When one thinks about homelessness, it's unlikely that the terms "network" or "mentoring" come to mind. To women who are homeless, though, banding together and creating communities is a matter of instinct and survival. They "network" on a daily basis.
The Church of Mary Magdalene has been a community of support for homeless women in downtown Seattle since 1991. Founded by Presbyterian minister and social worker Jean Kim, the ecumenical church began as a cluster of women who needed a safe and nurturing environment to explore their spirituality. Now the church is community to 850 women, providing not only a weekly worship service but a gathering place—a living room of sorts—for women to connect with one another and muster strength for the next day.
Weekdays, the church serves as a day shelter called Mary's Place. Here, amidst the cozy couches and overstuffed chairs that encircle the basement room, women have access to meals, laundry and shower facilities, community services, and learning opportunities. Several times a week, area volunteers lead workshops. Topics vary wildly. Women can learn tae bo in the morning and the ins and outs of transitional housing applications in the afternoon one day; on another the focus might be journal writing and drug treatment.
The activities and the quiet atmosphere of Mary's Place sets it apart from other day shelters, according to Sephora, a soft-spoken woman with slicked-back hair and expressive eyes, who carefully brushes shimmery pink polish on long fingernails. "This is a place of peace for us," she says. "Women in general need to take time out for ourselves, to relax and fill back up before we go out into the world again."