Karina O’Malley speaks at an outreach event


In 2013, Karina O’Malley spoke at an outreach event about The Sophia Way’s five-year journey serving women experiencing homelessness on the Eastside.


Five years. This is not such a long time.  Looking back, though, it feels like an eternity.  Five years ago, there was no overnight shelter for women in East King County.

In 2006, Bellevue First Congregational Church (BFCC) and YWCA partnered to open a day center for women in downtown Bellevue. The intention was to meet women experiencing homelessness, offer services, and access the needs of the community. Women who visited those first few years made it abundantly clear that while the services provided were crucial and appreciated; there was still an unmet need. Women needed a safe place to sleep and a pathway to a better life.

To answer that challenge, Helen Leuzzi, the Outreach Chair of BFCC, called together a group of people who wanted to help. With the fiscal sponsorship of Eastside Interfaith Social Concerns Council (EISCC), some large and small donations of money and supplies, space from BFCC and “weekend host” congregations, and the determination and energy of volunteers and staff,  Sophia Way came into being.

It was December 2008, during a snowstorm, that Sophia Way opened the doors at 7 PM to a woman who wanted a place to sleep. She came, had a hot meal and a shower, slept on a mat on the floor, and made an appointment with her case manager. She worked through her goals, moved into subsidized housing, and got a job. That woman is still part of the Sophia Way family. Many extraordinary women (and some men) have joined her over the last five years – clients, staff, volunteers, donors – to form the amazing tapestry of support that we call The Sophia Way.

Starting that first night, we learned from the women we meant to serve. We learned what it means to be homeless, how it is not just a lack of a place to sleep. We learned what challenges might prevent a woman from renting an apartment, getting a job, applying for benefits. We learned how to be in community, how to support each other, how to ask for help. Most importantly, we learned that we are all people – not homeless and housed, not well-off and poor, just people struggling with challenges and trying to live the best life possible.

So, for all the people who have been part of The Sophia Way, those who have slept overnight and those who have stayed awake all night to keep them safe, those who make the meals and those who eat the meals, those who schedule the Dental Van and those who get their teeth fixed, those who donate household goods, toiletries, clothes, time and money and those who put those donations to good use, I have a message: “Thank you.  It has been a truly life changing five years, and I am grateful to all of you.”