Launching our Local Org Spotlight! 

We are officially rolling out a new series on spotlighting local organizations and activists.  Our first feature is on the Backpack Brigade.


This week we’re taking the shift in a different direction with geography. Instead of starting with a place and somebody telling a story related to that place we’re taking a look at the whole landscape of Seattle.

We are spotlighting the Backpack Brigade, a local nonprofit that works to solve local hunger crisis for children in Seattle that are homeless or in transitional housing situations. The Backpack Brigade started in one school and now serves 23 in the entire Seattle School District. There are only 8 schools not served. Funding for Backpack Brigade comes from the McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law that provides funding to homeless shelters and programs, including homeless children. The org takes a pervasive approach to addressing the homeless issue; geographic boundaries are simply a corollary of the objective to solve homeless youth hunger in Seattle. The topic of youth hunger is highly misunderstood as well…

Let’s start by looking at a map of the Backpack Brigade’s service:

Backpack Brigade AllSchoolsMap

This map shows every single school in Seattle and how they are served by Backpack Brigade. Included is temporary annex locations, closed down, demolished, and more. The distribution of who is served is already determined by each school’s boundary. (There’s politics there, but we’re not getting into that today…) 3 other school districts have attempted to utilize Backpack Brigade as a resource.

Backpack Brigade works in a cooperative manner with 9 of other hunger-solving organizations. Nichelle Hilton, Executive Director and CEO of Backpack Brigade, walked me through the process of how the org was founded. Initially a “Food For Schools” project was operating in Seattle School District doing weekend hunger drives. Then a “Backpack Summit” was held to discuss how to target the local youth hunger and homeless crisis. The number of homeless children has more than tripled in Seattle in the last 4 years.

The organization puts together over 800 bags of food every week for children that are homeless, displaced, or in transitional housing. An average school year is 38 weeks so 800 x 38 = 30,400 bags for one year. “We’re so close to providing all of this to Seattle schools”. Need about $200,000 to $250,000 per year to operate.


Each bag contains 7 meals, 13 items: 3 dinners, 2 lunches, 2 breakfasts, 2 drinks, 2 pieces of fruit, 2 snacks, and a Hershey’s kiss 🙂  Bags are separately created for Cook and Non-Cook kids. Cook meals mean the child has access to a stove, pot, and can opener.

Determining who is served comes from each school’s family support worker and Fare Reduced Lunch program numbers. Monthly check-ins happen with the worker and numbers of kids on the Fare Reduced Lunch program.


Donations are widely needed. Online ordering isn’t possible because of the volume needed. Money donations will help the most at this point. What started as an operation running in the courtyard of the YWCA is now operating in a warehouse space in SODO/International District. There’s sorting, packing, and delivering – all positions can help!!

When Nichelle discusses getting funding for this program, she discusses the politics of getting involved with City Council members, City of Seattle public servants, and the politics that is often at play…as much as they’d like to help a noble cause there are different purposes being served by essentially “lobbyists”. People who have funded each public servant’s cause, what that funder’s motives are become some elected officials’ priorities. [money talks].  In my opinion this is where being an organization is more ideal; serving the true purpose(s) you’re passionate about.

It’s such a simple problem to solve yet we can’t get funding. However there are millions found for public murals and “cleanup”, tax breaks and incentives to bring businesses and developments to the city.


Can we tie this back to geography? While this isn’t quite done with a geographic issue, this is a layer of our map to Seattle that needs to be seen and understand. There are geographic problems on a magnitude sorts of scales. Looking at the Urban Landscape there are micro and macro lenses. I look at individual stories tied to a distinct boundary, landmark, location, neighborhood. THIS is something that’s attacking an issue on the larger front in the entire of city’s Seattle School District.

There are a lot of stories that are at bigger scales! Individualistic is not [always] enough. Macro is not enough. This is a serious problem that is not getting enough attention. Is that because the problem is too big, or too small??

I would argue that the stories that I’m sharing are overlooked because they’re too small. But here I’m presenting a problem on the massive scale, an entire city, and it’s also not being taken care of by our city. What’s the answer???

Nichelle shares some of her feelings about this passion project. When it comes to the issue of childhood homelessness “this is a hugely misunderstood subject”. People are always saying things like “This is the parents’ responsibility; why are the parents not responsible?” It’s not always the case that the parents don’t care, it’s actually more problems with transitional housing, or drugs—real problems, or they are working [to get out of dire situations] and they just can’t be there.

These problems require depth, and care, and compassion in order to understand and solve the problem. We can’t just give this blanket statement//these sweeping statements; assuming that a person/parent will always be in a “good” situation and can “properly” parent, i.e. be home to care and watch over and provide for a child…assuming this is the case is problematic. As exemplified with the problems Backpack Brigade is addressing. Let’s get into the nitty gritty details of that.

Want to Help? Are you free Friday mornings? 10am-12pm we need delivery drivers. If you have access to a car and are free during these times, come help us just deliver crates of food to a local school!.
On May 17th there’s a fundraising event happening at Homestreet Bank from 4 to 6 pm. Come donate your time, helping hands, and enjoy a raffle, food and drink, speaker.

$266. Think about this for a minute: $226 is all it takes to feed one child for an entire school year through the backpack brigade. For ~38 weeks a child gets a bag of food filled with 7 meals, which each cost $1. Each bag contains 3 dinners, 2 lunches, 2 breakfasts, 2 drinks, 2 pieces of fruit, 2 snacks, and 1 Hershey kiss of course. What have you spent $266 on recently?


Backpack Brigade Fundraiser!

Hey y’all, we wanted to do our part in spreading the word. May 17th the Backpack Brigade is having a fundraiser with raffle, food and drinks, guest speakers, and donations.

