels of trust for government and other entities one could otherwise label as the system. Trust-building is often a necessary first step before it is possible to engage an unhoused individual in the prospect of moving indoors.

Therefore, having an experience such as this one with We Heart Seattle carries a very real potential to set a person back in receiving the help and support they need to transition out of homelessness for as long as multiple years. Trained outreach workers put special care into avoiding outcomes in which that trust is broken as yet another bad experience with the system, It is crucial to help people find the exit from homelessness that furthest minimizes their risk of enduring the trauma of losing their homes again.

We didn’t land here overnight

It’s not as if any of us set out to believe these things about Andrea Suarez and We Heart Seattle. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Suarez was given more than her fair share of opportunities to learn from folks who are very experienced in this domain and to take corrective action. To this day, she purports herself to be an experienced case manager and denies all wrongdoing, It is this unwillingness to take feedback that lies at the heart of many of our issues with her.

The amount of human suffering that has needlessly occurred on her watch is immeasurable and the lack of empathy necessary to outright dismiss the validity of experiences such as the one reported here is equally unfathomable.

It also boggles the mind that for all of Suarez’s criticism of the revolving door of the Homeless Industrial Complex, that she is unable to recognize how her own actions directly contribute to the perpetuation of its very existence.