The Seattle Times: Time running out on Seattle family’s ‘golden ticket’ to landing a home

Dana Disharoon and her daughters in their temporary home at Sand Point Family Housing. (Photo by Bettina Hansen, reprinted from The Seattle Times.)

For those struggling with homelessness and housing stability, there is never an easy solution. In her 9/29/15 piece, Time running out on Seattle family’s ‘golden ticket’ to landing a home, Seattle Times reporter Nina Shapiro follows Dana Disharoon, a single mother of three daughters and survivor of domestic violence, in her recent search for permanent housing.

Following months of moving between shelters and her car, Disharoon was able to live for a year in transitional housing at Solid Ground’s Sand Point Family Housing. As her time there ran out, Disharoon attempted to secure a permanent residence, aided by a Section 8 housing voucher and Solid Ground case managers, but was hindered by a low credit score and the aggressive competition in the housing market.

Since the article was written, Solid Ground’s Sand Point Residential Services Manager Tamara Brown reports that Disharoon and her daughters have successfully located housing, and are now waiting for a final inspection before they can move in. Sand Point Family Housing will be assisting with move-in costs.

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Financial Fitness Boot Camp helps people weigh options

Financial Fitness Boot Camp's Coach Judy

Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach Judy Poston

A few weeks ago, a gentleman called Financial Fitness Boot Camp (FFBC) asking questions about budgeting, as well as how to pay off a huge credit card debt and a student loan. He is living in a transitional men’s shelter until April 2016, paying $465 a month for rent. He stated that he wants to move out of the shelter and live in his truck, and use the rent money to pay down his credit card debt. We asked him to come in so we could do a budget and look at the expenses he might encounter living in his truck.

After doing some research we found it would cost more to live in his truck. In addition, living in his truck could lead to the development of chronic health issues; imagine trying to sleep in a small truck with a height of 6’5”? He would use more gas as he moved from street to street. He might receive parking tickets which could lead to being towed. He would have to eat most meals out as he would have no food storage or way to cook food, and in addition, have no access to a bathroom, laundry or electricity. In order to stay warm in a truck that has no insulation, he would have to buy blankets and warm clothes. And lastly, he would have to make the costly move to put most of his possessions in storage.

When he came in for our meeting, he was very pessimistic. He was feeling hopeless and stated he was having a hard time holding on emotionally. Our Financial Fitness Coach Judy Poston showed him how his monthly expenses could easily more than double by moving into his truck. After we covered this information, he felt better able to weigh the pros and cons of living in his truck and make an informed decision. He said because we put the information in writing, his options were more was clear. Before he left, he decided that he would stay in the shelter, save money and explore new employment opportunities.

For more information about how FFBC can help you and members of your community, please contact Judy (financialfitness@solid-ground.org | 206.694.6776).

(Editor’s note: Thanks to Judy and DukeEngage summer intern Motin Yueng for contributing this article, which originally appeared in Solid Ground’s FYI.)

Winter 2015 Groundviews: ‘We never gave up’

Below is the lead story of our Winter 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter online, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Today, Alena Rogers lives happily in permanent housing with her two boys, now 18 and nearly 5 years old, and she recently started a full-time graduate program in Couples & Family Therapy at Seattle’s Antioch University. But just five years ago, she was in a very different place. In her own words, Alena shares her powerful story and her experiences working with JourneyHome Case Manager Victoria Meissner and Housing Advocate Becky Armbruster to get back to housing stability.

Alena Rogers, JourneyHome program participant, with her  two boys, Brian (left) &  Gabriel (center), in 2010

Alena Rogers, JourneyHome program participant, with her two boys, Brian (left) & Gabriel (center), in 2010

In 2009 I entered a court-ordered treatment program after getting into trouble. While there, I came to understand that I could not go back and live with any of the people that I had been living with, or I would not stay sober. So I heard about a shelter in Seattle and was able to get in there. After completing their 14-month program, I went into their transitional housing program. However, they seemed unable to help me with my quest for permanent housing, so I searched for resources on my own and found Solid Ground.

