Each year, our community comes together to create a warm holiday season for all our of guests and residents. Read below for some ways you can contribute this holiday season, or donate now to help support our programs.
Gifts for Residents
Visit our Amazon Holiday Wish List to choose from gifts our residents have requested this year including gift cards, kitchen supplies, bedding, blankets, and more. When you shop the Wish List, Amazon ships items directly to our offices so you don’t have to worry about coordinating delivery.
Buy children’s gifts such as art supplies, books, or backpacks to bring a smile to our younger residents. Popular gifts this year include Tasty Science kits and Disgusting Science kits as well as Crayola Art Cases.
Our senior residents appreciate gifts such as warm robes for cool winter days and nights. Other adults and families appreciate pots and pans to help stock their kitchens.
Gifts for Guests in Emergency Services
Our Amazon Wish List also includes the most requested items for our guests in emergency services and shelter. Popular gifts include $40 gift cards, thermoses, gloves, hats, scarves, hand warmers, blankets, backpacks, and portable alarm clocks. Thick wool socks are also a winter necessity!
Adopt-a-Building: Holiday Decor
Help decorate our properties for the holiday season with trees, menorahs, stockings, lights, ornaments and more! You can also get creative by arranging holiday craft activities such as cooking-baking with residents. This type of project can be a great team building opportunity!
Adopt-a-Building: Holiday Meal
Help to create a celebratory holiday feast for residents at one of our locations. Purchase, prepare and serve a variety of foods for, or alongside, the residents and guests of our programs. Our team will work with you to provide menus and assistance to make happy holiday memories!
If you want to schedule group volunteer projects, we need time to plan for success, so please reach out now.
“Is a good life better than the life I live?” Not only is this a line from a Kanye West song, but also a question 24-year-old Brillian asked himself the first night he was homeless. As Veterans Day approached, I thought of soft-spoken Brillian, a very young veteran, who served in Korea. I met him at Compass at First Presbyterian a week or so after he and his brother moved in. I was immediately charmed by his gentleness, love of music and drive to create a better life for himself.
Brillian and his brother, Dion, were working full-time, trying to find permanent housing.
“Dion got a job working the night shift as a cook at Denny’s making good money, so the ball got rolling for us to afford a place to live somewhere,” he said. Before landing a job as a server at Denny’s too, Brillian spent ten or more hours a day working at Mr. Rooter.
“We were putting the money we earned towards a hotel, but then it got too pricey for us to sustain ourselves for a whole week, so we had to go to Project Nightwatch.”
The realities of shelter living soon began to take a toll. Brillian had nowhere to leave his stuff while he was working. So he had no choice but to bring his suitcase with him to work. And showering or washing his clothes? Not many opportunities there either.
Brillian soon learned an important lesson: When you are homeless, the small things become really important. “I never realized how big these things are—like putting on lotion, having toothpaste to brush your teeth or deodorant—until you need them. It makes you realize what others don’t have.”
Working Full Time, Living Day-to-Day
The brothers were both working 40-hours a week. So why so many obstacles to finding housing? Brillian explained that they never had enough money together to get their foot in the door. They got paid every two weeks and their first paycheck was delayed.
They spent whatever money they had on motels, because traditional shelter didn’t accommodate their night work schedule. Brillian and Dion were just living day-to-day and they often ended up at the Seattle Public library.
“It was just existing, walking around tired all the time, like a zombie,” Brillian recalled.
Working the night shift was tough in many ways. “There was nowhere to be. Most places don’t open until 10 A.M. So, all you could do was stand around outside trying not to be seen. But the truth is that when you’re carrying around a big suitcase, everyone sees you.”
Moving into Compass at First Presbyterian, where he could stay all day and store his stuff, was a major relief. “I cried. I finally felt like I was human again. I knew that I now had some stability and consistency.”
Brillian was comforted by the fact that everything would be there for him when he got off work. Now he is working with a Housing Navigator to find affordable housing which would allow him to move out.
Music, Dreams, and Moving Forward
As Brillian looks to his future and his version of the American dream, he looks to music. “Music to me is magical. It is something I feel really deeply about. I want to be that calm, soothing voice, something that anyone can listen to.”
And this brings us back to the song, “The Good Life” and Brillian’s musical heros, Kanye West and T-Pain. When I asked if he would sing something, he offered a verse from this song:
Is a good life better than the life I lived? When I thought that I was gonna go crazy,
And now my grandmomma Ain’t the only girl callin me “baby.”
If you feelin’ me now
Then put yo’ hands up in the sky, and let me hear you say
Heyy, heyy, ooooh I’m GOOD!
