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Posts Tagged ‘homeless’

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Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
El Jefe’s Taqueria is among the restaurants Cambridge is paying to serve hot and cold meals to homeless shelters.

One of the many interesting aspects of the Situation has been the way leaders in states and municipalities have taken matters into their own hands.

We know that individuals and both for-profit and nonprofit organizations are stepping up, but some government entities are, too. Across-the-board federal efforts would be better, especially if we don’t want to see New York suing Rhode Island and other such anomalies, but we’ll take what we can get.

Here’s a story about Cambridge, Mass., a city that some have called Moscow on the Charles mainly because it tries to help the poor.

Erin Kuschner, writes at the Globe‘s Boston.com, “With restaurants facing a sudden loss of revenue due to Gov. Baker’s mandated dine-in ban, and homeless shelters seeing a drop in volunteers helping to deliver and prepare food, the City of Cambridge came up with a solution to benefit both parties: Paying restaurants to make and deliver food to homeless shelters.

“The program launched Monday after the city reached out to both the Harvard Square Business Association and the Central Square Business Improvement District to help organize the initiative, with a goal of distributing roughly 1,800 to 2,000 meals to various shelters by the end of the week. …

“Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said that it has already brought roughly 15 restaurants on board to make meals for local shelters like the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and Y2Y, a youth homeless shelter that has seen many of its student volunteers leave following Harvard’s closure.

“ ‘It just made so much sense,’ Jillson said. ‘We were on board immediately.’ …

“Among the restaurants serving Harvard Square’s homeless shelters are Black Sheep Bagel, Cardullo’s, El Jefe’s Taqueria, Orinoco, Subway, and Veggie Grill. Jillson said that they have tried to provide a range of healthy meal options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

“The Central Square Business Improvement District partnered with PAGU to deliver meals to Bay Cove Human Services and the Cambridge YMCA.

‘We made our first delivery [Monday],’ said Michael Monestime, executive director at the Central Square Business Improvement District. ‘It was pretty humbling and sad at the same time. It’s hard enough being homeless on any given day, and then under these circumstances it’s even more difficult.’ …

“In addition to providing hot and cold meals to those experiencing homelessness, the city has set up a Cambridge Community Food Line, available to any resident who is a high risk for food insecurity.

“The delivery service provides a weekly bag of produce and shelf-stable food items to individuals and families who have experienced the following: The food pantry or meal program you used has closed until further notice; you have lost your job or part of your income and cannot afford groceries at this time; you are homebound due to illness, disability, or quarantine and do not have friends or family that can bring you food; you are at high risk for COVID-19 (coronavirus) and do not have access to a regular food source.”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Local readers, try to remember these restaurants and thank them with your business when we come out of the tunnel to the other side of this plague.

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Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Breaktime Café cofounders Tony Shu (left) and Connor Schoen hosting a kickoff launch party in Boston for a nonprofit that helps homeless youth learn job skills.

Not sure why so many recent posts have had a food angle. I’ve certainly been drawn to stories about food. In this article, a couple young guys who volunteered with homeless youth saw a way to help them move beyond homelessness with a bit of skills training and lots of moral support.

Back in December, as Max Jungreis wrote at the Boston Globe, the nonprofit was just getting set up.

Breaktime Cafe doesn’t look like much. It’s 1,500 square feet of typical office space on Portland Street, with gray carpeting, off-white walls, and tables shoved into corners. But by the time the cafe opens in the spring, its founders hope to transform the office into a resource for Boston’s homeless youth.

“The opening will mark a major expansion of a six-month pilot program founded last year by a pair of Harvard University undergraduates. It offered a handful of homeless youth on-the-job training as baristas, with the goal of bringing them into the workforce and out of homelessness. …

“The plan is to employ up to 15 homeless youth at a time. They’ll serve sandwiches, seasonal drinks, and coffee made from ethically sourced beans. That will be triple the number served in the pilot program, and a small but meaningful chunk of the estimated 325 people between the ages of 18 and 24 who were sleeping in Boston’s shelters and streets in January.