Being homeless is very stressful. In transitional housing, I was grateful for the place I had, but having two children and a clock ticking every day really took a toll on me.

I was constantly stressed out as each day wound down and took me closer to the day I would have to leave, knowing I still didn’t have anywhere to go. I ended up leaving there and moving into a modified garage. And I’m thankful for that. But that also took a toll. I had two boys in a very small space; the only thing to cook with was a hotplate; there was a drafty garage door and cement floor. It was very cold.

I was going to school, working, and trying to hold my home together – and I was struggling. My younger son was having a really hard time with the change and had some behavioral problems. My teen was also in college at the time – doing Running Start. We were both struggling to focus, and I nearly dropped out. But I communicated what was going on to my instructors, received support, and made it through.

It feels great that even when things were so challenging, both myself and my son were able to complete our degrees, and we never gave up.

Solid Ground/JourneyHome was different than the transitional housing program, because they actually had resources. The other program said housing was not priority – living in Christian community was. That’s all fine, but when time is up and a person that has been experiencing homelessness is still left without permanent housing – what good is that?

Victoria had a plan for me laid out the day we met – doing budgets, getting credit reports, working on repairing and improving credit. All of those things, combined with actual resources for not only temporary funding but also landlords that will rent to people like me – with criminal backgrounds and not so great credit – it’s what I needed.

One thing I really liked about Victoria is she always treated me as an equal. She was really encouraging. She let me know that my criminal record wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sometimes people will look at you – you’re a recovering addict, you’re homeless, you’ve got kids, and you’ve got a criminal history – and they speak down to you or like you’re not intelligent. Victoria was never like that. I always felt like she respected me.

There were two main barriers I faced: One, my criminal history. And two, having enough cash for move-in. What I learned from Victoria was that private landlords are more likely to rent to people with histories like mine, and screening companies at corporately-run apartment complexes will automatically deny us.

So I spent time on Craigslist sending emails to private landlords, telling them my history up front so I wasn’t wasting time and money doing applications that would be denied. I was able to use the tools I learned from Solid Ground to find an apartment on my own. Once I did that, Becky was able to help me with the first and last months’ rent and deposit, and subsidized my rent for several months through a partnering agency, so that I could get stable.

Alena at home

Alena at home

Moving into my own place – it was like a huge weight off my shoulders. Being somewhere that is mine, and I don’t have to worry about time running out – I can just say that I am a lot happier now.

I’ve been doing drug and alcohol case management work for about three years now. Having come from a place of being an addict, being homeless – it helps in my work. People feel that I can understand where they are and what they are experiencing.

I also volunteer, doing something I call “Operation Help the Homeless.” I gather items from people: clothing, blankets, food, etc. and go out into the streets and give to people sleeping rough. I find this important, because homelessness isn’t going away – and often people on the streets are pretty much ignored most of the year outside of the holidays.

So I love to get out there and let people know that we care.

My main piece of advice to people experiencing homelessness is: Be persistent and resourceful, and don’t be afraid to share your struggle with others. It’s okay to ask for help. And be patient – it’s so hard! Some of these housing lists take years, but the right thing is out there. Be your own best advocate!

Visit the JourneyHome webpage for more info on the program.

March 2013 Groundviews: “A place where you can begin”

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our March 2013 lead story; visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Johnnie Williams: Scholar, track star, coach, mentor (John Bolivar Photography)

Johnnie Williams: Scholar, track star, coach, mentor (John Bolivar Photography)

A collegiate academic and athletic star, Johnnie Williams is a nationally-recognized track coach and mentor to thousands of at risk young people. But years ago, while he himself was at Eckstein Middle School, his mom was getting untangled from drugs and a violent relationship. Williams was close to failing out and getting sucked into the vortex of generational poverty. But when he moved with his mom and siblings to Broadview Emergency Shelter & Transitional Housing for women and their children – escaping her husband and the drugs – the family began to rebuild their lives.

