Wednesday, April 26, 2017

An Interview With Theresa Hill

Theresa Hill 

Theresa Hill knows what it’s like to be homeless.

Thirty years ago, Hill and her ex-husband owned their own home, had two cars, made over $100,000 per year and were living the so-called American Dream.

In 1994, Hill became “burnt out” from working the same job, doing the same monotonous tasks, and coming home after long days of work to raise her three children virtually by herself.

This, among other things, led to her divorce from her husband.
“I just fell out of love with him [her husband] and I was sober at the time. It’s not like I was thinking crazy or anything, I just couldn’t stand his negativity,” Hill said.

Soon after, she began using drugs and drinking after a six-year streak of sobriety.
“Our marriage fell apart and I ended up losing everything. I started drinking again and slipped into drug abuse. Instead of anyone helping me, they labeled me as a thief and a drug addict and just turned their backs on me,” she said.

Hill then lost her home and had nowhere to go.
“I was so depressed that I didn’t even care that I had lost my house. I looked forward to being homeless to be honest, because I had never been homeless. I thought it would be a new adventure because at that point, anything was better than the depression I felt,” she said.

She soon discovered the realities about homelessness and the harsh conditions the streets of Seattle had to offer.

Hill was only one of an estimated 11,000 homeless people in King County.
According to a recent study from the King County Coalition on Homelessness, 4,505 people in King County were living on the streets in 2016, 3,200 in shelters, and 2,983 living transitionally - couch surfing or moving from place to place.

Their 2016 annual report showed that hundreds of people are living without basic overnight shelter and the overall increase in homeless continues to rise by an estimated 18 percent per year.

A majority of the homeless population resides in Seattle, but due to the high cost of living, people continue to leave the city.

“The federal government has been pushing human resources into the main city. As income inequality has happened over the past 10 years, people have moved out to the suburbs, but the resources haven’t followed,” said State Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-33rd district.

Many of the people living in South King County have limited access to health care, homeless shelters and food banks.

Shelters are full every night and those who are lucky enough to get in will most likely sleep on the floor and will have to be back out on the street with their belongings before 7 a.m., according to the Coalition on Homelessness.

“Most of the homeless people you see on the street are facing drug problems and mental health issues,” Rep. Gregerson said.

Hill was just one of the many homeless people battling with substance abuse. She consistently used drugs for the 10 years that she lived without a home.

Instead of holding up cardboard signs and asking people for money, she collected cans, scrap metal and sold meth and heroin.

“Being homeless was a full-time job in itself,” Hill said.
She said that although she didn’t have any responsibilities, she was constantly moving around.

“It was a daily struggle because you never really get anywhere when you’re homeless. It was just a total beat down. I was constantly trying to figure out where I was going to go to the bathroom, what I was going to eat, where I was going to get cleaned up at, how I was going to get money, and how I was going to get drugs,” Hill said.

After several years of this, Hill decided that she didn’t want to live on the streets anymore.
“When I finally decided that I didn’t want to be homeless anymore, I didn’t know how to get a job or anything at that point,” she said.

“I was so downtrodden and feeling so lonely about myself that I just started selling drugs. It was the only way I could get myself out of it.”

Hill saved enough money to move into a small apartment in SeaTac where she sold drugs and lived for the next 10 years.

“I went through 10 years of that [selling drugs] before I finally got arrested by the feds just two years ago. I was looking at a 10-year mandatory minimum in prison, but instead I got accepted into drug court and I went to intensive outpatient treatment,” Hill said.

After successfully completing treatment and drug court, she started going to an asset class through the Catholic Community Services where they hired her as a front desk associate upon graduation.

“They are truly amazing people [her co-workers] and they’ve helped me turn my life back around,” Hill said.

Hill said she feels unfulfilled at times and still struggles with depression, but she is thankful for her sobriety, what she has and that she got a second chance.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An Interview With Susan Rich

Photo Credit: Kelli Russell Agodon

Susan Rich, writer, professor and film lover has faced and overcome many obstacles in her long journey that led her to be the successful woman she is today.

Susan was born in Boston where she later attended the University of Massachusetts.

At the age of 19, she moved to England to study her Junior year at the University of Lancaster.

Soon after, she chose to drop out of college but was so fond of her new home that she decided to stay for a year longer than she had originally planned.

After moving to Scotland for a year, she discovered her immense passion for traveling.