“Schoen said Breaktime has raised about $145,000, with much of the money coming from corporate sponsors and charitable trusts, such as Cambridge Trust and the Harnisch Foundation. He said the cafe also has attracted hundreds of individual donations through crowdfunding campaigns. Donated legal advice, accounting, and other services have helped defray costs. …

“Employees will earn $15 to $18 an hour. Aside from learning how to brew coffee, Schoen and Shu want to teach them financial literacy and professional skills, like writing a resume, personal budgeting, and interview techniques. Part of that will come through one-on-one mentorships with professionals from the cafe’s sponsors, many which are financial institutions like BlackRock and Eastern Bank.

“The cafe will occupy ground-floor space at 170 Portland St. Shu and Breaktime cofounder Connor Schoen, 21, are renting it from Community Work Services, the local branch of the national job-training nonprofit Fedcap, at a ‘very competitive rate,’ Schoen said. …

“The project dates to when Schoen and Shu met as volunteers at Y2Y Harvard Square, a homeless youth shelter run by Harvard students. Shu was inspired to volunteer by his mother, who as a young immigrant to Kansas from China often slept in her car.

‘I knew that it was my duty and my opportunity to use the skills and the resources that I have in front of me in order to pay it forward,’ Shu said. …

“[Schoen] learned that up to 40 percent of homeless adults identify as LGBTQ, according to one study.

“ ‘It just immediately became something I was really passionate about, and indignant about,’ Schoen said. ‘The fact that people are being kicked out of their homes for just coming out just doesn’t make any sense to me.’

“The two men realized that for many struggling young people trying to gain a foothold, there is a tricky period between the end of a work-training program and when they land a paying job.

“ ‘[Where] do they go after that to bridge them to the broader work force and sustainable careers?’ Shu said. ‘That’s what Breaktime does.’

“The business partners, who plan to run the cafe full time after graduating, impressed Brittany Butler, who runs the Harvard Kennedy School’s Social Innovation and Change Initiative, a student mentorship program that birthed Breaktime’s pilot. …

“Erica Grube-Grumt, 26, who graduated from the pilot program in March 2019 and now serves in the Navy — as well as on the new cafe’s advisory board — said it helped to build her self-confidence.

“ ‘A lot of people who are homeless, they feel unheard,’ Grube-Grumt said. ‘They feel like they’re in their own little corner on the street just begging for change, or begging for something to change. To finally be able to step on the pedestal and tell people what it’s like firsthand . . . can really make a provocative change.’ ”

More at the Globe, here.

You may also be interested to read about Land of a Thousand Hills in Lynn and Breaking Grounds (“changing lives one cup at a time”) in Peabody, doing similar work with young people and people with disabilities.

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Photo: Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe
Dana Mendes held his niece, Izariel Brown, 5, as he walked around Boston’s annual Christmas in the City, a happy event for homeless children.

The other day, I was talking to a woman about her idyllic-sounding childhood on the island of Dominica in the West Indies. One thing that she mentioned really struck me. No one was homeless. People looked after each other, she said.

That is how it should be, I thought. In a country like the US, where there is enough wealth to house and care for everyone if we have the will, I’m naturally grateful that homeless children get a joyful day in December but can’t help wishing that their happiness didn’t get rolled up and put away afterward.

In this update on the giant Boston Christmas party that started small in 1989, we learn about the illness of event founder and lead organizer Jack Kennedy, who wouldn’t miss this party for the world.

Naomi Martin writes at the Boston Globe, “The children and parents awoke Sunday in homeless shelters around Greater Boston and boarded school buses, some with no idea where they were going other than to a Christmas event.

“As they entered the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, solemn faces broke into wide smiles and dropped jaws as they stepped onto a red carpet toward people waving and applauding them, along with extravagantly costumed characters — Disney princesses and Superman, Star Wars storm troopers and the Incredibles — all there to welcome them. Snowflake confetti fluttered. Lights sparkled. Parents dance-walked to the upbeat Christmas tunes, filming their children’s faces on phones, some with tears in their eyes.

