We Heart Seattle
Two Plus Years and Going Strong
January 30, 2023
We are thrilled to share our metrics of what we’ve accomplished together since We Heart Seattle (WHS) launched, along with a snapshot of what’s in store for 2023. With your support, our (your!) grassroots effort is thriving – you can see it every day in the public spaces where WHS and its supporters have cleaned up litter and offered resources to those in need!
Volunteers remain THE driving force behind our unique and successful model of civic engagement. To date, volunteers have logged 7,500 volunteer hours with WHS. Our scheduled litter picks have proven meaningful for individuals and teams ranging from faith-based, social, nonprofit, and community groups to corporate businesses – all with a common goal of coming together to make Seattle beautiful and safe for all.
Sharing the Love
Why is We Heart Seattle indispensable?
Each day, we see the need to restore Seattle’s urban spaces. Along the way, that includes being a positive force in the homelessness crisis, which has resulted in thousands of people living (and sadly, dying) outdoors. We Heart Seattle gives volunteers and supporters a friction-free way to restore Seattle’s environment by clearing out litter, while giving the unhoused folks we meet along the way important resources for a chance at recovery. While addressing the litter that renders parks, alleys, sidewalks, playgrounds, greenbelts, bike trails, vacant lots, and commercial zones unsafe and unusable for their intended purposes, we can also advocate for change, by shining a light on what works and what doesn’t.
City-wide Debris Removal
Since inception, WHS and its volunteers have:
- Removed 750,000 pounds (363 tons) of debris from Seattle’s public spaces
- Hosted 226 events in 26 distinct Seattle zip codes
- Restored AND kept 42 parks clean across the city and acres of green space
Successful Individualized Outreach and Impact
Our small and nimble team of staff and volunteers regularly connect the unhoused folks they meet on litter picks to a range of vital resources, including shelter, housing, employment, recovery/treatment navigation, securing vital documents, and removing a range of other barriers. Several on our team have lived experience, which is key to building trust and maintaining motivation for change. To date, WHS has assisted 144 people in moving off the streets.
Executive Director, Andrea Suarez, speaking to KOMO News in January 2023
Real Change News: ‘I could have very well died’: Johanna Paul speaks about being saved from violence in her own tent
Johanna Paul, left, embraces Tim Emerson, who pulled her out of her tent and away from an abusive individual. Paul did not want her face to be photographed. Photo by Tobias Coughlin-Bogue.
It’s hard to miss all of the tents that line our streets and accumulate in encampments. In those tents live real people, many of whom are experiencing seemingly inescapable abuse and violence on a daily basis.
In late 2022, Tim Emerson – WHS’ incredible boots-on-the-ground staff member – was out making rounds and heard cries for help from a woman named Johanna, who was being violently thrown against the side of her tent. Tim acted quickly by pulling her out of the tent, and quite literally, saved her life. Real Change News happened to be at the scene and covered this incredible story, quoting Johana as saying “Today, [Tim Emerson] was that angel, [who] was able to open the tent, pull me from his arms and save me,” she said, “because I could have very well died.”
As is the WHS way, assistance did not stop there for Johanna. After much effort, we were able to find Johanna a safe place to stay and receive much needed trauma-informed care.
Engage and Empower
WHS works side-by-side with encampment residents during litter picks. They assist with cleanups, and as a thank-you, WHS offers a basic needs stipend in the form of a gift card. It provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment when cleaning with WHS teams. They also feel appreciated and supported when receiving this stipend. This helps to build trust in We Heart Seattle, leading to future, meaningful engagements that include pathways to recovery and addiction treatment, shelter, housing, and even employment.
WHS leverages its strong partnership with Uplift Northwest (formerly The Millionair Club Charity) to hire people on a contract basis to put more boots on the ground in doing this work. Most are re-entering the workforce after a significant gap and feel empowered joining the WHS team.
Grassroots and Broad Support
The grassroots appeal of WHS’ work is evidenced by the hundreds of individuals who have made financial donations, along with countless others who have offered in-kind support, including big-ticket, critical items like office space and program vehicles.
Efficient and Effective Operations
We run a nimble and efficient operation driven almost entirely by volunteers, with only 15% of our revenue going to administrative expenses (thus leaving the lion’s share to fund field work and outreach). We Heart Seattle was also awarded the Candid (Guidestar) “Gold Transparency” rating. Want to take a deep dive into our public financials? You can find our IRS filings here, with our 2022 IRS 990 form filing expected in Q2.
What’s next for 2023?
Turbo-charging Civic Engagement
Driving our commitment to civic engagement is an ongoing conversation with you—our community. We continually and collectively ask ourselves “What more can we do?” and hope you’ll continue that conversation by asking yourself the same.
- What else can I do?
- What can I do in my neighborhood and with my family, friends, and colleagues to amplify the WHS impact?
- Who can I tell about the movement?
- How can I share our experience and advocate together for a safe and beautiful Seattle?
Focusing on Sustainability
We’ve done massive litter picks at parks such as Denny, Kinnear and MacLean (and so many others!), and tackled tens of thousands of pounds of trash that built up over the years. Now, these public spaces are available for community enjoyment.
MacLean Park even hosts twice-monthly walkabouts organized by community trail stewards – and regularly contact WHS requesting outreach to homeless individuals they encounter along the trails. This is a shining example of the importance of sustaining the hard work of WHS and its volunteers, while growing community commitment to safe and beautiful public spaces for all. We promise to continue to work with local communities on maintaining sites, and in identifying equally critical areas that have yet to benefit from this important work.
Embracing Partnerships & Alliances
From day one, we have welcomed and sought out meaningful partnerships and alliances with community and faith-based organizations, businesses, schools, and fellow non-profits. We Heart Seattle will continue this approach, embracing collaboration with others who wish to further our mission.
Putting Ourselves Out There More!
On March 25, 2023, the University Sunrise Rotary Club is hosting its Annual Big Taste event in Seattle. We Heart Seattle joins Outdoors for All and the University Sunrise Rotary Foundation as beneficiaries of the event. We look forward to sharing our work with a new audience, and hope to see some familiar faces there, too! If you’d like to attend, you can click here to purchase tickets. (A quick answer to “What more can I do?” could include sharing this event with friends!).
We have been able to continue this work throughout Seattle because of your direct support, and we cannot say thank you enough. Feel free to reach out anytime for a conversation or a visit. You can connect with any of our board directors or staff by sending an email to email@example.com.
Andrea Suarez, Founder and Executive Director
We Heart Seattle Board of Directors
At its core, WHS is a movement driven by ordinary citizens – together, we are helping make Seattle safe and beautiful for all.
Consider a cash or stock donation to WHS. You can increase your impact by having your donation matched by your employer!
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We Heart Seattle recently joined 22 other organizations in founding North America Recovers, a coalition seeking federal, state and local actions that encourage recovery from, and end the enabling of, addiction, untreated mental illness and homelessness.
We Heart Seattle is a 501c3 organization and welcomes donations to defray operational costs and to support the hiring of project leads (most of whom have experienced homelessness and poverty). Your time and support are much appreciated.
We Heart Seattle Co-founds Nonpartisan Coalition Advocating for Community Harm Reduction
North America Recovers believes in prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery solutions that reduce substance use, untreated mental illness and homelessness.
January 31, 2023
We Heart Seattle has joined North America Recovers (NAR), a nonpartisan coalition made up of community leaders, parents of those affected by substance abuse, and people in recovery from across the United States and Canada. North America Recovers is seeking federal, state, and local actions that encourage recovery from – and ending the enablement of – addiction, untreated mental illnesses, and homelessness.
“Keeping people alive isn’t enough anymore, we want to see them reach their full potential. To do this, we must use available funds to stand up 24/7 medical detox centers and provide recovery focused programs after discharge to help mitigate the adverse effects on one’s mind, body and spirit after long-term drug abuse.” – Andrea Suarez, Executive Director
To represent a continuum of care that can benefit everyone in a community, policy proposals operate within four major pillars: prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery. The coalition believes that there are multiple paths to harm reduction, treatment and recovery that do not provide addiction maintenance services.
North America Recovers is urging President Biden to favor creating a recovery-focused system for addressing our addiction crisis in lieu of further legalization or supervised consumption sites, which tend to be placed in chronically disenfranchised communities and negatively impacts the quality of life there – Harlem, New York, for example.
The twenty-two founding member organizations of North America Recovers are represented by individuals who range on the spectrum of political affiliations, but have come together to drive toward life-saving strategies with a recovery focus. The coalition is collectively opposed to any “housing first” strategy that fails to address addiction and mental illness, which are often co-occurring components of homelessness.
“We can meet people where they are at, but we can’t leave them there,” shared one coalition member during the inaugural convening.
A “Shelter-first” model expedites triaging and placement of those with addiction and/or untreated mental illness into a program that is right for them. And when done right, provides permanent supportive housing when they are ready to return and begin their long-term recovery journey.
“Improved programming within current housing solutions, community integration, reconnecting with family, and generally believing that recovery is possible, though hard, is the right and compassionate solution to end homelessness for so many.” – Andrea Suarez, Executive Director
For more information about We Heart Seattle’s work with the North American Recovers coalition, and in the City of Seattle, contact Andrea Suarez, Executive Director at: Andrea@weheartseattle.org.
Huge Milestones Reached with Big Plans Ahead!
April 15, 2022
We Heart Seattle (WHS) recently reached significant milestones – 500,000+ pounds of trash removed from the city’s parks and public spaces and 100+ individuals helped off the streets. That’s 250 tons of trash, along with more than 20,000 needles removed, all thanks to our 300+ volunteers and dedicated second-chance work team. Our proven model of trash removal and individualized outreach, coupled with community engagement has also resulted in the restoration AND maintenance of 30 parks across the city.
How It Started and Where We’ve Come
Who would have dreamed that WHS founder and Executive Director Andrea Suarez’s decision in the fall of 2020 to start picking up trash in her Belltown neighborhood would spark a city-wide grassroots movement – one that would grow into an innovative, nimble, boots-on-the-ground organization making a visible and measurable impact on our wonderful city. Along the way, WHS is:
- disrupting entrenched, ineffective systems,
- saying “no more” to excuses, and
- paving the way for citizen-led solutions to Seattle’s humanitarian and environmental crisis.
We Heart Seattle’s Impact is Grabbing Attention
We Heart Seattle’s unique model of civic engagement has attracted global attention. Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and special correspondent for Getty Images John Moore recently joined the We Heart Seattle team in the field for several days. Moore’s stunning images (featured in The Guardian and Geek Wire) illustrate the degradation of our public green spaces but also showcase the power of our dedicated team.
Kevin Dahlgren’s New Leadership Role
We Heart Seattle is thrilled to announce Kevin Dahlgren is assuming the role of President of the organization, bringing 27 years of expertise in homelessness, social services/public health, and substance abuse counseling to our city. The remarkable documentary on Kevin’s success in helping bring Gresham, Oregon to functional zero for homeless is linked below along with Andrea and Kevin’s recent discussions with Mike Solan, national law enforcement expert and President of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, on his Hold the Line podcast.
Amidst the often-polarizing discourse in the city and across King County, We Heart Seattle remains laser-focused on its mission of making Seattle safer and more beautiful for all. And to sustain and scale that work, WHS needs to make a significant investment in its infrastructure.
Trusty BBQ tongs are our tools of the trade but to continue and increase our impact, WHS needs to build its infrastructure by adding an operations manager, additional drivers, volunteer coordinators, and dedicated case managers. We must also fund our basic needs stipend (gift card) program that empowers those living unhoused to join our clean-up efforts. Finally, WHS must fund our second-chance work team – individuals we hire through Uplift Northwest (formerly the Millionaire Club) to participate in our daily boots-on-the-ground team, many of whom have lived experience and welcome the experience with We Heart Seattle as a means of making their way back into the working environment.
None of this would be possible without YOU – our generous donors and tireless volunteers. Together we are reinventing how to approach longstanding and seemingly insurmountable problems while disrupting the inertia that has long gripped our city.
Our heartfelt thanks for your unwavering support. Onward from here!