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Dedicated outreach at UW for people experiencing homelessness

Meet Samya Murthy, REACH UW Outreach Coordinator

Samya Murthy, UW's REACH UW Outreach Coordinator in a baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans smiles at the camera.Seattle has for several years now been facing a deep crisis of unsheltered homelessness. The UW campus in Seattle has not been immune. This past October, UW started a contract with REACH to provide a dedicated outreach worker at the UW Seattle campus with a goal to build relationships with people experiencing homelessness and connect them with the help they need.

That outreach worker is Samya Murthy, who links people in need – people he encounters in UW campus spaces – with food, shelter, hygiene supplies and connections to mental health care, substance abuse treatment, case management and other care.

If you work on the UW campus in Seattle and want to request Samya’s help, contact the UW Police Department’s non-emergency line at 206-685-UWPD (8973). Samya works Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

We recently asked Samya about his work with UW so far.

How did you get into outreach work?

I got into outreach through kind of an unusual path. I experienced homelessness during my senior year of high school. After that, I was working at an upscale restaurant and realized that if I was going to spend a majority of my life working, it might as well be something that matters to me.

For people unfamiliar with REACH, what does the organization do?

REACH has two main groups, one being outreach, the other one being LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) case management. For outreach, our main focus is to meet people where they’re at. It’s oftentimes hard when you’re unhoused to be able to make it to appointments or come to the office to grab supplies. So we go out and meet people and connect them with help, like shelter referrals or replacing an ID.

A good day is getting someone off of the street and into a shelter. About three weeks ago, I got a call that there was a family of three who needed help. They had an 8-year-old with them, and I was able to get them into a family shelter. I was pretty hyped about that. You can see a huge difference in someone who’s been off the street and in a shelter, even for a week or two. It can be a really quick change once you have significantly less stress.

Tell us about your work at the UW campus in Seattle. Is there such a thing as a typical day so far?

A typical day is checking in with buildings that have been flagged for me, where I know there might be some people staying or hanging out. I usually start with the HUB (Husky Union Building). I check in regularly with any buildings requesting help.

What’s your biggest challenge?

A lot of times, it’s been hard to find people. If I do get a call, a lot of times they’ve left or been asked to leave the building before I get there. If you encounter someone needing services, if possible, if they’re not disruptive, please ask the client to stay until I arrive.

What are some misconceptions you’ve encountered about people experiencing homelessness?

I’ve noticed that people have a difficult time discerning the difference between being uncomfortable and being unsafe. A lot of the time, the people they’re calling about aren’t committing a crime, they’re just sitting there.

I know substance use is a big issue and people have complaints about paraphernalia laying around. Addiction is a real challenge. It’s not that people are going out of their way to use, but they’ll get sick if they don’t. People don’t have to be clean or sober to receive our services.

When should campus people contact you (using the UWPD non-emergency phone number)?

If you see anyone on campus that seems more vulnerable. That’s our key focus — people with high mental needs or substance abuse. If they look like they need some help or just someone to talk to, I don’t mind coming to check it out.

I should add that my role isn’t crisis intervention. I’m more pre-crisis or post-crisis. My main goal is to create an environment where people who are unhoused feel safer in their day-to-day life to have someone consistent to rely on. Consistency is not something you get on the streets. It takes a lot of time to gain people’s trust, identify their goals and navigate different systems.

What are you hoping to accomplish in the next year?

My goal is to become more integrated with UW so more people are aware that I am around and willing to help if they see people that they think need it. I also want to minimize the stress between the unhoused community and the UW.

What are you happiest doing when you’re not working?

Eating. I could eat five meals a day if I had enough time. I play video games and hang out with my friends. My favorite food is ramen and Ethiopian food, but I like everything.