Seattle hotel gives the homeless a Fare Start

They say that home is not where you live, but where they understand you. And everyone knows there is no place like home for the holidays.  Even if you are surrounded by relatives who say all the wrong things, it is home.

Stuffed stomachs and flushed cheeks stagger from the Thanksgiving dining room table and toward the couches and soft chairs of the living room.  Too many people in a small room sacked out on the sofa or burrowed close to  one another like biscuits in a tin.  Thankful for another year.

It is at this time of year we were taught to be thankful for what we have and to think of others less fortunate. But, how many of us have wondered what happens to those less fortunate during the rest of the year.

Something remarkable is happening–right here in Seattle–and it happens every week.  It starts on Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. at the Josephinum Hotel in downtown Seattle.  This beautiful building was built in 1906.  The ceilings in the lobby are stained glass.  The original lighting fixtures, huge orb shades, rise in the cathedral ceiling alongside the marble columns.  In the lobby, next to the piano, the room embraces a group of homeless people.  They all admit to being clean and sober and ready for a commitment.

They are about to begin a journey back.  Back before homelessness, hunger, isolation and hopelessness, took them far, far away from home.  They are about to take a tour of a facility called FareStart.

FareStart transforms the lives of homeless and disadvantaged men and women. They have a vision to transform our community so all people have a sense of belonging, enrichment and hope in their lives.

And it is working.  Combining the operations of the hotel restaurant, café and in-depth life skills instruction these people are given a chance to start over; to find a life.

The tour takes them inside the hotel’s restaurant.  The front wall displays pictures of recent FareStart graduates, holding their certificates and wearing ear-to-ear grins.

After the tour-if they accept-they are given shots by the health department, housing, and a 16-week commitment of hard work which will prepare them for future food-service jobs.

“The first two weeks are the hardest,” says Lillian Hochstein, FareStart’s development director. “By then the true commitment comes out. Twenty-five percent don’t make it to the third week.”

Those lucky enough to make it to the third week begin Life Skills.  Life Skills training takes place over three weeks with a licensed counselor. “Here everyone has a chance to deal with anger management, trust issues, being a capable person,” says Hochstein, a petite blond who rolls up her sleeves and tells it like it is. “They learn to butt up against it and deal with it.”

FareStart generates 60 percent of its annual operating budget through Head Start programs, daycare center meals, the restaurant, café, and a Guest Chef night.

The rest of the operating budget is raised by Hochstein-a part-time grant worker-and volunteers.  They rely on individuals, corporations, foundations and special events.

An extensive network of the area’s finest restaurants, hotels and institutions are eager to place program graduates.  That is why during weeks 13 through 15 students spend time in Life Management classes.  Here they are taught resume preparation, interviewing skills, relapse prevention and job-placement counseling.

Hochstein gets a bit misty eyed when asked if the environment might get a little disheartening.  “It is more heartening than not,” she grins. “That first student during his first week: no eye contact, head down, and to see him again at the end of the 16th week: upbeat, employable, chatting.  To see the change is amazing.  Homeless people feel very isolated and FareStart gives them the feeling that they are needed, especially when they see the amount of volunteers who care about them.”

Head Chef Cameron Orel of Yarrow Bay Beach Café volunteered her skills at FareStart when she was a Guest Chef.  Guest Chef night is every Thursday.  A different Guest Chef runs the kitchen producing fabulous meals and also giving the students the ability to work with a variety of chefs.

Orel remembers being very nervous.

Not because the students were homeless; her father instilled charity into her. When she was a little girl, her father worked near the Kingdome.  She remembers his generosity to people on the street.  “Never look down upon someone who has fallen,” he would tell her.

She was nervous about the students getting the food out in time. She was “floored.” Fifteen students with minimal experience and 15 personalities shined.

She remembers one student in particular who did exceptionally well. She hired him after his graduation. She recalls, because it was such a gratifying personal experience.

She showed him how to present the plate. He asked if she would show him again. Then he remarked to her that the second time it was different. Orel replied that each plate you can make different designs.  He was so excited to have the chance to be creative he was almost overwhelmed.

Over 2,000 meals a day are prepared and served. FareStart has doubled the students in the last three years and has added a double shift.

A home and understanding make each day at FareStart a holiday.

Honor your friends and relatives this year by giving a gift that will transform a life. FareStart will host a special giving tree in the restaurant.  Purchase a FareStart ornament to place on the tree.  The money raised from the ornament will go directly to the student services fund, which is used to purchase items for the students such as work shoes, eyeglasses, coats and other essential items.

You can also pick up a wish list for a student or a graduate.  Gifts will be collected until Dec. 20.  For information call FareStart at (206) 443-1233, ext. 17


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