Program changes better meet the needs of chronically homeless families

For families living on low incomes that include an adult with disabilities, affordable housing can be nearly impossible to find, let alone keep. Many times, families rely on fixed income, essentially living “from crisis to crisis,” according to Sand Point Housing Residential Services Manager Tamara Brown.

By February, these transitional housing units at Sand Point will be converted into Permanent Supportive Family Housing.

In 2016, these transitional housing units at Sand Point Housing will be converted into Permanent Supportive Family Housing.

By February 2016, Solid Ground will have converted 26 transitional housing units at our Sand Point Housing campus to Permanent Supportive Housing to help address the needs of chronically homeless families. This conversion is in line with the Housing First strategy, which simply put, provides homes to people experiencing homelessness before addressing any addiction problems, criminal records, or other barriers they may have to accessing affordable housing.

“The idea is to stabilize the family first,” says Brown. “Then we look at the barriers and try to help the family address them. The program will make it easier for families to obtain and maintain housing.”

Housing First has not only been more effective in terms of keeping people housed, but it is also more cost effective. Solid Ground’s program differs from similar ones by providing homes to chronically homeless families, rather than individuals.

Sand Point’s new Permanent Supportive Housing units will have very low screening requirements, meaning that those with poor credit, substance abuse or mental health conditions, or past eviction, domestic violence or criminal histories will not be denied housing.

Brown explains that providing people in dire situations with immediate access to housing allows them to actually focus on recovery and stability. Once people have their basic needs met, they can begin to consider making changes that will improve their quality of life. “What many people don’t understand is that people don’t choose to be homeless – rather, they give in to being homeless … because it’s their best option right now, rather than living with domestic violence, dealing with untreated serious mental illness or addiction, or struggling with a limited income that won’t pay for an apartment. It’s the lack of choices that causes them to remain outside.”

As a result of the lower screening requirements, family members may require more support and access to services such as financial counseling, therapy and medical attention. In response to this predicted need, a Therapeutic Case Manager, trained to address the needs of the tenants, will offer support to residents, and case management staff will provide 24/7 coverage. Additionally, other Solid Ground programs and community supports will be available to provide a holistic array of services to residents.

Before the units open, a lot of work must be completed. Brown explains that families currently in the transitional Sand Point Family transitional housing units will be moving out, though each of them entered the program knowing that it was a 12-month, time-limited transitional program, designed for families to exit to permanent housing as they stabilized.

“There are a couple families who will have been here less than 12 months, but we are working really hard with them,” says Brown. “We sat down with all the families individually to figure out how to comfortably transition them into new housing.”

Once these families successfully find housing, the two buildings will be lightly renovated to meet the needs of the incoming families. For example, one of the transitional housing units will be converted into a community meeting space, in order to foster a supportive environment and communication between neighbors.

Units will be posted on Family Housing Connection in the next couple of weeks, and referrals will be accepted beginning at the end of November.

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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.

Sand Point’s Got Talent! A joyful noise

What do you get when you combine the following ingredients: a balmy summer evening, live music, about 25 kids dancing as if no one was watching, watermelon, cupcakes and a talent show? A delicious recipe for BIG fun!

800 Watts of Bass

800 Watts of Bass

Residents and staff of Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing (SPH) campus came together last week for a unique event: the first performance of the jazz fusion band 800 Watts of Bass – fronted by bassist and SPH resident Luke Jackson – followed by a talent show for anyone brave enough to step up and share. Let it be known: SPH residents stepped UP!

When the band first started, the mood was pretty mellow. A handful of families and teens trickled in. Little girls in princess outfits (later dubbed the “Let It Go” girls) giggled and huddled together on a blanket. Moms and siblings with babies in strollers found spots on the lawn. But as soon as the band started grooving, the Let It Go girls did just that, leaping into joyful dancing which hardly stopped all evening.

The Let It Go Girls letting it go

The Let It Go Girls letting it go

Luke says his mom got him into music as a kid, and it kept him out of trouble and gave him a positive community to be part of. He’s played in various bands over the years but had to stop performing about three years ago when his kidneys began to fail. He’s still in dialysis three times a week and on a transplant waiting list, but thanks to regular exercise, his energy has returned enough to allow him to pick up his passion again and start gigging. His current goal is to complete an album by 2016.

Luke says, “I loved seeing the kids come out; it was basically for the kids. Music doesn’t have an age on it.” With a beaming smile, Jasmine Johnson danced with her two girls, Kenya and Niylah – and then with any other kids who got drawn into her circle of energy.

The band played for about an hour, and then the true joy exploded when about 10 resident kids and youth – and a few adults – put their talents out into the world. From drumming to poetry readings to solo and group songs (cue the Let It Go girls) to dancing to gymnastics to lip syncing, the night was filled with laughter and support and parental pride.

