Homeless stage 'sleep-out' outside Gates Foundation building

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on October 11, 2011 at 7:38 AM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 11 at 11:01 AM

SEATTLE -- About 100 homeless people and anti-poverty activists staged a "sleep-out" Monday night outside the new Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation building in Seattle to protest a funding shortage that has forced the closure of 15 shelters.

Dozens of homeless people lost their shelter this week after the SHARE/WHEEL organization ran out of funds to keep its network of emergency shelters open. The shelters are housed in area churches, but a lack of funds means the group can't buy bus tickets for homeless people to get to and from the churches. And SHARE/WHEEL and its church partners lack the money to staff the shelters.

The group said the Gates Foundation is not doing enough to solve homelessness in Seattle. SHARE supporters said they chose to protest outside the Gates Foundation because they are tired of seeing global projects funded out of the headquarters while homeless in Seattle suffer in poverty.

And SHARE supporters said it's not just the Gates Foundation that they are targeting. Other area big businesses and foundations are also being asked to provide funds.

Protestors said they plan to protest from 7 p.m.-7 a.m. outside the Gates Foundation building every night until they get enough money to begin operating again.

The Gates Foundation has endorsed a 10-year plan to end homelessness in King County, but the SHARE/Wheel group said the plan doesn't make it a priority to build shelters.

"Me and my wife both sleep in there and we can't be there at the same time, so I let her sleep and I stayed up all night, fighting the fight with everybody," said Marcus Hammitt.

"The Gates Foundation, they're not the only people that we target. Boeing's out there, Microsoft is out there," said Justin Embre.

David Bley, a spokesman for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said "homelessness is an important issue the ... Foundation cares deeply about. In fact, we have committed more than $100 million in the tri-county region alone to address this problem."

The SHARE/WHEEL supporters said they have nothing to do with the Occupy Seattle protest. They said they would like to sit down with some people at the foundation. No word yet if the foundation plans to do that.

The city and county have a few extra spaces for homeless persons, and SHARE said some of its clients are taking advantage of those spots, or seeking empty beds at the Union Gospel Mission, Bread of Life and Nightwatch.

KING 5's Jake Whittenberg contributed to this report.

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