“I realized how much I enjoyed traveling and moving around,” she said.

Her desire for change then led her back to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing.

"As an undergraduate, I didn't really see the point of investing in my education. How was Botany going to help me become a writer? It's ironic that in order to graduate from the University of Massachusetts - Amherst on-time, I needed to do the Honors Program. Honors meant I could skip taking Mathematics and a few other college requirements. I kept my grades up simply because I wanted to graduate early. Five years later, when I decided to apply to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, those grades are what helped me get accepted! And then, six years after that, I won a full scholarship to study Creative Writing at the University of Oregon. How ironic that it all started with my push to get out of college as fast as possible," she said.

However, these weren’t the only reasons she completed her degree. Besides her uncertainty of investing in her education, she had a strong desire to join the Peace Corps, which required a degree.

In her two years in the Peace Corps, she lived in the Republic of Niger, a landlocked country in West Africa.

She then became interested in international work, which led her back to Boston yet again, where she obtained her Master’s Degree in International Education at Harvard University.

After getting her Master’s Degree, she traveled to London, Israel, Palestine, and South Africa to do more work and volunteering.

“I’ve lived in Seattle now for more than 17 years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere else,” she said.

Before moving to Seattle, she worked as a Journalist for the Eugene Weekly in Oregon.

An opportunity through the newspaper led her to visit Seattle for the Seattle Book Fair.

“I fell in love with Seattle. I had only been here once before when I wrote my story on trains in the Northwest,” she said.

Soon after, she was offered a job at Highline College as an English Professor, where she has worked for the past 17 years.

“I never really wanted to be a professor and I dropped out of college. I had really wonderful experiences in high school and elementary school, but I didn’t particularly in College,” she said.

Although she graduated college with a Master’s Degree, she faced many obstacles that would later change her life significantly.

“I had two professors when I was an undergraduate who told me I should not become a writer,” she said. “I had not asked for their advice, I had not asked them if I should become a writer, they just felt it upon themselves to let me know that they didn’t think I had what it took.”

She began to feel uncertain about her passion for writing. At first, she listened to what her professors had told her and dedicated her time to volunteering and studying human rights.

“It was at a time in the 1970s when you just listened to old white men who seemed to know better than what you knew and felt for yourself,” she said.  

For some time, she was hindered by her insecurities, but her strength overtook her weaknesses showing her true potential.

After she got her degree at Harvard, started her job at Amnesty International, and became more settled, she decided that she still needed to have some kind of art in her life, so she took a class on watercolor painting.

“I was the worst in the class and I loved that class, I just didn’t care that I was the worst. I would come home and paint for hours,” she said.

The lesson she learned from this class was one so powerful that it had the ability to change her career path. This was the valuable lesson that led her to be a writer after all.

“Something about that class and the pleasure it gave me, made me realize that I was going to write and it really didn’t matter if I wasn’t great, or if nobody thought it was any good,” she said.

A lesson learned from a creative writing class taught by a woman she hardly knew solidified her interest in being a writer even more.

“The teacher had been kind of an outcast and encouraged us to be outcasts as well,” she said. “She made it seem that you didn’t really have to be chosen as a writer. She felt like for whatever reason she wasn’t accepted by the community of poets, so she decided to make her own group of rebels. She was kind of crazy, but I needed it at that point in my life.”

Her desire to be a writer has always lived in her heart, but as she grew older and wiser, she learned the disappointing truth that most writers don’t make a significant living from that itself.

She felt that working at a college would allow her to continue her passion for writing while making a more sustainable living.

However, money wasn’t the key factor in her decision of becoming a professor.
In her time working for Amnesty International, she realized how much she enjoyed working with college and high school students.

“I love the classes I’m teaching now. I love teaching film and I love teaching creative writing,” she said.

“On good days I’m passionate about what I do. If I could be a professor and not have to give grades, we’d all be much happier,” she said.

Susan is also the co-director of a program called Poets on the Coast - A Writing Retreat for Women, which brings more than 30 women together for a weekend to absorb themselves in poetry, talk about the writing community, and practice their work.

She said publishing five books is one of her greatest achievements in life. Four books of poetry and one being an anthology of essays.

“I’m proud of the work I’ve done and I’m proud to be a part of Highline College,” she said.

Susan said she will continue teaching at Highline College, freelance editing, and writing for her blog, The Alchemist’s Kitchen.

The Alchemist’s Kitchen: