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Rusty Barnett

Rusty Barnett has served as program director of Hope House emergency women’s shelter in Spokane, Washington since 2002. As program director, she is an advocate for homeless women, constantly responding to their needs when many other shelters would deny them care due to substance abuse, mental health issues and victimization from domestic violence. She also supervises staff and volunteers, oversees building maintenance, and directs permanent supportive housing for low-income women. In addition, she is a volunteer at the Department of Health Services, acting as a liaison between social workers and families.
Interview by Brooke Bredeson
May 2012

    Peace for me is an environment in which everyone is accepted for who they are. Everyone is allowed to be productive members of society without conflict, without judgment.
    Part of Hope House’s mission is to help women figure out who they are and where they want to go. We do not judge them; rather we try to help everyone who comes to our door. Many of these women have mental disorders and chemical dependency issues. They are not accepted by society. But at Hope House we do not force them to meet a certain standard; we treat everyone with dignity and respect and seek to build real relationships with them.
    I’ve found that building relationships and rapport are key to building peace. People are not willing to change unless they trust you. They need to believe that you really do want to help them. When a woman comes to Hope House, I cannot just tell her that she has a mental health problem and that she needs to let me help her. Repeated actions and conversations are necessary to build a relationship of trust. When she realizes I have her best interests in mind, then she will seek assistance. It may not happen anytime soon. It may take weeks, months, or even years, but when she is ready to change, she knows that I will be there for her.
    Peace will never come if we do not have relationship skills. Learning to listen to both sides of a conflict and either coming to an agreement or agreeing to disagree are essential for peace. It’s not only about me, and it’s not only about you; it’s about everyone as a whole and how we can make it better together. It’s about communicating collective power, and if we are not communicating this, things are not going to get more peaceful, they will only get worse.
    Furthermore, education is needed to promote peace and a more tolerant community. The majority of people are ignorant about homelessness. They do not understand what it is, what causes it, or how to help or sympathize with homeless people. As a result, they look down on the homeless and fear them. Education, however, makes people more comfortable with homelessness and its causes. When I give them information, they are not afraid anymore. In this way, education has the power to free people of their fears and prejudices and become more accepting members of society.
    Overall, my goal is to teach people that Hope House is not about enabling people; we are about giving people a hand up. We are about treating people with dignity and respect, and accepting them for who they are. Building real relationships with real women is just a step toward a more peaceful community.