And, Brillian has every reason to feel good. Last week, as we approached Veterans Day, he was approved to move into his own studio apartment in the University District.
By Brett Renville, documentary filmmaker and guest blogger for Compass Housing Alliance
“I want my own food truck,” Dion told me, “and then one truck will turn into two, and two to three and eventually I have my own restaurant.”
24-year-old Dion was not short on confidence and he spoke like someone who would make short work of any obstacle that got in his way. What about being homeless? Well, that was just one more, seemingly insignificant, barrier to his aspirations. To hear him talk, it wouldn’t be long before he’d kick it down too. He was fighting with all his might to live the American dream. I have to admit, while I believed Dion would do it, there were considerable barriers. It might take some time.
I first met Dion and his brother Brillian at a shelter. But then again, it wasn’t a shelter like most I’ve seen in the city. Compass at First Presbyterian, is a newly opened shelter that is based on the 24/7, enhanced shelter model. This meant that they could stay the night, and the next day. They could also keep their stuff and stay together. This alone makes a huge difference. It gives them the time they need to access resources, stabilize and start afresh.
Dion and Brillian had just arrived and were settling in at the same time I was producing a documentary video for Compass Housing Alliance. A housing navigator, Elizabeth, was working with them to land an apartment they could afford. It’s not an easy thing to do these days in Seattle. Moreover, the brothers were caught in the typical Catch-22 of the traditional shelter system. They were working the night shift, which doesn’t align with most shelter setups. Shelters generally close their doors by 9 p.m. and empty out in in the early hours of the morning. This meant Dion and Brillian were trying to snag a few Zs wherever they could, be it at the library or any other quasi-horizontal spot that afforded rest.
“I didn’t want to sleep on the ground, so I slept in a truck bed so I wouldn’t be seen,” Brillian told me. “You try to be invisible.”
Dang. Brillian went to great lengths to preserve his sense of dignity. As the brothers described it, they were mostly working on very little sleep. At the same time, they were caught in a trap, where they could never stretch a 2-week paycheck far enough to meet a security deposit and rent.
“I could say nothing negative about my journey, my journey is not homelessness,” Dion reflected, noting he’d lost everything, his home, his car and he’d left his family and daughter behind in the hopes of getting new start. “I had to hit rock bottom.”
Working while Others Sleep
So when I went to Denny’s at 2 a.m. to check out what the brothers’ journey looked like, I was in for a bit of a surprise. Brillian and Dion weren’t just working the graveyard shift. They were running it. Just the two of them, the entire restaurant. Dion cooking the meals and Brillian serving them. They were accountable to no one but themselves and the customers—which, let’s be honest, can be an eclectic mixture on the graveyard shift. If Dion hit rock bottom, then he—and his brother—demonstrated unbridled ambition to climb their way back to where they wanted to be. Firing on all cylinders, Brillian and Dion were on the fast track, working hard and transitioning out of homelessness.
Dion and Brillian at the Denny's where they both work
Brillian runs front-of-house on the night shift at Denny's
Brillian runs front-of-house on the night shift at Denny's
Brillian runs front-of-house on the night shift at Denny's
Dion cooks all the meals for hungry late-night customers
They didn’t just have jobs, but they also had a place that gave them stability, allowed them grow and find community.
“On the first day when we didn’t have to leave, I shed a tear,” Brillian said, citing the benefits of Compass’ enhanced shelter, where he could return each morning after work. “It was stability, consistency, it would be here… still be here, it was really comforting.”
Transitioning to Home
I spent time with the brothers at Compass at First Presbyterian and at Denny’s. I was wrapping up the shoot when I went back to CFP to check in on them. They were days away from securing a place and moving in thanks to their housing navigator, Elizabeth.
“We look forward to having a key to our apartment, to just close the door and be in a place we call home,” Brillian said. “It’s like you are back in society and that’s a good place to be.”
About Brett Renville: Brett Renville is a documentary and commercial Cinematographer and Director, based in Seattle, WA. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Brett developed a love for the natural world, and in his work, transferring the essence of a subject – be it human, of the animal variety, the environment, or a simple moment in time – is Brett’s passion and craft; drawing meaningful stories into focus through the lens of the camera. For more info about Brett please visit: brettrenville.com
Keeping veterans and the elderly from homelessness for $32.50 is a deal
It’s that time of year. We’re all getting ready to vote! And among the items on the ballot is the opportunity to renew and expand the King County Veterans and Human Services Levy. The levy connects military Veterans and vulnerable people—such as the elderly—to vital programs and services. It helps them transition to affordable housing, get job training, find employment, receive behavioral health treatment and more. Is it just me or does it seem ironic that Veterans Day approaches in tandem with the upcoming vote to help veterans?