There was real budding talent on display. Niylah owned the mic as she belted out The Greatest Love of All. Kids who initially hesitated to start their acts were bolstered by supportive cheers from the crowd and soon dropped any sign of nervousness. Even some adults got into the act: Resident Joy Sparks moved seamlessly from cuddling her infant to rocking out, surrounded by a cheering crowd of devoted young dancers.

For me, trying to be a fly on the wall and soak it all in, I was in awe of the community Sand Point Housing residents have created for themselves. And when the program officially ended, the fun didn’t stop: Jasmine says, “We danced and danced, and then when the talent show ended, we danced some more.” It was a magical, joy-filled night we’ll remember for a long time.

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Sand Point Housing’s young artists

Eleven young artists discovered the Officer’s Club at the Magnuson Park Gallery. This former office of a naval commander became a worksite for young residents of Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing community. These teens now look out the window to see the fruition of their own leadership – 12 vibrant art panels breathing life back into a decrepit brick building.

IMG_3765

Eight finished panels installed on one side of the building.

The Sand Point Arts and Cultural Exchange (SPACE) has long sought a solution for the slowly deteriorating building across from the gallery. With the City of Seattle investing funds to stabilize it, and future development projects expected, installing art panels on the exterior walls provides an immediate solution for threading cultural value into the building. The Department of Neighborhoods’ substantial contribution and the Seattle Parks and Recreation staff and financial help made hiring a contractor and art teacher feasible. The 11 teens infused the spirit of their community into the artwork.

Abdi

Sand Point youth paints the corner of a panel.

The teaching artist, Angela Larsen, implemented a process that promised a professional product while staying true to the young artists’ vision and work. The teens began their project by exploring color palettes, and learning how to adjust color shades by mixing paint. They then walked through the park, finding inspiration in plant textures and nature’s own artwork. Angela combined the feedback from the kids, and her own Scandinavian design ethic, and created a design outline that exclusively used three shades of green and three shades of red. In the coming four Saturdays, the young artists put paint to panel and brought the design plan to fruition.

As all good work deserves, the young artists will be paid a $150 stipend at a celebratory barbecue in the near future. However, that paycheck does not fully represent the value the panel project provides to the community and the participants. The Executive Director of SPACE, Julianna Ross, observed “how their skills improved from the first session to the last session. They knew how to load the brush, and make the lines… they gained some skills!” She commented on the warranted pride many of the teens felt for the panels. Working so many hours on the panels familiarized the resident teens with the gallery building and other areas they had not known existed. Showcasing their artwork on a main street bridges a comfort gap between the families living in the park and the community park buildings.

The young artists look up at the paintings and recognize that it’s their work, that they made it for the community. If you can afford their rate, enlist them in another mural project. Their paint brushes are ready.

COMPARED TO WHAT?

Poetry zine gives voice to Sand Point Housing youthCover of Compared to What? A publication of Solid Ground's Sand Point Young Artist Workshop

The youth who live at Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus do not see themselves as a continuation of their parents’ lives. “I get super annoyed when I am compared,” one girl says. “It’s just irritating because that is just saying that you don’t really know who I am if I am being compared.”

Thus the title COMPARED TO WHAT? was born for the zine that developed out of a writing and arts workshop series Solid Ground held last fall for the older teens living with their families at Sand Point, a neighborhood of 175 households at the old Naval Station of Puget Sound in Magnuson Park.

The workshops were based in the principle that everyone’s voice should be heard. Starting with writing sessions led by Seattle storyteller and educator Kathya Alexander, they continued with photography and design sessions led by Solid Ground staff. Through it all, young people found their voices. “Their growth was beautiful to see,” says Christina Shimizu, Annual Giving Officer at Solid Ground and one of the staff supporters of this youth-driven project.

Creative prompts helped unleash the power of the pen

Starting out with writing prompts and progressing to original poems helped the participants feel comfortable, not only with writing, but also with one another. Within this supportive group setting, the youth quickly gained confidence and began to share their personal experiences – an important outlet for previously homeless youth who have not had many opportunities to express themselves creatively.

One of the teens comments about the project, “This is the first time we are actually getting heard, with a different point of view. Our point of view. We think differently from the way adults think. We can also teach adults how we think, because our generation is so different than your guys’ generation. I feel like we know so much more.”

