In just a few short minutes, families like Kris and Erika Kalberer can paint a harrowing and touching picture of homelessness in the Pacific Northwest.
Their story is just one of many that local NPR affiliate KUOW will be broadcasting every Tuesday from now until July 7 from StoryCorps’ Finding Our Way recording project. StoryCorps records casual, personal stories and shortens them to emotional segments that are broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition every Friday. Producers came to the Pacific Northwest in 2014 to collect stories of people who have experienced homelessness.
The Kalberers’ story has already been broadcast nationally. In it, Kris describes how they slept in a car while Erika went to high school and tried to keep their homelessness a secret.
Despite living in a car, Kris shared that she is determined to see Erika go to college.
“You are an extremely bright young woman,” Kris said. “And you can go to college and you will go to college.”
Erika replied that she’s equally dedicated to her mother’s future: “You tell me I have my whole life ahead of me, but I think you do too.”
The short stories — each just a few minutes in length but emotionally powerful in their brevity — will play during kuow’s daytime program “The Record” that airs every day from noon to 1 p.m. at 94.9 FM and at kuow.org/programs/record.
The stories are also available online at a website for Firesteel, a network of Washington ywcas that work on ending homelessness. Firesteel has posted 16 StoryCorps recordings — with more to come — at firesteelwa.org/storycorps.
The Finding Our Way project was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. StoryCorps collected the conversations while working with Catholic Community Services of Pierce County and YWCA in King and Snohomish counties with support from the Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness.
StoryCorps recorded about 100 conversations in total and has provided them all to Firesteel.
The collection is a powerful portrait of homelessness in the Puget Sound region. They’re already having an impact, said Catherine Hinrichsen, project manager at the Project on Family Homelessness.
“We want people to understand what the causes of family homelessness are and that the people who experience it are just like you and me,” she said. “The stories aren’t just about homelessness. They’re about everyday things that we can all relate to. We hope that by explaining what homelessness feels like, that it energizes people to take action and end homelessness.”
StoryCorps is a nonprofit headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, that was founded in 2002. The organization often sets up recording booths in public places for people to record conversations. Typically, the conversations are between two family members or friends who speak casually about their lives.
Like other StoryCorps conversations, the recordings will be stored permanently in the Library of Congress. StoryCorps releases only a handful of the 50,000 stories they’ve recorded. Some stories are selected and edited for the public, but most are accessible only to those willing to trek to the Library of Congress.
Firesteel is also sharing the stories with area nonprofits to use for advocacy campaigns, such as lobbying in Olympia. Nonprofits can apply to Firesteel to get access to the full conversations, which can last as long as 45 minutes.
Even in short form, the stories are moving.
Franklin and Sherry Gilliard’s story will be featured on kuow and has already aired on npr’s Morning Edition. They were behind on their mortgage and spent time in a homeless shelter after the economic crash of 2008.
“I remember laying on a bottom bunk and looking up at the springs you look at on a bunk bed,” Sherry said of one night in the shelter. “I remember saying to myself, ‘How did I get here?’”
They moved into transitional housing with their children and are grateful to have their own place again.
“Now we have at the dinner table the circle of thanks, and each one of us go around and we say what we’re thankful for,” Sherry said. “Our boys, they’re at the stage in which they’re thankful for their Pokemon cards. But we’re thankful that we can come together with our food, with the lights on, with the heat on, knowing that we’re there to be blessed to wake up another day.”