“Why do you have my name on a piece of paper in your backpack?” a woman asked outside Liberty Café in downtown Renton.
I was headed inside my favorite coffee shop in Renton for a “Mike Special” and a chat with my editor, Brian Beckley.
My kids poke fun at my writing process. Whenever I have a story idea I jot it down on a piece of paper in what appears to them as indecipherable chicken scratch. Any paper inside the house is fair game: homework, one of my 20 working notebooks, whatever’s at hand when I’m inspired will do.
That morning inspiration struck perusing Facebook and waiting for my son’s toast to pop up.
I saw a picture of a woman in the hospital holding her newborn baby on a Facebook group that I belong to called Renton Moms.
Renton Moms has more than 420 members. The group’s purpose is “for all Renton Moms looking for answers, recommendations or wanting to share resources related to Renton.”
One of the subscribers, Amanda Liddle, posted, “Ashley Heston’s Virtual Baby Shower: Help this homeless young mother get back on her feet!”
The thought of a homeless pregnant woman living on the streets of Renton was gut wrenching, but worse than that, what would happen after she had the baby?
My thumb scrolled down the screen and my heart began to lift at the sight of mom-after-mom offering to help Ashley, someone they had never met before.
So I snagged an envelope and a nubby pencil from our bill drawer and scrawled out: Amanda Liddle, Ashley Heston’s Virtual Baby Shower.
“Amanda Liddle?” I said, holding out the envelope with her name on it.
I explained to Amanda outside of Liberty Café that I wanted to learn more about the virtual baby shower, what was going on with the new mom and what she thought about the huge response to help.
The next day I met Amanda at her Renton Highlands home. As we waited for Ashley and her baby to join us, we chatted a bit.
“Tell me how you came to put that posting on Renton Moms?” I asked as we sat in the dining room table of her Renton Highlands’ home. In the foyer there was a mountain of supplies: two Moby wraps, a bassinet, clothes, diapers, stuffed animals.
“I first learned of Ashley through the organization in Renton called, The Refuge, located at Harambee, a center for community development in downtown Renton,” she said.
According to The Refuge Facebook page, “The Refuge provides meals to the working poor and homeless as an expression of love. It is dedicated to serving people regardless of their age, sex, ethnicity or beliefs.”
The meals are provided at The Salvation Army. They provide a free meal, a warm and friendly place to enjoy it and connections that offer hope for a better future – all at no charge, and with no strings attached. They are there every Monday through Friday from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Amanda and her husband Ian Liddle have lived in the Renton area for most of their lives. They own “Rely on Renton,” an organization that helps small businesses in the community.
“We are rooted in the community as a business and in our personal lives,” playing, and serving in a strong, vibrant community, she said. They believe a large part of the success of a community is dependent on the strength of their small businesses.
Amanda and Ian call their home the “Highlands House” because in 2013 they began an Intentional Community.
There are very many different variations of an Intentional Community but essentially its people living together as a community, sharing responsibilities.
The Liddles share their large four bedroom home with another couple and a single woman. When Martin Dochstander from The Refuge learned that The Liddles were looking to add another person for the fourth bedroom in the “Highlands House,” he asked Amanda if they’d be willing to help out the homeless couple Ashley and Logan with housing.
Valley Medical Center would not release Ashley unless she had some place to go so Liddle talked to her housemates and invited the couple for dinner on Wednesday.
“But that Wednesday night Ashley had the baby.,” she said, adding that she was “overcome” when she saw the baby.
Liddle wanted to help and all the members of Highlands House agreed to have Ashley come and stay, but the rest of the house wanted to meet Logan before letting them both come to stay. Which was causing a bit of a rift.
“Rehoming homeless people is a hard change of pace. I was a midwife for 10 years, I love working with young moms to help them feel confident and not shame them. It’s a privilege to work with Ashley. She’s a great mom and a joy to me. I’ve been given a lot in my life and I want to give back,” Amanda said.
I was hoping to meet Ashley and baby during my visit with Amanda but discovered through Facebook that the new mom was getting a haircut at the Renton Salvation Army with Shannon Armstrong who had organized a free haircutting event for the homeless.
Shannon Armstrong is a Renton resident and works at Renton’s Salon Services. She is also a hair stylist at Shannon at Shear Delight.
I scribbled out Shannon Armstrong, free haircutting event for the homeless on the corner of my notebook.
“Were you surprised at all the support you received from Renton Moms?” I asked.
“Ashley’s story touched these mom and gave them an opportunity to really, tangibly help someone else in a way that’s very easy. You can’t always afford to give money. But most moms have supplies that still have life in them and want to give them to someone that will appreciate them.”
After my interview with Amanda, I walked away disappointed that I didn’t get to meet Ashley, but excited to learn more about how the free haircutting event from Shannon.
So I messaged Shannon, a Facebook friend of mine, and we had a conversation the following day.
“We had a team of four stylists and four helpers and did nine haircuts on homeless people in Renton,” she explained. “Everyone was so nice. We had assembled goodie bags filled with shampoo and conditioner, tooth brushes and hand sanitizer.”
Shannon organized the entire event through Facebook and Salon Services donated the towels, shampoo and conditioner.
Shannon and her partner Rodney Jackson also cook once a month at the Salvation Army through The Refuge as well.
Through the course of this story I was really wowed by the level of dedication within our community to help the homeless and wanted to know her motivation.
“Last year I wasn’t working and I needed help. Now that I’m working I have skills and have the power. I know a lot of people,” she said, adding that she has 500 friends on Facebook.
“I always try to promote on my page that people should donate all year round and not just during the holidays. I don’t have a lot of money, but I can give my time!”
Shannon is already planning the next free haircut event for the homeless on her Facebook page at
It will be held again at the Salvation Army building on Tobin on June 7.
“Our goal is to get at least 20 people. But instead of making appointments ahead of time they’re going to go canvas the neighborhood where the homeless hang out.”
When I sat down to write this column I begin as I always do searching around the house, minivan, backpack, notebooks collecting my scribbles on the scraps of paper. These pieces of paper are like breadcrumbs that help lead me toward a story.
On the counter the pieces begin to take shape:
Shannon Armstrong free haircutting for the homeless; The Refuge; Amanda Liddle, Ashley Heston’s Virtual Baby Shower; Renton Salvation Army; Harambee; Renton Moms.
And yet, the story doesn’t always line up exactly the way that I want —there’s not always a happy ending.
At the moment, it is unclear if Ashley will stay at the Highlands House long term.
Amanda explained, “Ashley’s still settling in, and she’s still getting used to living life this way. We have goals for her, and she has goals for herself and her family. I think she can reach the stars if she wants too. A lot of it depends on her own choices.”
But the pieces are a part of a larger story that has to do with the people that make up the community of Renton. I was reminded of this from Brian, editor of this paper.
That day at Liberty Café, I explained to Brian about the Renton Moms’ support of this young mother.
Brian said, “I’m not surprised at all. Since I’ve worked here in Renton (going on eight months now) I have seen amazing community support. When we had the toiletry drive at the tattoo shop we had little old ladies who had never been inside the shop before bringing in bags of donations. In fact it’s one of the things the people of Renton does best: comes together as a community, taking it a part of themselves to give back.”
So this story, like my notes, turned out to be a collection of people doing good for others in our community. My weekend sojourn tracking the fate of a homeless mother served as a reminder and a revelation to all the good that goes on in our city to help our most vulnerable citizens, everyday.