On Ballrooms, Hangouts, HUBs and Hives: Doorway Project's Fall Quarter Pop-Up Cafe

With the University of Washington’s Autumn academic quarter wrapping up, there is a great deal to reflect on with our work these past few months at the Doorway Project. Back in mid-October, we were excited to host our seasonal Pop-Up Cafe at the University of Washington’s Husky Union Building, or the HUB, and here is a little summary in case you missed it!

As we have developed this project over the last year and a half, each Pop-Up Cafe brings with it its own theme, flavor and style, and this one was no different. While only a few blocks from our most common outdoor location of U Heights Community Center parking lot, the South Ballroom at the HUB can in many way feel like a world away. On a regular day you may see students bustling along with their backpacks eagerly rushing to eat between classes, or on the downturn of a caffeine-fueled study session, napping on a pile of books. Either way, the HUB is a multi-layered center for activity and engagement in the UW community and the broader neighborhood. Most importantly, we know that there are students on our campus who experience food and housing insecurity, and may not be connected to the services that could support them. With all of this in mind, we figured the HUB would make an excellent spot for holding our Autumn community-building event.

To get a feel for what the event was like, imagine this: Take a community resource fair, combine it with a bustling cafe, a dance party, a raffle and an active art installation. Now put all of it into a giant grand ballroom, and you’re getting pretty close to what this unique event felt like. The ballroom was filled with more than twenty service providers, community organizations and RSOs (registered student organizations), with the focus on food, housing, legal and educational services. Our goal for the event was to interweave service providers both on campus and in the broader community, to make it easy for anyone to access, and for relationship building.

One of the big highlights of the day (apart from the delicious sandwiches) was how much community art and performance shined through. The event had an ongoing open-mic, in which anyone could request to share a poem, spoken word piece, or a song to dance and express themselves to. University District Youth Center’s ‘POC Street Arts’ program led an active community “Art Hive” installation, with a focus on actively engaging participants with the question: “HOW IS ART AND COMMUNITY CONNECTED TO SOCIAL JUSTICE?” By the end of the afternoon the giant hive was taking shape and would be displayed later on in the week at U Heights for the U District Art Walk. Participants also continued helping with the community cafe iterative design by giving feedback on what they want to see in a Doorway Community Cafe, and how they would build it.

With the active interweaving of students, non-students, community members and service providers, we accomplished our goal of creating a temporary but impactful space that can serve as inspiration for community-building going forward. For many, the UW campus can be an intimidating space and one that they may not feel is a part of their community. Through our work and the broader Homelessness Research Initiative mission, we want to help dissolve any barriers, and help create more ways for students to engage directly with their broader community. By coming together through events like the Pop-Up Cafe at the HUB, together we are breaking down spoken and unspoken barriers and continuing to build connections on and off-campus.

Our next Pop-Up Cafe will be at the UW School of Social Work on February 12 from noon to 2pm. We will be focusing on advocacy and how homelessness is portrayed in the media.