“ ‘Wow, it’s beautiful!’ said Aylajoy Dufresne, 5, who wore a pink tutu, as she ran to princess Elena of Avalor and hugged her. ‘Elena!’ …

“Thousands of volunteers rallied this year to serve more than 6,000 people from dozens of shelters at the 31st annual Christmas in the City, which has grown from a small gathering at City Hall in 1989 to a massive party thrown for families struggling with homelessness.

“The event featured performances by the Blue Man Group, a gospel choir, and an Afro-Caribbean band, as well as a petting zoo, amusement rides, Santa Claus photo booths, face paint, manicures, haircuts, dental screenings, flu shots, and white-clothed tables holding pizza, chicken tenders, and gingerbread cookies.

“This year took on particular poignancy because the founder and lead organizer, Jake Kennedy, 64, has been diagnosed with ALS, which took the lives of his father and brother. Kennedy’s son, Zack, a neuroscientist at University of Massachusetts Medical School, has dedicated himself to researching a cure for the lethal disease. …

“Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston stood onstage beside Kennedy and his wife, Sparky, and expressed his gratitude and admiration of Jake Kennedy.

“ ‘Many of you in this room might not know him personally, but he does this because he loves you,’ Walsh said. ,,,

“Offstage, Kennedy struggled to speak, though he made a point to say one thing.

“ ‘When you ask people what they like best — the winter wonderland, Santa, the food, the Blue Man Group — they all reply,

‘ “This is the first time in our lives we’ve been treated with dignity and compassion,” ‘ Kennedy said. ‘That’s because of the volunteers.’ …

“Many parents said they were thrilled to see their children laughing and having fun with activities they can rarely access.

“ ‘I don’t want to miss anything; this is beautiful,’ said Anthony Raye, as he and his son, Antonio, 10, plotted their next moves: face-painting and visiting animals. …

“By a ‘salon’ sign, hairstylists buzzed, cut, and blow-dried the hair of parents and kids. Aaron Lauderdale, 7, received a mohawk, his face painted like a green Grinch.

“ ‘This is the one and only time I’ll let him have a mohawk,’ said his mother, Natashia Lauderdale. ‘This is his day. I’m just along for the ride. I feel like a big little kid all over again.’

“A parade led by men playing bagpipes filed through the room, followed by Santa Claus on a raised platform. The Kennedys led a countdown, prompting a red curtain to rise on one wall, leading to a winter wonderland of amusement rides and a petting zoo. Children clamored for a carousel, flying chair swings, bouncy castles, super slides, trampolines, and a rock-climbing wall. …

“Amelia McCauley pushed her 2-year-old, Lauryal, in a stroller. ‘I feel special,’ she said. ‘I don’t know when something like this is going to come by again, so I just want to enjoy it.’ ” More here.

 

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Homeless Young People

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Photo: Tom Parsons on Unsplash
Concern for homeless youth continues to grow.

Since I read Sarah Smarsh’s memoir Homeland, I have had to recognize that my difficult childhood was not as difficult as many other people’s. And my difficulties were never exacerbated by the relentless poverty Smarsh’s farming family experienced despite always working hard.

Still, I identified with some aspects of her story, like the wish to run away. In the book, Smarsh would decide to live with a different relative from time to time, which seemed to help her get her head together for a while. I never ran away, but even as an adult, I used to fantasize about ways a child might do that successfully. I finally concluded it’s not possible, despite The Boxcar Children and their apparent self-sufficiency.

It may not be possible to do so successfully, but children and teens do run away. Tristan Hopper and Kaitlin J. Schwan write about youth homelessness in Canada at The Conversation and suggest some ways to help them.

“Despite decades of policy and programming, youth homelessness remains an urgent issue in many communities across Canada. [Twenty] per cent of people experiencing homelessness are youth. Particular groups — Indigenous youth, racialized youth and youth who identify as LGBTQ+ — are at increased risk of homelessness due to intersecting forms of structural and systemic inequity. …

“Given this, there has been an increased focus on homelessness prevention across Canada and globally. … Research shows that meaningful and accessible activities like sports and arts can have significant impacts on youth social connectedness, better developmental outcomes, improved mental health and recovery from trauma. …

“Youth homelessness is a complex social issue affecting people between the ages of 13-24 who are living independent of parents or caregivers and do not have the means to acquire safe and secure housing. …

“A key component of youth homelessness prevention is not only preventing youth from experiencing homelessness in the first place, but also preventing young people from re-entering life on the streets. …

“Social exclusion, loneliness and limited social networks are particularly common issues for those who have recently left homeless status. These experiences powerfully contribute to mental health decline, substance use, feelings of hopelessness and subsequent returns to homelessness.

