Mount Vernon, WA– In January of 2019, Jaimey and Curt Leland of Camano Island, Washington founded a 501(c)3 non profit organization called Strength in Numbers, a charitable corporation dedicated to helping the homeless population in Skagit, Snohomish and Island Counties.
Prior to moving to Camano Island in 2017, Jaimey and Curt Leland lived in West Seattle and had discovered how bad the homeless population had become, especially beneath the bridges between West Seattle and Seattle. Often traveling between Seattle and West Seattle it had become apparent there were just not enough resources dedicated to helping the growing population. More so, the city just kept pushing them from one camp to the next. Often just bull dozing down their make shift camps so the affluent residents of the city didn’t have to look at it. They did what little they could to try and make a difference. The two of them volunteered with the Union Gospel Mission going out on night search and rescues missions, finding homeless camps and delivering food, clothing, toiletries and hot chocolate. It didn’t end there. Soon they were gathering up all the left overs from their own home and taking them under the bridges and sharing with those less fortunate. The response they got from the people they had helped was overwhelming and what they learned was incredible, said Jaimey. These were real people, who had real jobs and real lives at one point in time. Most of which who had simply suffered a set back in life without family to help them out. From illness, job loss and yes sometimes drugs….but not always.
The Leland’s said Moving to Camano Island opened their eyes to the fact that they were living the life most take for granted. Surrounded by retirees, and affluent people in a small island community not affected by homelessness, at least not the magnitude you see in larger cities, an idea was born. They collected food, clothing, toiletries and began to search out homeless camps. It didn’t take long until they found the camps and the people in the camps came out. Their mission and goal was simple. They wanted to give back the basic human rights that every human being deserves. What started out as simply trying to help a few unfortunate people turned into a weekly drive to Mount Vernon to help the homeless. Word spread, and the need grew with it. Listening to people’s stories, watching them take only what they need, looking out for each other, even if that meant giving the coat off their own back, was the true payback.
The picture above was taken last week. It is of a local family of six from Rhode Island. They have 4 kids, all under five year old and are homeless and unable to find shelter in Skagit County. They live in their minivan. They are not on drugs, never have been, yet have no place to sleep at night in Skagit County. It is discouraging to say the least. (Their photo was posted on Skagit Breaking with their permission.)
In addition to operating her nonprofit, Jaimey is a member of the Coalition to End Homelessness in Skagit County. Additionally, her and her husband spend one evening per week providing street outreach and advocacy for individuals struggling with addiction in Mount Vernon. She has completed the SAMHSA Advocacy Course which allows her to assist individuals whom are dealing with mental health and addiction disorders complete the application process to receive SSDI and/or SSI benefits.
When asked “why” she provides for those in need–she has many reasons. “At one point in my life I had made a couple wrong choices. I was facing homelessness with two kids. I lost our home, my job and my car. I was no longer able to provide for my children. It was impossible to get help. I wasn’t using drugs but I felt hopeless. If it weren’t for a couple amazing people who were willing to help, we would have been homeless. Everyone needs someone to believe in them, to offer them perhaps that “one thing” that might make a difference.”
” Our nation is in crisis. Our neighbors are struggling with terrible losses, disorders, addictions, homelessness-the reasons “why” or “how” they got to that point-are irrelevant now. It is going to take a village, a nation, to make things better. Not everyone who is homeless is on drugs. Not everyone on drugs is homeless. The idea that someone “chooses” to be an addict is as false as the idea that homeless people choose to be homeless. If I can make a difference for one person, imagine what 100 or even a 1000 people could achieve. I shouldn’t need a reason to desire a change. Maybe my compassion will inspire others to be kind to someone less fortunate. It could happen to anyone. I am simply paying it forward. ”
Currently, the Leland’s can be found on Tuesdays and Fridays at Lions Park in Mt. Vernon where locals who are in need of a hot meal (or just her great company) can “picnic” together.
Prior to starting her nonprofit organization, Strength In Numbers, Jaimey worked as a certified bookkeeper for Simple Solutions, for which she was the sole proprietor, for the better part of 16 years.
After a successful career in accounting Jaimey found herself deeply drawn to volunteer work. Her projects while residing in Portland were largely focused on underage victims of human trafficking in the United States. She has received three certifications for her participation in the fight to end human sex trafficking.
While in Portland, she spent 8 years providing meals, coats, blankets and hygiene items to the homeless each Thanksgiving and Christmas and also regularly volunteered at the Portland Rescue Mission feeding those in need at their nightly dinner service. In 2016, while living in Seattle, Jaimey and her husband volunteered weekly with the Union Gospel Mission serving meals and providing street outreach to those in need.