Only $266 will feed one child for the entire school year. With over 3000 children in Seattle homeless or displaced we can help end weekend hunger. Donate, volunteer, and join them on May 17th!
Backpack Brigade Fundraiser

Downtown Seattle “home of the crack dance and the heroin sway”

Some follow up from our last Mental Map Interview.

Tupelo is a Section 8 resident living in one of the few Affordable buildings in Downtown Seattle. She has lived downtown 15 years on Section 8 housing; first in Belltown for 10 years, then was dislocated and found new housing at 3rd & Pine. Tupelo is also a disabled Veteran. She expressed a need to live downtown for walkability to things she needs. She has now found what she needed in a place she calls “Home of the Crack Dance and the Heroin Sway”.

Tupelo MM 2

You have likely passed her building entrance while shopping downtown, or avoid the street altogether. Tupelo lives at 3rd & Pine, along 3rd Street on the stretch from Pine to Pike. The entrance to her building is between McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. If you’ve ever walked around shopping downtown you know the McDonald’s as a navigating landmark – it’s across from Macy’s.

I personally feel extreme discomfort when I walk along this strip. I keep my eyes looking downward. I try not to breathe in through my nose due to smells of dirt, urine, and drugs. I mentally lock down to ignore the catcalls, harassment, violent fighting, people exposing themselves, and peddling. Several months ago I noticed a doorway that people were sleeping in front of. Could this be apartments?? Could someone actually live here??

Yes. Tupelo lives here. It’s the place she was able to find under affordable housing after being dislocated from Belltown. The experience of moving here was difficult. Her previous home in Belltown was where she lived for 10 years – a real home. With the gentrification of Belltown, the Non Profit running her home sold the building to a For Profit. Her rent was raised $90 and she had less than 2 months to move. With little financial resources, no car, and a disability, Tupelo had to figure something out.

She made her way to a new Section 8 apartment above the McDonald’s.

“There is always someone sleeping in the doorway. There’s often feces, wine. Always drug use: deals going on, needles, using. I call it “Home of the Crack Dance and the Heroin Sway””

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April 2018 Updates

Hey everyone! Apologies for the delay in content. It’s been a busy time for the Conscious Maps Project, and hopefully this is just the beginning! We’ve made some great connections with Vanishing Seattle, Rainier Avenue Radio, the Backpack Brigade, and tons of local researchers, writers, photographers, and documentarians.

Seattle-ites, please reach out to the Backpack Brigade if you can volunteer, especially on Friday mornings! We need drivers! Help bring food to local kids who need it!

We’ve also been featured on Rainier Avenue Radio on this week’s “Seattle Here and Now”. Natasha was interviewed along with Sarah Baker, current president of the Japanese American Citizens League. Check out our interview on the Rainier Ave Radio website, or on the TuneIn App on this channel.

Catch the last two shows on Friday 4/6 11am, and Saturday 4/7 at 1pm.

And finally, we will be getting back to posting about our last few Mental Map Interviews.

Please contact if you’d like to share your story. We’re here to put more on the map!

“Draw a Picture of Your Neighborhood…”


A map drawn by a youth of their neighborhood. The term “map” used in the less traditional way than we’re used to. Exact accuracy is not the goal here, but to find out what is important to this person’s world. They navigate through their own neighborhood with an image in their mind of how it’s laid out. It’s not always with street names or distances, but with emotions, memories, experiences, people attached to places. Street corners, parks, their house, their friend’s house, the old lady’s house, etc.

Here’s what we see:

Housing blocks. “Houses A”, “Houses B”, and “Houses C” blocks.
This may be how they decided to present their map to me for this assignment, or this may really be how they think of their neighborhood.
Parks. We see parks attached to each block. This youth must see their neighborhood as “full of parks”, or this may be a representation of how they spend most of their time. In parks, playing. Parks must be an important part of their life. Which makes sense; they’re a child, they like to play outside!
School. School is a large landmark on this map. School is typically the most important place in a person’s life, until adulthood and beyond. The school is a landmark here.
Community Space. This is the box to the right that says “parting and cumpert class”. I interpret this to be partying and computer class. This community space is for residents to use, for parties, and there are computer classes held here. It’s no surprise this youth likes to use the computer, and go to community member events, or “parties”. This is an important part of their daily life. The culture of their life in this neighborhood.

The intent of collecting a map from a youth is to get a raw form of how they think as they move through space. Children are not bogged down with exact street names. They may think more in “how many blocks” to a place. How long it takes to get there. What time of day is better to walk here and there. Who they will see along this route and that route.

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Seattle Recruiting

Hey Seattleites, Ex-Seattleites, and PNW-ers of Washington State:
Have you been Evicted, Priced Out, or Gentrified?

Share your Story!

The Conscious Maps Project is interviewing residents of Seattle and collecting stories. We want to hear your story about the rising cost of housing and living in Seattle. While the city economy grows, more people are pushed out. The stories of those people pushed out are part of what made Seattle. Those stories should not be lost.

We interview residents, immigrants, homeless, and low-income. Stories are shared via website and social media. If you are interested in sharing your story please comment below or use our Contact Info to email. You will need to sign a consent form for this interview, draw on a map, and tell any story you like. This is unpaid research.

Please email me to sign up, and share with your coworkers, friends, and social media. We want to share everyone’s stories!!

Thank you!!

Mapping Urban Social Issues

IMG_7140The Conscious Maps Project interviews people, collects their stories, and adds them to an interactive map. Our purpose is to share stories of people across the city and deepen our understanding of a place. Understand the various lived experiences that all happen in one place.

We are currently researching urban growth in the City of Seattle and issues of gentrification, homelessness, vacancies, affordable housing, and other social justice issues.