“Young people exiting homelessness may be housed in locations that are isolated from services, community centres and childcare. This distance can create barriers to accessing meaningful activities and can present challenges to social and political inclusion.

“All young people deserve stable and safe housing, and also the opportunity to be engaged in meaningful activities, [which include] resources that encourage social inclusion … Social inclusion may also mitigate risks of eviction. For example, neighbourhood groups may help navigate conflicts with landlords. This inclusion may help in the development of a new identity as young people re-articulate their sense of selves in a new community.

“Some studies show that youth experiencing homelessness view artistic activity and sports engagement as absolutely critical to their wellbeing, recovery and exits from homelessness. … Recreational sport participation can have several physical, psychosocial, emotional and developmental benefits. … However, for sport programming for homeless youth to be purposeful, the social, political and cultural barriers to participation must be addressed, including time and place of programming, cost of access and cultural acceptance.

“Research has shown that for Indigenous youth, re-connection with cultural practices — including sports — can be a critical component in connectedness and meaning. … We need to [invest] in frontline prevention programming that includes sports and arts activities driven by the needs and interests of the young people they serve.”

More at The Conversation, here. (I believe social scientists like these are doing good work, but their writing is awfully dry. For more-engaging and specific writing on youth in trouble, try UTEC, here.)

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Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post
Eddie Adams rehearses on a cello at George Mason University.

This summer I have been reading installments about the early life of someone I thought I knew well when she was a child. I thought I knew how difficult life was for her and her younger brother after her parents divorced. Wrong. Without getting into details, I’ll just say I didn’t have the slightest idea. Reading her story, I feel like crying. I feel like going back in time and trying to fix things.

Fortunately, I know this girl as an adult and can see that somehow she was saved, with the violin playing an important role in saving her. I’m telling you this because I want to share a story about a boy who was saved by a cello.

Allison Klein reported the cello story in April at the Washington Post.

“Eddie Adams didn’t have the money to buy college textbooks this semester, so he had to rely on his classmates at George Mason University to loan him theirs. He is the principal cellist in the school orchestra, but he couldn’t afford to buy or even rent a cello. That, too, he had to borrow.

“That was two weeks ago.

“After a story ran in The Washington Post about Adams’s tormented, impoverished childhood and how the cello has become his lifeline, people started donating money — more than Adams ever imagined was possible.

“The day the story ran, April 13, Adams looked at a GoFundMe page that had been set up for him and saw it had reached $25,000. It was so much money, he was sure there was a technical problem with the fundraising site.

“ ‘I legitimately thought it was a glitch in the system,’ said Adams, 20, who as a child moved around Northern Virginia with his mother and five siblings about seven times, including to a homeless shelter in Alexandria.

“The next day when the fundraiser reached $70,000 — and hundreds of people had left comments telling him he was worth every penny — he texted his strings professor and mentor, June Huang: ‘I’ve been crying all day … happy tears.’ …

“As of late Wednesday evening, the GoFundMe donations had reached $141,120.

“ ‘I still don’t want to believe it happened because it’s too much money for me to even think about,’ said Adams, who is estranged from his family and whose only home is his dorm room.

“On top of that, people donated other large and personal gifts. Two people are buying him cellos, one valued at up to $20,000 and another that will be specially made for him, valued at more than $30,000. A couple in Delaware bought him a $700 custom-fitted tuxedo he will wear during performances. Gift cards and checks started arriving at the university, totaling close to $5,000.

