Solutions: Break the chain of poverty by motivating homeless adults to pursue education leading to employment

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith and Rev. Dr. Jean Kim
Photo by Larry Vogel courtesy

By Donna Hawkey 

“It has been a long and difficult process getting my 1st college degree in horticulture, but also very rewarding. I am very proud to be the first graduate of the Jean Kim Foundation…My goal is to go to Washington State University in Everett to attain my degree in organic farming.” 
--Kevin, first graduate of the Jean Kim Foundation, with an AA degree in Horticulture.

In the US, we embrace education as a right for everyone, but their plight to become educated can have insurmountable obstacles for homeless college students.

Many live and sleep in their cars while trying to navigate through challenging subjects. Without a means for basic self-care, such as a daily shower, social distancing is usual for these students. And students who are homeless, or struggling in poverty, typically lived a lifetime of numerous traumas.

Rev. Dr. Jean Kim is a life-long local activist for people who become homeless. She particularly focused on the north end areas when no shelters existed. (See previous article) She knows how hard it is to concentrate on academic work for homeless students, and because she is unstoppable, she had to do something about it.

One day in the fall of 2016, Rev. Dr. Kim visited Nicola Smith, the Mayor of Lynnwood, and asked her about pitching five tents somewhere on city property to help homeless college students. 

Rev. Dr. Kim says this was an “absurd request: the mayor couldn’t fulfill it without a proper city ordinance.” 

But Mayor Smith called her back the next day after successfully contacting Rev. Chris Boyer, the pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church, Lynnwood. Pastor Boyer was immediately able and willing to allow five tents to be assembled on his property. 

Shepherd's Village on the grounds of the Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Lynnwood
Photo by Larry Vogel, courtesy

They created a tent village, but this wasn’t durable enough for rain and snowstorms. Rev. Dr. Kim presented another vision: to build six tiny homes. Just one year later, the tents were replaced by the six miniature homes for a mighty accomplishment. This kind of feat happened because of the “fruit of the effort of the whole community of Lynnwood and out of state community as well. Therefore, it was a product of the whole caring community,” said Rev. Dr. Kim.

Before the City of Lynnwood could finish its ordinance changes to approve the structures, Rev. Dr. Kim had already raised $32,000, which was enough to build five tiny houses, and a sixth one was built because of an anonymous generous donor!

These formidable efforts created “Shepherd’s Village,” housing for homeless Edmonds College students at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Lynnwood. 

“Our testimony is that when our community puts love and compassion together, we see a miracle that otherwise would not have been possible.” --Rev. Dr. Kim.

Jean Kim working to get her messages out. Photo courtesy Jean Kim Foundation.

“I met Dr. Jean Kim one Friday night at the homeless dinner of the Nest Mission in Edmonds. It changed my life forever. Dr. Kim had a booth set up with pamphlets explaining how she could help to enhance your education. I took a pamphlet with me.” 
--Karlene, a Criminal Justice student at Northwest University, Kirkland.

The high cost of tuition, rent, food, and childcare, have increased this crisis of student homelessness. Many college students become classified as homeless. 

A survey done in 2019 on the three University of Washington campuses (Seattle, Bothell, Tacoma) uncovered that 5,000 college students are couchsurfing as they cannot afford a place to live, and 160 are residing in their cars or shelters.

Rev. Dr. Kim’s mother inspired her to become educated. She believed it is the most important thing a woman could do to gain life independence. Her mother had suffered domestic abuse from her father.

For her 80th birthday, due to her tireless demanding work and her commitment to higher education, family and friends started the seed of her foundation. The “Jean Kim Foundation for the Homeless Education,” was named by the first Board of Directors in 2015.

In 2017, just two years after the foundation was formed, “205 men and women, homeless or struggling in poverty, expressed to me their desire to pursue a college education. Of 205, a total of 116 enrollments were made to various community colleges or 4-year universities. 116 enrollments were made by 57 unduplicated students. Of 57, 24 students never skipped a quarter since they started. These numbers might sound small but considering their numerous unbearable barriers the number in unimaginably high,” Rev. Dr. Kim.

Rev. Dr. Jean Kim lived in Lake Forest Park
from 1989 to 1998
Photo courtesy Jean Kim Foundation
Below Rev. Dr. Kim talks about her mission behind homeless education.

Please tell me what motivates you in reference to your mission of homeless education?

"I have discovered that many of the homeless people I serve are illiterate and or high school, or a few are college dropouts. Many have a history of drug and alcohol abuse, mental and emotional challenges, and incarceration. They fall easily into unemployment or low-wage jobs that often lead them to homelessness.

"However, I see God’s image in every homeless person (Gen. 1:26-28). I also see that every unemployed mentally, and legally challenged homeless person has God-given potentials, talents, and possibilities in them.  
"I firmly believe that each of them must have an opportunity to discover their hidden potentials and use them at their best ability so that their life can be enhanced and productive and end homelessness. I also firmly believe that each person is qualified for advanced education or job/skill training and can become a productive member of society and a good citizen."

Please describe some of the backgrounds of candidates for college.

"Many were reared in broken homes or by emotionally challenged parental figures or foster parents. They were often involved with substance abuse and abused as children physically, emotionally, and sexually. Therefore, many of our college candidates’ behaviors and coping skills are often a challenge to themselves and society. However, they are not intellectually retarded; instead, they are bright and intelligent. All of them have potential, possibility, and hope as God’s children."

What is the goal of the Jean Kim Foundation?

"Its goal is to break the chain of poverty through education by motivating homeless adults to pursue education for degrees, certificates, and vocational skills which are the essential tools to lead them to gainful employment and permanent housing."

How are they served?

"Our mission is to help achieve our goals by seeking out God-given talents, potentials, and possibilities in every current and potential homeless adult student. We also guide, nurture, motivate, and empower them to utilize their fullest potentials through education and supportive services. This includes but is not limited to active outreach, crisis prevention and intervention, job and housing search, tangible aids, and engagement and partnerships with various community programs and services and government entities." 

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 
--Nelson Mandela

If you can, please consider a donation to the Jean Kim Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. You can donate at the website, or send a check to: Jean Kim Foundation, P.O. Box 1835, Lynnwood, WA 98046

Did you know?

Washington State ranks the highest in the US meeting the most criteria indexes across laws, policies, systems, and environment in the State Index of Youth Homelessness. This includes many policies in place to help safeguard youth from living on the street. (From the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.)  

Thank you Rev. Dr. Kim for being one of our local leaders in these giant efforts!


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