Greta Brackman grew up working with the homeless of Puyallup and other Northwest communities. Her parents made sure of it.
“I was serving meals to the homeless when I was 9,” she said. “I adopted my parents’ passion. I wanted to be a voice for justice.”
Ted and Debra Brackman have been that for decades, both with their daughters – Greta, and younger sister Tera – and anyone else who would listen.
Plenty of people have.
“Ted has an enormous heart, and he’s worked tirelessly to put the plight of the homeless into terms people understand,” Puyallup Mayor Rick Hansen said. “He and his family have helped educate the community.”
That, Ted Brackman said, remains a work in progress.
“Many people are bigots, consider the homeless to be almost subhuman,” he said. “When they’re arrested for loitering, for illegal camping, they’re criminalized for trying to get by. All communities need to deal with that.”
Brackman is an activist at heart, going back to the ’60s when he was a University of Washington student. That activism was channeled, his passion undiminished, when he became a Christian at UW and attended a divinity college in Chicago.
There he met and married Debra, who became a registered nurse. They made Puyallup home, and Brackman became part of the Pastoral Therapy Association in Summit. The couple raised Greta, who went to work as a housing specialist with Associated Ministries in Tacoma, and Tera, a Kirkland teacher.
Together, they all tried to make a difference.
Greta, now 29, remembers her and her sister going along when her parents would help serve meals to the homeless at St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Tacoma, and seeing the process through a child’s eyes. And nose.
“As a child, I remember the smell and being shocked by it,” she said. “I asked my parents why they didn’t have homes.”
It’s a question, more than 20 years later, she still hears – from adults.
“There’s still the belief that they must be addicted to something, that they’ve made bad choices, that they want to live outside,” she said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. Living beneath a bridge isn’t a personal choice.”
The Brackmans have been part of every significant group to help the homeless in Puyallup for more than a decade – from Open Hearth to Freezing Nights to the Homeless Coalition.
Those programs helped find reduced-rate motel rooms for homeless families and shelter in local churches from November through March.
The Brackmans also have applied pressure to people in power.
“Ted wanted to bring homeless to the council meeting,” Hansen said. “They came and spoke and the council listened to story after story, and you couldn’t help but be moved. It was an emotional night.”
Greta was there.
“It was 2009, and it was a turning point for Puyallup,” she said. “There was a mass gathering of homeless at the council meeting, and the council said this city would be ‘hospitable and generous’. It accepted the plight of the homeless.”
The Brackmans are proud of their community but remain sobered by the challenge.
“This community has raised substantial money for families with children. We have the homeless transitional shelter,” Ted Brackman said. “The task is to establish shelter that works for all Puyallup’s residents. You can’t be compassionate if you’re not compassionate for everyone.
“The focus must be on more than shelter – our most vulnerable neighbors need food, they need education, they need a living wage.”
Greta has seen stark numbers.
“Poverty and homelessness are inextricably linked. In the Puyallup School District, 400 children are homeless, and those are self-reported,” she said. “The biggest frustration for me is that the people in Puyallup want to help, they’re extraordinarily generous, but we still can’t meet the needs.
“You can’t go far without facing someone with nowhere to go.”
As a family, the Brackmans continue the work even as they confront a very personal loss.
At 65, Ted Brackman is dying.
“The average pancreatic cancer patient lives 15 months after diagnosis. I’m closing in on my third year,” he said. “I’ve come to peace with death. Thanks to my faith, I’m not afraid of it. I don’t like the battling, sometimes.”
Debra Brackman said she is coping with losing the man she fell in love with 40 years ago.
“I was 19, a sophomore in college. Ted had a twinkle about him, he was intriguing,” she said. “ A year and a half later, we were married.”
Brackman’s legacy in Puyallup will be as a man who spent his life helping those in need. That doesn’t make losing him easier.
“We all grieve differently,” Greta said. “What Dad is going through is tough.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638