I am a rare solar eclipse
Gray and overlooked
A tough cactus
Midnight, calm and relaxing
I am needed like air
A glistening diamond
The illusion that the sky is blue”

Teen photographer After a few writing sessions, Sand Point Case Manager and experienced photographer, Bellen Drake, led a photography workshop focused on visual aspects of the storytelling process. She spent a day with the youth taking photos and teaching them to use their cameras to capture the essence of their experiences, which for most is shaped by poverty-induced instability. Although most of the poets moved into long-term housing years ago and no longer identify as being homeless, Bellen notes that “it was a valuable opportunity to reflect on a time that impacted them as children, and they have now grown out of. It was a time in their past; homelessness is not their current situation.”

There were multiple leaders within the group and it was an entirely collaborative effort to put the zine together and publish it in January. The poems and images bring to mind the vividness of young romance and deep angst, mixed with materialistic egos and happy innocence. The young artists reveal their dreams and aspirations of growing up, as well as their multidimensional approach to discovering the answers to “What is Justice?”

COMPARED TO WHAT? showcases this unique community and amplifies voices that too often go unheard.

Our published writers & artists are: Ayanle Abdikadir (Abdi), Mohamed Abdikadir, Nya Rambang, Marie, Sahvannah Glenn, Maar Rambang, Heaven, Ryahnna, Geo, Chris Gainey, Ben Dessalegne, Jen Matapula, Andrea R, Deiosha Sparks.

To get your copy of Compared to What? or learn more about how you can support the youth at Sand Point Housing, contact Christina Shimizu at christinas@solid-ground.org.

Walsh Construction: Building communities with Solid Ground for two decades

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place (Image courtesy of William Wright Photography)

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place (Image courtesy of William Wright Photography)

Walsh Construction not only understands the needs of the people and organizations they serve, but also anticipates and facilitates meeting those needs with professional expertise. For over 22 years, Walsh has supported Solid Ground’s work in a variety of meaningful ways.

Workplace giving

Giving back to the community is an integral part of Walsh Construction’s culture and values. As a company and as individuals, they contribute time, talent and finances to numerous nonprofits throughout the year and believe it’s the right thing to do.

Walsh Construction’s connection with Solid Ground began through the generosity of their own employees. From 1992 to 2001, Walsh employees contributed individual donations, despite the fact that there was no formal infrastructure for workplace giving. For the following several years, the United Way of King County’s workplace giving campaign coordinated the business’ donations. Then in 2005, Walsh began their own campaign to formally support all employee payroll contributions, a practice they continue to this day.

Every year through their employee Community Giving program, they name several community agencies and nonprofit groups – including Solid Ground – as beneficiaries. Walsh matches every dollar each employee contributes, and for several years they have reached 100% staff participation. Walsh employees clearly share the company’s values of generosity and care for the Seattle community.

Housing development

In 1998, Solid Ground (then the Fremont Public Association) hired Walsh to build our current headquarters offices in Wallingford. Then through an open bidding process in 2012, we selected Walsh to develop additional housing on our Sand Point Housing campus. From late 2013 through November of 2014, they served as general contractor for two buildings of non-time-limited housing at Sand Point. Today, Sand Point’s residential facilities total 175 units, 100 for families and 75 for singles. Of those, Walsh built 54 new residences and renovated an additional 42 units.

Throughout the process, Humberto Alvarez, Solid Ground’s Planning, Development & Operations Director, was primary contact between stakeholders, and he also oversaw Walsh’s two-phase renovation of the Santos Place transitional housing facility. Humberto says that Santos Place was occupied during the extensive restoration period, and that Walsh representatives were exceptionally respectful to the building owners and inhabitants as they conducted their detail-oriented work.

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place (Image courtesy of William Wright Photography)

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place (Image courtesy of William Wright Photography)

Two buildings at Sand Point were located in a Seattle Landmarks Board Historic District inside Magnuson Park, which was a Navy base before becoming a park. The buildings, while new construction, had to blend in with the historic neighborhood and meet the standards of the Landmarks Preservation Board to complement the original military housing style.

Walsh’s excellent work maintained the historic look of the buildings and strengthened the integrity of the structures as well. Throughout each step of the process, contractors, developers and architects met in weekly meetings to cover every detail of the project from beginning to end. By making the infrastructure more energy efficient, money saved on utility expenses could be put instead toward providing services for residents in need.

Both new buildings at Sand Point Housing were completed ahead of schedule in early December 2013 – enabling some residents to move in before Christmas! It was especially rewarding for everyone involved to give people transitioning out of homelessness a safe, warm, dry place to live in time for the holidays that year.

Event sponsorship

Walsh has also supported Solid Ground through various annual and special events over the years, including our Building Community Luncheon, which Walsh has sponsored every year since 2011.