“The City of Alexandria invited him to play at a homeless shelter, Huang said. He plans to do it. …

“Adams’s first move was to pay a $250 deposit for an educational music festival he will be attending this summer. Then he went to the dentist for the first time since he was a child. And he paid off $15,000 in student loans that were accruing interest and had been weighing heavily on him.

“ ‘That was a very big moment for me,’ he said. …

“Huang, whose support of Adams was described in the Post story, said she has been deluged by calls and emails from people who want to help Adams.

Huang first heard Adams play at an audition for the school’s orchestra. She dropped her pencil, forgetting to score his performance because she found it so soulful and beautiful. …

“It was Huang’s private violin student Noah Pan Stier who at age 12 set up the GoFundMe page last year after Huang told him about Adams’s difficult childhood. Noah recently turned 13 and had a bar mitzvah, asking for donations for Adams instead of gifts. By early April, Noah had reached his goal of raising $10,000. That is the same GoFundMe that is now at more than $141,000. …

“Now, Huang is the point person coordinating Adams’s donations and talking with people around the country and in places such as Germany, England and Singapore who contacted her in recent days wanting to help. She has been getting pro bono guidance from various estate planners, tax lawyers and accountants to figure out how to keep the money safe for Adams and make it last. She said she’s been in nonstop motion the past 10 days, but she’s thrilled with all the support. …

“Huang said she includes one of Adams’s close friends, Adam Rothenberg, and his former middle school teacher, Gerald Fowkes, in financial discussions she has with Adams for transparency’s sake. She keeps all his financial information in a binder the four of them can look at. And she’s trying to teach Adams how to manage his newfound money at the same time she’s trying to figure it out herself. …

“Adams said he is now getting a lot of attention on campus, as people approach him and say they had no idea that his past was so difficult, that he faces so many challenges. He’s shy so the attention is not always easy for him.

“ ‘I have anxiety about these types of things, but I should get used it because it’s all really good,’ he said. ‘I’m trying not to think about it because finals are coming up and I’m trying not to let that take up all my head space. I still need to study and practice as much as I was before. I need to focus on my schoolwork because that’s the whole purpose of it all.’ ”

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: NBC Boston
Project Home Again helps low-income families get on their feet again with furniture from donors such as movie companies finished with their stage sets.

I love writing about experiments that someone has thought up to help people in need. Usually the initiatives blossom and flourish, like the one I will tell you about today. But now is as good a time as any to admit that occasionally an experiment fails (consider one I wrote about helping displaced miners learn coding). I guess, for me, the bottom line is that you have to risk failure in order to move forward. No successes without failures.

In Lawrence and Andover, Mass., success seems to follow each new effort that Project Home Again tries out.

As Judith Kogan reported at WGBH, “When a film is made, sets are built and decorated to make a story seem real. And now in Massachusetts, when filming is done, those sets are having real-life impact, empowering people trying to rebuild their lives to design their own homes, free of charge. …

” ‘Say we’re decorating a dining room,’ explained Melissa Cooperman, a set decorator and buyer for films and commercials shot in Massachusetts. ‘We’ll need a table, we’ll need chairs, carpet, dishes, glasses, artwork for the wall, lighting, curtains, and window treatments.’

“When a film wraps, the producer needs to decide what to do with the accumulated stuff, often an abundance of home goods.

“Cooperman worked on the 2014 television mini-series ‘Olive Kitteridge,’ which was shot on the North Shore and Cape Ann. It had a fully-furnished house and apartment, and fully-stocked drug store.

“ ‘They said they wanted to donate everything,’ Cooperman recalled. …

“Project Home Again gets goods to where they’re most needed and wanted, partnering with about 400 social workers, founder and president Nancy Kanell said.”

Social workers ” ‘go to their clients’ homes with a checklist of everything that we stock. And they sit down with their clients and they go room by room, and decide what they need to make them feel comfortable,’ Kanell said. …

“Project Home Again serves refugees, veterans, people transitioning from halfway houses, and survivors of domestic violence.

“ ‘When they come here,’ Kanell said of the abuse survivors, ‘we roll out the red carpet.’ … Kanell remembers one particular survivor: ‘She came on a day we were closed because she was very afraid of her own shadow at that point. And she just wanted beige. She said she didn’t like color, didn’t deserve color.’

