Jo Ellis shared her story of receiving financial assistance, and later help finding employment from the Queen Anne Helpline.
Jo Ellis shared her story of receiving financial assistance, and later help finding employment from the Queen Anne Helpline.

Jo Ellis didn’t mean to neglect her finances. When a good friend of 20 years was dying of stomach cancer, she stopped everything to go be with her.

“She said, ‘Jo, I need you. I need you to come and stay with me. My family’s coming in, and I need your help,’” she said. “I didn’t hesitate, just like most of you would not hesitate to go to a friend who needed you.”

But being a caregiver to her longtime friend meant forgetting to take care of her own affairs.

“I neglected my own home is what I did,” Ellis said. “I was just so focused on taking care of her I just kind of neglected all… I don’t know, she was more important than anything I had going on at the time.”

A great-grandmother living on a fixed income, Ellis found herself short on money.

She went to the Queen Anne Helpline, where she initially received financial assistance to keep her in her home. It wasn’t something she felt good about, she said, and her “shoulders weren’t so high” as she entered.

“When I went in there, everybody smiles, you are treated with respect, and I’ve been to a couple other charities in our city, and I, the respect I got, feeling a little embarrassed because I had the shortfall,” Ellis said. “When I left out of there, I didn’t feel embarrassed. I felt encouraged; I was so encouraged.”

It was at this point in Ellis’ story that she was interrupted by a chorus of applause from the attendees of this year’s Taste of Queen Anne, who come out to St. Anne Church’s Banchero Hall each year to bid their financial support, so more stories like hers can be told.

The Queen Anne Helpline serves around 2,500 low-income adults, children and seniors in Queen Anne, Magnolia and South Lake Union, with a mission to prevent people from entering homelessness due to those unexpected life emergencies.

“We’re there to provide that last piece of assistance that prevents someone from not being well off or entering homelessness,” said Ron Wright, president of the Queen Anne Helpline Board of Directors.

Financial assistance is an important service the Helpline provides, helping with utilities and covering rent, including making that first deposit to get into an apartment.

“In order to get into permanent housing, they have to have a deposit to move in,” Wright said, “which is kind of odd because the reason they’re homeless is they don’t have any money to pay a deposit.”

The Helpline also provides case management, counseling, food, clothing and employment support, including providing the right clothes for a job interview.

When Ellis’ friend passed, she came home wanting to get back into the workforce.

“It took me about three seconds to realize that I didn’t know a darn thing about going back to work in 2018,” she said.

Queen Anne Helpline helped Ellis with her resume, and provided a job referral. She’s now providing housekeeping at a Bellevue hotel.

She thanked the three women who staff the Helpline in her closing remarks.

“They have prevented homelessness for me, and they have encouraged me,” Ellis said.

With full plates of small bites provided by area restaurants and auction cards in hand, Taste of Queen Anne attendees bid on a number of sports, health and vacation packages, restaurant deals and upscale wines. Emcee Matt Smith noted the interesting pairing of a caviar tasting and flying lessons in one package. Attendees were also asked to simply pledge support for the Helpline, from as high as $10,000 to as low as $100.

This year’s Taste of Queen Anne was also a chance for many longtime supporters to meet Cara Lauer, who in mid-August took over as executive director of the Queen Anne Helpline from Lisa Moore.

“It’s striking these days, because sometimes it does feel like it’s the best of times and the worst of times in Seattle,” Lauer said. “As you know, at the time it’s marked by prosperity and growth in our city, and also by economic insecurity and homelessness by many other folks.”

She said Seattle has experienced one of the country’s fastest cost of living increases over the past several years, and people are further at risk of homelessness when high rents are combined with an emergency situation.

“What we’re talking about are those unfortunate life events that might be a nuisance or a setback — a real hardship for many of us,” Lauer said, “but these can be truly devastating to our clients.”

She said the Helpline focuses on “turning hardship into hope.”

“One of the things I can tell you that rises up to the things that really matter in the end is community,” Lauer said. “We all want a sense of belonging, of being part of something larger than ourselves.”

She said she sees that in the neighborhoods the Helpline serves and in the small staff that runs the community nonprofit.

Lauer also acknowledged her predecessor in the room, thanking Moore for the six years she was at the helm directing the Queen Anne Helpline.

“It was very fun to come back as a guest,” Moore told Queen Anne News, adding she appreciated Lauer’s acknowledgement and thinks she was a good choice for her successor. “She’s just got the energy and the vision to take the Helpline to the next level, I think.”

Moore said the Helpline added case management to its list of services during her tenure, as well as streamlined the process for receiving assistance and expanded the service area to include Magnolia and South Lake Union.

A longtime Queen Anne resident, who raised her children here and ran the Successful Schools in Action nonprofit in Queen Anne and Magnolia prior to the Helpline, Moore said she expects she’ll get back to work helping her community after some more rest and relaxation.

“I’ll get back involved in the community in some way,” she said.

People who didn’t make the Taste of Queen Anne can still find ways to support the Helpline at