Sand Point housing dedication

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place

I didn’t hammer in a single nail to help build Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing Campus, which sits on the edge of Magnuson Park on land that was once Naval Station Puget Sound. I did not help any of the 175 formerly homeless households move in, nor do I provide services or resources to support the residents of this new community and help them use it as a stepping stone to reach their dreams.

But for more than 20 years, I have been one of a small handful of people who have been fortunate to play an ongoing role in turning this once contentious idea into one of the greatest swords-into-ploughshares projects in our nation.

Not long after the Base Closure Act of 1990, I was named an alternate representative of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness to the Sand Point Liaison Committee formed by the City of Seattle to process community input about how the base should be repurposed. My job was to support our main representative, then Fremont Public Association Executive Director Frank Chopp, in using the McKinney-Vento Act to secure a portion of the base for services for homeless folks. At the time, I worked for The Sharehouse, a furniture bank helping homeless people resettle; we hoped to get a portion of one of the hangars for our warehouse.

(l to r) Dan & Cindy Brettler, Gordon McHenry, Jr., Keith Sterling, Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney & Frank Chopp dedicate the Sand Point Housing Campus

(l to r) Dan & Cindy Brettler, Gordon McHenry, Jr., Keith Sterling, Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney & Frank Chopp dedicate the Sand Point Housing Campus

When the City of Seattle’s Preferred Reuse Plan for the Naval base was approved by City Council and accepted by the Navy, it included a campus of 200 homes for formerly homeless people. The facility was to be operated by a new nonprofit organization called the Sand Point Community Housing Association (SPCHA), which would be governed by the agencies who hoped to operate housing at Sand Point. As I represented one of the few organizations in the coalition that was not competing to operate housing, I was drafted to serve as SPCHA’s first Board Chair.

The initial years of SPCHA were hectic, but by 1999, under the leadership of the nonprofit housing developer, Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), the SPCHA opened 26 units of family transitional housing; 42 for single adults and three group homes for street-involved youth. A team of nonprofits provided case management and other services. Since 1999, more than 2,500 people have stayed at Sand Point on their journey from homelessness to stability.

Frank Chopp, Solid Ground Senior Advisor and Speaker of the WA State House

Frank Chopp, Solid Ground Senior Advisor & Speaker of the WA State House

The SPCHA model proved ineffective and in 2007, at the request of the City of Seattle, Solid Ground assumed control of the campus and took on the responsibility of developing 100 new homes. By then I had moved from The Sharehouse to Solid Ground. (Fremont Public Association changed its name to Solid Ground in 2007.) Working in the Development and Communications departments, I had the opportunity to support outreach and fundraising campaigns for the project.

One of my great joys over the past few years has been working with residents of Sand Point to support them in telling their stories. We have featured their successes in agency videos and newsletters, and have given them a platform to share or perform at our annual luncheon and other events.

Last week, these 20 years came together in a glorious afternoon as 300+ people gathered to dedicate the end of planned construction at Sand Point. We honored major contributors to the project and formally named one of the new buildings for former Washington State House of Representatives member Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, whose leadership in the legislature and legacy of community service has made a major impact on housing issues in Washington State.

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney

More than 450 people now live in this new neighborhood, more than half of them children and youth. The stunning park offers respite and a connection to nature for people working to regain solid ground, and it is a great place to be a kid!

Keith Sterling was one of the first dads to move into the family apartments in Brettler Family Place. He told me he loves to take his 5- and 7-year-old children to the park, and marvels at watching them learn about the natural world around them.

What I marvel at is that more than 20 years ago, we had a dream for turning this run-down military base into some of the finest low-income housing in the country, and with the help of hundreds of people and committed organizations, we were able to make it happen.

Keith Sterling

Keith Sterling

Frank Chopp, Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, Solid Ground CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. and major donor Dan Brettler all addressed the audience at the dedication last week, but it was only when Keith Sterling spoke that the sun shone down on us. “This is more than a place to live,” he said. “This is a place to thrive.”

Photos by John Bolivar Photography

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March 2014 Groundviews: ‘We saw a need; we met it’

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the March 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Frank Chopp – Washington State Speaker of the House, Solid Ground Senior Advisor and Fremont Public Association Executive Director from 1983 to 2000 – began his more than 40 years of success as a rabble-rouser, innovator, community builder and legislator around a Bremerton dinner table. 

Frank Chopp 2013: WA State Speaker of the House & Solid Ground Senior Advisor

Frank Chopp 2013: WA State Speaker of the House & Solid Ground Senior Advisor

He recounts, “Quite often when I was growing up, my dad and my mom would talk about politics, literally at the kitchen table. There was a lot of talk about how much my dad and mom believed in labor organizing, in public service. They grew up in Roslyn, WA, where there used to be a bunch of coal mines. The working conditions and wages there were so bad that they went on strike. My mom and dad would meet for dates on the picket lines outside the coal mines. Mom was tear-gassed by the state troopers during one of those strikes.”

Responding to community 

Frank graduated from the University of Washington and worked as a community organizer in the mid-70s in the Cascade neighborhood. In 1976, he was hired by the City of Seattle’s North Seattle Community Service Center, which supported the then fledgling Fremont Public Association (FPA). “It was very much an opinionated group, very activist oriented, as well as very creative. We were willing to push the envelope in terms of new things, really responding to community rather than sitting back,” he recalls.

The story of how FPA developed what became Solid Ground’s Transportation services is a great example. “There was a need to provide transportation to the elderly so they could get to doctors’ appointments. We started that with a Jesuit Volunteer, with a beat up old van, picking up people, taking them to their doctors, taking them back home. We saw a need; we met it.” FPA then brought together two smaller van programs to become more effective.