“Kanell and Cooperman found her a green chair.

“ ‘A green that people would be either very drawn to or very opposed to having in their home,’ Kanell recalled. ‘But there was something about it she liked. She sat down on it.’ …

“Kanell and Cooperman started pulling colorful rugs and a colorful table to go with the chair. …

“ ‘She was uncomfortable with it, but you could see she was starting to like it. And I made a deal with her that she could take it home, and if she didn’t like the color, I’d come and pick it up, and she could get all beige things. We even had colorful pots and pans for her! And she called about two weeks later. She said she and her son were so happy they were living in a colorful world, and it changed their outlook.’

“Project Home Again hasn’t just been changing lives. It’s changed the industry as well. Many set decorators now have Nancy Kanell on speed dial so they can get rid of their stuff as quickly as possible.” More here.

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Photo: Low Income Housing Institute
Six tiny houses share a common deck in Lake Union Village, Seattle, Washington.

Believe it or not, there are lots of people who spend their time trying to make life better for everyone. I know how easy it is to get distracted by headlines featuring people doing the opposite, but I find that focusing on the helpers is better for my mental health. The following article shows how well things can work when a city tries to make life better for everyone by helping those most in need.

At the community development magazine Shelterforce, Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), reported on a hopeful Seattle initiative.

“In 2017, I wrote a piece for Shelterforce on Seattle’s then-emerging effort to build tiny houses to shelter homeless families, couples, and singles. Over the past three years, Seattle has led the country in piloting this response to the homelessness crisis. …

“Tiny house villages are an effective crisis response to homelessness and have proven to be a rapid, cost-effective response with better outcomes than traditional shelters. …

“When Mayor Jenny Durkan took office in January 2018, she authorized the first tiny house village exclusively for homeless women. The Whittier Heights Village is located on property owned by Seattle public utility City Light and shelters single women, same-sex couples, seniors, pregnant women, and women with pets. The mayor also funded two additional villages: True Hope Village, which is church-sponsored and focuses on people of color including families with children; and Lake Union Village (LUV), for singles and couples, located on a city-owned parking lot. All three villages were planned, constructed, and opened in 2018, and together shelter 155 homeless people.

“How did this happen so quickly? The mayor prioritized the need. … A village requires anywhere from 6,000 to 30,000 square feet of vacant land, depending on the number of tiny houses and common facilities to be placed there. There are suitable urban infill sites zoned for residential and mixed use, as well as larger commercial and industrial sites.

“It takes careful research and help from local government to identify good sites, and we were quite surprised to find a large inventory of publicly owned underutilized and surplus sites held by the city, county, state and even the Port of Seattle. We also found multiple nonprofit, private, and church-owned properties that could be used. Nonprofit housing organizations own land that they hope to develop in the future, and these can be used on an interim basis, from two to four years, for a tiny house village.

“Each village needed only four to six months’ lead time to be constructed. … There are 15 to 34 tiny houses at each village, plus shared community kitchens, community meeting space, counseling offices, storage, donation huts, security huts, and plumbed bathrooms, showers, and laundry facilities.

“An effective partnership between multiple departments in the city and LIHI was key in setting up the villages. … LIHI staff led the effort to raise funds to construct the tiny houses, reaching out to hundreds of donors and volunteers. We applied for permits, led work parties to build the houses, and developed the management and staffing plans.

“We undertook extensive community outreach to neighbors, businesses, and the public, working alongside city staff, including the Seattle Police Department and the Human Services Department, which funds LIHI for operations and services. While not everyone was supportive, they were all provided detailed information on the management plan and code of conduct, and were invited to submit their names to serve on a community advisory committee. Each village, staffed 24/7, has Village Organizers and dedicated case managers to assist people in obtaining long-term housing, employment and services.”

At Shelterforce, here, you can read more details, including Lee’s assessment of how the tiny house approach compares with other initiatives to address homelessness.

Photo: Andrew Constantino
A row of tiny houses in the Georgetown Village in Seattle. I like how residents show their love for their place.

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