Heather Lowenthal, media producer with Parallel Productions, Inc., is United Way’s 2018-2019 campaign co-chair with spouse Jonathan Sposato of PicMonkey and GeekWire. With one topic so clear on everyone’s minds, Heather recently shared her take on the homelessness crisis in Seattle.
Q. Many campaign chairs have a focus area—one issue they’re most excited to take on with United Way. What is yours and why?
Poverty in Seattle is painful to witness. People are living in tents on sidewalks and sleeping wherever they can find shelter. We all see it. It’s a clear sign that our community hasn’t figured out how to help all low-income people living in King County.
The experts at the United Way have done a great job of researching and understanding how people fall through the cracks in our system. They’ve defined a strategy that works to provide relief to most people, by funding nonprofits across the county that can effectively reach them where they are, helping them to pay their rent, stay in school and find jobs.
I’m excited to be working with these experts and helping others see the effective ways that we can reduce the flow of people into homelessness.
Q. What do you love about Seattle? What’s something you’d change?
I love that Seattle still feels like a small city. Despite the constantly changing skyline and increased traffic, this is a place where I see that people continue to feel their voice counts.
Residents get involved, ask how they can help and believe they can influence change. I’ve gone to community meetings to hear about plans for city development and the audience is actually too large for the venue. But people care enough to stand outside in an effort to listen and stay engaged.
If I could change anything, I’d like to see everyone just extend a little more patience and courtesy to others. “Please” and “thank you,” asking “how are you?”or a little wave as you change lanes in traffic—those can go a long way to make Seattle a kinder, gentler place for all of us to live.
Jonathan Sposato and Heather Lowenthall work with Amazon volunteers on a STEM project at Yesler Community Center on United Way’s Day of Caring 2018
Q. The homelessness crisis is a known issue in our community. Is there something about the issue that has surprised you?
The thing that surprises me the most is the intolerance I’ve discovered some people have for those who’ve nowhere to live but on the streets.
Whether it’s caused by a fear of increased crime or a belief that people want to live on the streets—or simply exhaustion with the continuing crisis—compassion is running low.
The homelessness crisis is a test of our humanity.Learn why
I’ve seen as much as anyone living here, and I’ve certainly felt unsafe at times in our city too. I don’t assume that being homeless means you’re necessarily a victim of circumstance. The reasons people are experiencing homelessness are varied and complicated. But I still prefer to start from a place of compassion.
I can’t stop thinking about how the middle-aged man with a cardboard sign—standing next to my car at the intersection, wearing dirty jeans and a knit cap, asking me for help—is someone’s child.
It will take time for programs and government funding to help people have permanent places to live again. So even though it may be challenging, it’s important to get past our own fears and rein in our judgement. We’ve got to, in order to co-exist as one community, while we aim for a better quality of life for everyone in the Seattle area.
Check out why income and housing are focus areas for United Way and how your donation is changing lives.Learn More