Building Connections: “A Community starts by just saying ‘Hello’”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

LFP Community members with Rex Hohlbein and Bernard Troyer

By Sally Yamasaki

On February 8, 2020 a group of Lake Forest Park neighbors visited the open house of Block House number 6 in north Seattle. It was a joyous and emotional occasion for all who participated in the day of celebrating, welcoming, and bearing witness to the new home the community built for Tony, who has been experiencing homelessness.

The BLOCK Project is part of Facing Homelessness that was founded in 2013 through the inspiration of Seattle architect Rex Hohlbein. One day in 2010, Rex befriended a person who was living homeless near his office in Fremont. This experience showed him that the stereotypes we often hold regarding those facing homelessness were the opposite of what he experienced. He began sharing stories in a Facebook group which eventually led to starting Facing Homelessness.

“Often when we talk about the homelessness crisis, we talk about those people over there. We need to change that. 
"It is not a homelessness crisis; it is a community crisis
"The moment you say ‘community crisis’ you include yourself in that, and that right there is the beginning of tearing down the ‘other’ and including community in the answer to the issue of homelessness,” said Hohlbein.

According to Hohlbein, “The power in humanizing homelessness is that it allows all of us to see the beauty of each person living on our streets, rather than fixating on the complexity of an issue that overwhelms us,” and can be as simple as just saying, ‘Hello’.”

With the BLOCK Project, neighbors need to agree for a homeowner to host a Block home in their backyard and the surrounding neighbors all need to be in agreement. The homes are a fully-equipped, 125 square foot, environmentally-sustainable home.

Lake Forest Park community member, Mike Dee, noticed that the stories about Tony and his amazing cooking skills touched a number of people at the event. Dee relayed the story. 

 “One time, a friend who met Tony at a shelter and then invited him to stay at his house asked Tony to go camping with him. 
Tony agreed and to everyone’s delight and amazement, on a little cook stove, Tony created a most sumptuous meal for them all. 
Evidently, before Tony became homeless, he would go to the various shelters and cook for the residents there.”

Another LFP resident, Dan Benson, said that he was impressed by the way the BLOCK Project was largely about community building by bringing people together as neighbors, businesses, and volunteers, and working together to enrich all of their lives. 

“On the surface it could look like Tony was the one who was receiving a ‘gift’ today, but when I heard the stories of the various people who were directly involved I saw how they were all equally touched by the opportunity to practice their common humanity,” according to Benson.

Julie Hungar, also of LFP, noticed the impact of community. 

“I was impressed with the love and the depth of community kindness evident in everyone from Tony, excited about his new home, to Rex Holbein and his staff, to the host and the other block hosts and everyone who came to support and learn more about the BLOCK Project.” Hungar continued, 
“I am also ecstatic about the potential of this project for the world, the brilliant ideas for scaling up and being green. This has tremendous promise.”

As a group of us stood around a table enjoying delicious Mighty-O donuts, coffee, and Rachel’s Carrot Ginger Beer, ‘I asked Tony if he will be moving his things in soon? 

 He replied, “Oh, yes!” I said, looking up at the rare sunny day we had, "it looks like you will have good weather to be moving in." Tony replied, “Any weather is a good day to be moving in.”

For more information about the BLOCK Project and Facing Homelessness, or how you can contribute, see the website.


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