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place (Image courtesy of William Wright Photography)

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place (Image courtesy of William Wright Photography)

Recently, Walsh added a personal touch to their support of Sand Point Housing residents through gifts for the children. They donated intricate wooden toys for kids to play with at the communal children’s areas in Santos Place and the Lowry Community Building. The delightful trinkets are made of durable materials that will be enjoyed by many youngsters for a long time to come.

Over the last two decades, Walsh has been a consistent, outstanding and professional supporter, and we look forward to many more years of partnership in the future!

Back on the road to home

Bruce Perry with his truck

Bruce Perry with his truck

Truck driver Bruce Perry is a veteran and a resident at Santos Place on Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus. He has lived in many different places – from the deep south, to California, to the Pacific Northwest – and he has worn many different career hats. From a young age, he has known exactly what he wanted to do with his life – several different things, to be exact – and one by one, he has achieved those goals.

Bruce says, “I’ve done pretty much all I wanted to do in life, career-wise. I knew when I was 10 years old that I wanted to go into the military. I’d see the convoys of military trucks and “I’d say, ‘Mom, that’s going to be me one day!’ ” And sure enough, he served in the US Army from 1975 to 1979, a Vietnam-era vet who was fortunate to enlist three months before the end of the active conflict, so he never saw combat. Also, he says, “I wanted to be a mailman – which I did for 19½ years – and at the age of 42, I retired, in the Bay Area.”

Finally, he says, “I wanted to be a truck driver.” He first got his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in 2005 and worked as a cross-country freight driver for several years. “I’ve been to 48 states, Mexico and Canada.” This last goal, though, had a serious hiccup: In 2009 in Louisiana, he received a ticket, which he paid with a check that didn’t go through. Unfortunately, the check was returned to an old address and he never received it, causing his license to be suspended for a year. “And each time you get a ticket,” he explains, “it’s another violation that counts for one year. Another violation, another year. So that’s how I had to do three years on suspension. That’s three years without driving at all.”

Starting over

In 2011, with his final dream job on hiatus, his funds dwindling, and very few veterans resources available to him in the south, he decided to relocate to Washington state where he could get housing through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH). “That’s one reason I moved here; and another reason was I’d be close to my girlfriend,” he says with a shy smile. (She lives in Vancouver, BC, and thanks to Amtrak he gets to meet her in Bellingham a few times a month.)

After a stint in VASH temporary housing, Bruce was placed in transitional housing at Santos Place. A self-described loner and very independent man, he says, “This place is for people able to take care of themselves, ‘cause nobody gonna come knock on their door and say, ‘Hey, are you ok?’ You have to be able to take care of yourself here.”

During his stay, he says, “I kept myself busy.” So while living at Santos and waiting out his suspension, he worked at Whole Foods Market and received job training through AARP – and just as soon as his suspension was up, he went straight back and got recertified as a truck driver. In June 2014, he was back on the road, and he couldn’t be happier. He drives up and down the coast, from Kent, WA to southern California and back, with weekends at home. And come December 1st, five days before his birthday, Bruce will finally move out of Santos Place and into permanent housing.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Bruce outside of Santos Place

Bruce outside of Santos Place

To others struggling to get back on their feet, he urges people to “ask for help. Solid Ground has people to help you with that! Depression, shame stops people from doing what they need to do. It’s scary. You get in this environment, it’s all you know. You stay here and you feel comfortable, and it’s hard to get up and walk out that door and go out there and get a job again, because a lot of people are scared of failure. But you got to start somewhere.”

He recommends that people “Go to training school while you’re on low income. Go to WorkSource. Go to the library. We got two brand new computers here and a whole computer room. Take advantage of that! Go to junior college. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do.”

Home for the holidays

This year, Bruce will be in his own home for Christmas for the first time in a long time. A devout Christian, he believes God played an important role in his success: “If you open your heart up to God, read your bible, pray – put your trust in God, not man – then it will start working. If you have the right attitude, things will work out for you. It may take a while, but it will happen.”

And while Bruce is technically of retirement age, he’s not at all retiring. “The only thing I want to do now is just continue working and, God willing, work to the age of 66 and collect my social security. I got a chance to retire; I know what it’s like to retire. I got a chance to be blessed to start back over again. So it’s like a big burden lifted off of your shoulders.” But, he says, when he finally does “retire” from truck driving, he still intends to drive a truck two or three days a week. “I’ve talked to older people,” he says, “and lots of people have told me, the worst thing you can do is just sit around all day and do nothing. Once you sit down and start doing nothing, your muscles and your mind, everything’s all fading away. You lose everything.”

And he has absolutely no regrets. “It’s hard to explain to people; very few people can look back and say they’ve done everything they wanted to do in life. I’m one of those few people. And how do you know that you’ve done everything in life? If the doctor said, ‘You only have two months to live?’ I’ve done everything I wanted to do!”

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