A safe space for a new start
Williams says one of the most important aspects about Broadview was that “it was a women-only shelter, and there was no way my young brother’s dad could have any more impact on my family. For me, that was the turning point: the safety and security.

“It was a complete 180 for us. Our grades turned around. There weren’t as many distractions in the home. My mother wasn’t on drugs anymore. We had people down at the [Broadview] front office we could talk to. And all the staff knew; they seemed to care. I felt like I wasn’t the only kid who grew up in this type of situation. I had people that I could relate to, so I didn’t feel singled out.”

Declining a prep-school academic scholarship, Williams went to Nathan Hale High School. “It was where a lot of my friends were. And a couple of Hale students were living at Broadview at the time, so I wanted to keep the connection with them.” As a young boy, Williams had taken up recreational running. By high school, he was a local track star destined for a big-time collegiate career, maybe more.

Overcoming obstacles
Williams started college at Washington State University (WSU), far enough from his family to focus on his studies, but close enough to help if needed. Academics at WSU and then Eastern Washington University did not prove enough of a challenge, so he ultimately transferred to Columbia University, where he earned a degree in Forensic Anthropology in 2003.

After graduating, he ran professionally for two years, but then another enormous life challenge knocked him off track when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Yet he even took this in stride: “I think that all of the struggles we went through made me a stronger person in general. Dealing with what I had to deal with, I feel like, if I can overcome something like that, there is nothing in my life that I can’t overcome. Whatever I do, I don’t want to fail.” So Williams regained his health and turned his energy and skills to coaching.

Johnnie Williams trains with one of his students (John Bolivar Photography)

Johnnie Williams trains with one of his students (John Bolivar Photography)

From mentee to mentor
While coaching at Garfield High School, the City of Seattle recruited him to work with their youth programs. He says, “I would only take it if I was working with youth who grew up in the same situation that I did. They placed me at Yesler Terrace Community Center. Ever since then, I’ve been working at all the low-income sites in Seattle Parks and Recreation.”

Thirteen years later, young athletes come from across the country to work with Williams’ High Voltage Amateur Athletic Union Track Club. “As a coach and as a person, I’ve become very protective of my kids. I am understanding of a lot of situations; I know what goes on in certain households.

“I’ve become a mentor to a lot of my kids and I have the same perspective as the Broadview Shelter staff: If there are issues – and there are – well you can come and talk about it and we can provide a safe environment for you. If you are looking for a turning point in your life, this is a place where you can begin.

“We work with a lot of kids that are homeless. We work with a lot of kids that are HIV positive, [or] that grew up in the same situation that I did, with their parents on drugs, with domestic violence,” he says. “If you save one kid, you have done your job. And I can name 14 kids right now that, under my coaching, are on Division One college scholarships. Two of them are running professional track and field; some of them are in Division One universities now. I have national champions in the high jump and long jump.”

What makes the greatest difference in their lives? Williams speaks from firsthand experience when he replies, “Just having somebody to talk to, someone that they know, that cares that they can make the best out of that situation. I think the kids appreciate that more than anything.”

For more information about Broadview Emergency Shelter & Transitional Housing, visit www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Housing/Broadview.

The humanity of homelessness

Several Solid Ground staff members participated in the annual One Night Count of homeless people in King County described in this post. Guest contributor Ray Lumpp is a writer for AllTreatment.com, a website devoted to helping individuals and families facing addiction and mental health issues in Washington State.Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness logo

In the early hours of January 25, 2013, over 900 volunteers for the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) spread out across the city and county, searching for men, women and children sleeping outdoors without shelter. Since 1980, SKCCH and Operation Nightwatch have organized the One Night Count. Today, it remains the largest community-organized count in the United States.

In 2013, at least 2,736 men, women and children were found sleeping in cars, riding late-night buses, or curled up in blankets under bridges or in doorways during the three-hour street count – a 5% increase from last year’s total. This number is always assumed to be an underestimate: It is impossible to count everywhere, and many people take great care not to be visible.

