A Different Lens: Getting Past the Stereotypes of Homelessness

By Olivia Long, Jubilee Volunteer

When you imagine an individual who is homeless, what’s the first image that crosses your mind? Before volunteering for Jubilee Women’s Center, my unfortunate and admittedly ignorant imagery sometimes consisted of an individual on the streets, often sleeping in doorways for shelter and doing anything possible to get food in their stomachs. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

According to a study in January 2018 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), out of the 554,000 homeless people on the streets in the United States, only 193,000 individuals were reported to be “unsheltered.” I was shocked to learn these figures mean approximately only 35% of homeless people have actually lived on the streets. The other 65% have indeed lost their homes, but they have been able to reside in some type of homeless shelter or stay at homes of friends and family. Temporary shelter, however,  is not the same as stable permanent housing. Thankfully there are thousands of organizations working to alleviate homelessness for good and help individuals get back on their feet.

One particular organization is Jubilee Women’s Center. I recently started volunteering for Jubilee after choosing to contribute to an organization that empowers women. Jubilee’s two-year program includes not only housing for women who have been homeless, but includes comprehensive care customized to each woman looking to regain independence in all aspects of her life. Interestingly, nearly all of the women at Jubilee were living in emergency shelters or temporary housing arrangements (car, with friends, etc.) prior to coming to Jubilee–not living on the streets like a stereotypical homeless person.

Now we bring our attention to homelessness in our very own Emerald City. In a study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Seattle was listed as the third city with the most homeless individuals within the United States. Even scarier there is an increased rate of unsheltered homeless individuals as an average across the nation. In the opinion of many, this correlates to not nearly enough emergency shelters, let alone the chance to be a resident in long-term affordable housing program. Jubilee gives women the opportunity to stay in a safe, affordable, and supportive community residence for two years so they can make permanent changes and rebuild their lives.

The mission of Jubilee seems simple: “Jubilee Women’s Center supports women experiencing poverty to build stable and fulfilling futures, one extraordinary woman at a time.”  However, there’s nothing about the organization, staff, residents, and volunteers that is anything less than extraordinary. Everyone greets you with a smiling face and it’s easy to tell they’re all driving to uphold the mission of Jubilee, working on bettering themselves, and helping others.

My volunteer experience at Jubilee thus far has been invaluable, and I’ve been able to educate myself about homelessness in a way that makes me look at it all from different lenses. My favorite volunteer opportunities include teaching a class, gardening, working the front desk, and cooking a meal with some friends. If you’re interested in the many volunteer opportunities available at Jubilee Women’s Center, contact

Olivia Long graduated from the University of Washington in 2015 and has lived in Seattle for nearly 8 years. She grew up in Lodi, California and looks forward to continuing her work with Jubilee Women’s Center.