“We also wanted to make a political statement,” Frank says, “because this is about the time when Metro took over Seattle Transit. And transit service in Seattle got reduced for a while, because they were trying to spread it around the County. So as a political statement, we called it Seattle PERSONAL Transit. Then it became an ongoing program.

“So we organized many people with disabilities to go down to the Metro Council and say, ‘Look, you’ve got to provide this on a much more comprehensive basis, not just through a bunch of volunteers.’ We organized a couple hundred people to pack the hearing room.

“The initial reaction from Council staff was negative. But then the councilmembers looked out at the crowd and saw people who were very agitated and motivated, and they said, ‘Well, we should start doing something here.’ Eventually it became a much bigger program, serving all of King County with professional drivers and vans, and public funding. So it was a tremendous success.”

Frank adds, “FPA also aggressively pursued coalition building to get more done, organizing the Seattle Food Committee and then the Coalition for Survival Services, comprised of food, shelter and health care providers. The Coalition initially leveraged $500,000 from the City, which over time has grown to more than $40 million in health care and human services.”

Circa 1988: (r) FPA Executive Director Frank Chopp with (l) FPA Board President John Howell

Circa 1988: (r) FPA Executive Director Frank Chopp with (l) FPA Board President John Howell

On the cutting edge of new ideas

Frank describes how his experience with the FPA informed his role as Speaker of the House: “I’m doing the same job there that I was at the FPA; there is no difference. We are trying to figure out the best way to get as much done as possible. So we think carefully about what we see as a need in the community, or across the State, and then we figure out the best way to accomplish that.

“I think it is always important to be on the cutting edge, literally, of new ideas, and looking at new opportunities. You’ve got to constantly be pushing yourself and other people to do more, and also to be as creative as possible.

“As a community organizer, you want the community to be the face of what the need is, and they have to take group action together to get something done. You can actually achieve more if you put the real people who are directly involved front and center; the most effective spokespeople are directly involved.

“You see a need, you see an opportunity and you just go for it!” he says. “Then after you do things, you say, ‘Ok, how should this best be organized?’ The main thing is to start acting, doing things.”

Visit our Timeline of Accomplishments for more information about Solid Ground’s 40+ year history of innovation, partnership and action.

40th Anniversary Timeline: 1974

1974-fpa-door-circle

1974

In the wake of President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 declaration of the War on Poverty, the North Seattle Community Service Center (NSCSC) opened in Fremont, then one of Seattle’s most economically devastated neighborhoods. A decade later, the Nixon administration slashed funding for many Great Society programs and the NSCSC was at risk.

Pat Proulx headshot

Pat Proulx, FPA founder, still actively working for a better world in Belfair, WA.

In response, local Fremont activists, including Pat Proulx and Fremont Baptist Church’s Rev. Bob Walker, re-formed the NSCSC as the nonprofit Fremont Public Association (FPA, renamed Solid Ground in 2007). In a community known for rabble-rousing artists, Vietnam war casualties and rampant poverty, the agency grew out of a strong community spirit: “to hell with the feds, in Fremont we can take care of our own.” That pioneering spirit of innovation, working together and taking action to build a better community, led to such innovations as curbside recycling, Community Voice Mail, Broadview Shelter and many others. And it still informs the work of Solid Ground today.

On Friday, April 4, 2014 from noon–1:30pm we’ll celebrate Solid Ground’s 40th Anniversary Building Community Luncheon.

We’ll highlight Solid Ground’s 40-year culture of innovation, partnership and action – which has created and supported some of our community’s most effective anti-poverty programs. We will lift up individual stories of leadership and courage, and discuss our plans for the future.

We’re honored to have Spike Lee as keynote speaker. With a body of work that spans four decades, he has written, produced, directed and acted in countless films that illuminate the impacts of racism in our country. Spike talks candidly, and with authority, about issues of race in mainstream media and Hollywood, using as a backdrop a rare behind-the-scenes look at his celebrated body of work. Solid Ground is pleased to bring such an influential person in the conversations about race and social justice to our event.

Rest in Peace, Brother Roberto

Roberto Maestas passed away this morning, one of the few times in his long career as a community leader and activist for social change that he fought a losing battle.

Maestas was founder of El Centro de la Raza and a lifelong leader of the multicultural civil rights movement in the Northwest.

“He was a tremendous fighter for social justice and truly a great friend,” said Frank Chopp, Washington State Speaker of the House, who worked closely with Maestas through his long-time role as Executive Director of Fremont Public Association (which became Solid Ground).

Maestas’ passing marks the second death among the Gang of Four, a powerful alliance of Maestas, Bob Santos, Bernie Whitebear and Larry Gossett that brought together Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, Native American and African-American communities to work for civil rights and social justice for all people. Among their many achievements was the formation in 1981 of the Minority Executive Directors Coalition of King County, which supports and nurtures people of color in non-profit leadership. Whitebear passed away in 2000.

This painting by Al Doggett shows the Gang of Four: Bernie Whitebear, Larry Gossett, Roberto Maestas and Bob Santos

The Gang of Four were honored as Local Heroes by Solid Ground in 2004. The painting by local artist Al Doggett shown here hangs in our lobby, along with a plaque that recognizes these four unique men for “their charismatic leadership and achievements in building multicultural alliance in King County, for their community activism work to undo racism and support equal rights and leadership of non-profit organizations…”

Godspeed, Roberto. Your impact has been great and good. You will be missed.

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