Estimated number of people found on the streets or sleeping in cars in Seattle/King Co., '06-'13 (chart by Ray Lumpp, 2013)

Estimated number of people found on the streets or sleeping in cars in Seattle/King Co., ’06-’13 (chart by Ray Lumpp, ’13)

This year, one group of volunteers, including Councilmember Sally Clark, discovered the dead body of a 60-year-old woman near the terminus of I-90 – a sobering reminder of what’s at stake for homeless individuals.

While the One Night Count provides a basic census for tracing the problem of homelessness in King County, another volunteer-based group assembled by the City of Seattle sought to dig deeper. One evening in April 2009, the Homeless Needs Assessment group surveyed 297 homeless people and recorded demographic information for an additional 89 individuals, providing a crucial glimpse of life on the street.

Think of homelessness as a local problem: Most homeless people in Seattle have been living without shelter for over a year and 23% have been living without shelter for over six years. Nearly two thirds reported living in Seattle, and 19% elsewhere in Washington, when they became homeless. Although 91% of people living on the streets would like to find housing, people often wait two years or more for affordable housing options to open up.

Racial disproportionality of Seattle's homeless population compared to the general population (chart by Ray Lumpp, '13)

Racial disproportionality of Seattle’s homeless population compared to the general population (chart by Ray Lumpp, ’13)

Compared to Seattle’s general population, there was a disproportionate number of African Americans (29%), Hispanic or Latinos (13%), and Native Americans (6%), which is similar to the disproportionate number of people with unmet addiction treatment needs. Limited access to information about homeless services is a continuing problem: 67% learned of available services through word of mouth or on the street, while only 10% reported learning of services from an agency or program. Coordinating an effective outreach effort among food banks, drop-in centers, and shelters may help increase access to services.

Food and hygiene programs are the most common services used by homeless people in Seattle. Seventy percent reported using a food bank in the last six months and 48% used meal programs. About half reported using hygiene centers, but only 37% reported staying in a shelter during the last six months. Most of these programs are run and supported by local volunteers, community groups, and ex-homeless people looking to give back and stay clean.

Another telling statistic is that 60% reported health conditions requiring professional care. Though the conditions may range from diabetes to alcoholism, many homeless people use emergency departments for their health needs instead of primary care physicians – wasting time, energy, and taxpayer dollars. In answer to this, DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center) focuses on the needs of homeless chronic alcoholics who are the heaviest users of publicly-funded crisis services. Exploring other alternative housing models may also help shelter more people in the future.

Interestingly, people who received medical care accessed services at a higher rate. Respondents with recent hospitalization or mental health treatment made greater use of meal programs, hygiene centers, shelter, and other services than those not receiving medical care.

While homelessness continues to be a growing national problem, there are many ways you can create a positive change in your community. Volunteer with a shelter or housing program. (Solid Ground’s Broadview Shelter and Brettler Family Place at Sand Point Housing both have volunteer opportunities.) Donate clean clothes (especially shoes), books, toys, diapers, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, blankets, old cell phones, or even gift cards to Starbucks or a grocery store. (Broadview Shelter and Sand Point Housing both also have in-kind donation wish lists.)

You can also give money or gift cards to people experiencing homelessness on the street. Do not ignore them. If you have nothing else to give, simply smile and look into his or her eyes and let them know, even just by noticing them, that you recognize their humanity and that you care.

It’s okay to ask for help

Lisa and Rusty

Editor’s note: We are honored to present Lisa Pierce’s account of her journey through homelessness, especially the moving story of her time spent living at a roadside rest area.)

In December, 2007, my son Brycen and I moved into a beautiful 4-bedroom home with a fenced yard in the Renton Highlands. We lived in a quiet neighborhood next door to our church. We had two roommates to offset the rent and utilities.

I was working and going about my life, just maintaining. Then, in 2009, I lost my job as a manager due to my Multiple Sclerosis.

To this day, I still don’t know how I was blessed to be introduced to Solid Ground. The first person I encountered was Tunde Akunyun. (Tunde’s work in Solid Ground’s Stable Families program focuses on helping at-risk families maintain their housing stability.)

Tunde came into my world and made a difference. She didn’t just help keep the roof over our heads and the lights on. She helped me get my social security disability benefits. She taught me how to budget my money. And when I was diagnosed with diabetes, she was responsible for me being able to give myself an insulin injection.

The biggest thing she did for me was let me know it’s okay to ask for help.

In May of last year, I lost the home. The owner passed away and it was sold out from under us. I didn’t have savings or a plan.

My son and I had packed our four Chihuahuas and what we could fit in the car and moved to a motel.

My income was $765 disability and $91 food stamps per month. So, I was able to keep us in a room for two weeks at a time. The other two were spent at the SeaTac rest area on I-5 and at a truck stop where we could pay for a shower.

Living at the rest area
When you are at the rest area, the only really good thing is that you are right there next to Enchanted Village and Wild Waves. During the summer it would make you feel like you are not out in the woods. Sometimes you could just dream about it, like, “I wish I could take Brycen over there.” It did help.

When I first came to the rest area, I really didn’t pay much attention to anybody else. I didn’t want to be seen, didn’t want people to notice me sitting in my car, making my phone calls looking for shelter and doing my paperwork. I started to be more attentive to my surroundings, and who was coming and who was going.

I noticed this man. He walked by my car continuously, all day long. So, I started to watch him. He would go to the garbage can and he would rummage through it. He would go to the ashtray where people put out their cigarettes and he would go through that.

One day, it was pouring down rain and I noticed he went into the men’s room and he got a bunch of paper towels, came out and sopped up all the water out of the cigarette thing. He was hoping he could get a cigarette butt out of there that wasn’t sopping wet. And that is when I really started paying attention, like “Wow, he is really staying here.” Someone that is just passing through is not going to take the time to do that, you know.

As the days went by, I kept noticing the same vehicles there. Then, when I would go into the restroom, I would see everybody that would go in there – I would see their clothes – basically like a dressing room.

One day, I counted and I noticed there were about 12 vehicles with people that were living there. You’ll see them, just to kill time, take things out of their vehicles, put it back in. Like you would do in housework, doing housework in your car. Just something to do.

Well this man, one day I watched him and he went up to a gentleman who had a really nice car, and dressed really nice. You really can’t judge a book by its cover, but you had to assume that he probably had money. The guy was smoking right next to his car.

I had my window down just a little bit and I heard him say, “Do you have a cigarette?” And this man talked to him like he was just the lowest piece of garbage. You know: “Get away from me old man, I don’t know who you” – just awful words I can’t even say. So that just hurt me and I started to cry.

So, I went up to him after that gentleman left and I gave him a bunch of cigarettes. I asked him if he was hungry and he said he was. I had a few dollars in my pocket, so I drove to McDonald’s and got him some food and brought it back to him. He was just so shocked, I don’t think anyone had ever done that for him before.

When I could, I always made it a point to help him. When I got my apartment here, I’ve never forgotten him. I can’t forget him. Continue reading

Left Broadview smiling

Mary Ann (not her real name or photo) and her 7-year-old son moved into Solid Ground’s Broadview Transitional Housing program under very difficult circumstances.

Her son had leukemia and was in recovery. He could not walk up stairs and he had no hair. They spent most of their time at Children’s Hospital initially. He could not go to school and could not play with other children.

After Mary Ann’s son improved, a Children’s Advocate stepped in to help him integrate into the Broadview community. They helped mom with school enrollment, and then his really big moment came: He started school and could participate in onsite activities. He attended Children’s Group and went on some field trips, too. He was so happy just to be outside with the other kids on the playground. He made friends and some of the kids came to visit him in his unit. He limps but he can climb the stairs now; he smiles a lot and he has lots of hair again.

Mary Ann has been looking for work and has gone on several interviews. She found permanent housing and thinks she has a job as well. Broadview Transitional Housing gave them a place to heal physically and emotionally. Mary Ann says that they feel normal now. Both Mary Ann and her son left Broadview smiling.

To contribute to the important community and support happening at Broadview, please visit our Broadview donation page.

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