The coincidence got me thinking. I’m the daughter and granddaughter of Veterans. My dad fought in Korea, my grandfather was a prisoner of war in WWII. My uncle fought in Vietnam. War, and its terrible toll, has left a deep imprint on the Veterans in my family—PTSD and depression, well medicated with alcohol. It also came at a great cost to their loved ones.
Today as we witness a homelessness crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen, fueled by endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think about what might have been for my father, grandfather and my uncle. They struggled with the many demons that often lead veterans to the brink and to the streets. What stood between my own father and homelessness is tenuous, especially today. Perhaps it was family, friends and a robust VA system? Or was it that he had government health insurance and access to all the medical care he needed?
Veterans Experiencing Homelessness
Here in our Emerald City, there are 1,329 homeless people who identify as veterans, more than half are unsheltered. An increasing number of them are women. Seattle’s numbers mirror the tragedies that are unfolding in cities across our country. As an American, it is a profound source of shame for me. And it’s an issue that should prompt all of us to take a good hard look at ourselves and our community and to commit to taking meaningful, tangible measures to make it right, right now.
The Seattle Times agrees. To my great relief, the editorial board clearly articulated why we must vote for the King County Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy. With a focus on veterans and the elderly—the levy adds senior citizens for the first time this election—it’s about a good return on investment, in addition to creating the community we can want to live in. In 2016, the levy paid for more than 8,000 emergency-shelter bed nights for homeless veterans. And we can’t forget that the homeless population, vets among them, is aging—quickly. As they age, their needs are vastly different and it’s critical that we truly understand what they are and that we mobilize to meet them.
Programs for Veterans and Seniors
Providing support to Veterans is a pillar of Compass Housing Alliance’s service. It’s also been successful. At the Compass Veterans’ Center in Renton, 89 percent of vets have maintained housing one year after exiting the program. This far exceeds a target of 50 percent.
The aging homeless population also finds a safe haven within Compass Housing Alliance. This is through their focused work to find permanent and supportive housing solutions for elderly individuals through the Health Care for the Homeless Network, as well as through residential facilities with services, such as at Nyer Urness House in Ballard. Here the average age is approximately 55 years. While in my social circle this is considered mid-life, among the homeless population, the average life expectancy for someone who has been chronically homeless is 62.
The Emerald City will shine bright only if we take steps to uphold human dignity for everyone who calls it home. And I want to believe we do. For a median-priced home, it comes at a cost of just $32.50 a year. That’s brunch for two on Sunday. So for my dad, my grandfather, my uncle—and the many people I know who served this country with honor—there is only one vote for me. Yes.
“This program is amazing. It’s a sanctuary. It is peace and hope. It is safe.” This is the experience of Nicole, one of the 15 women currently living at Compass at First Presbyterian, Compass Housing Alliance’s first 24-hour shelter.
I was at Compass at First Presbyterian to interview two guests for a video we are producing, to be featured at Compass Housing Alliance’s annual luncheon. On my way out, Nicole approached me to ask what we were filming. She immediately told me how much she loved the program.
“I came here and fell in love. You can leave your stuff and don’t have to worry about it. You can shower when you want to. You don’t have to leave at the crack of dawn,” she explained.
I was so struck by her enthusiasm that I asked if she would be willing to share her story. She agreed, heated up a burrito in the microwave, gathered her belongings and led me to a picnic table where she started to talk.
With her long strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes and abundant freckles, Nicole looks younger than her 35 years despite the hell she has lived through over the past nine years. Nicole shares a familiar story. She wanted to leave Utah and escape a turbulent relationship with her father. She met a man who lived in Seattle, so she moved. The relationship didn’t work out, but Nicole decided to stay because she got a job at CenturyLink field.
“I was stressed out one day and the friend I was living with offered me a line of meth and I felt all my worries melt away,” she said. For Nicole, it was a very short path to a powerful addiction. “I snorted for about six months and then got hooked on the needle. It was over after that.”
From Addiction to Homelessness
For the next two years, Nicole did “anything and everything” to get high. “It was hell. If I wasn’t high, I couldn’t function. I would ache and physically crave the high and the numbness,” she explained.
She ended up on the streets when her friend kicked her out. He was ready to get clean, but she wasn’t. “I started to live in tents and in alleys, anywhere but inside,” she said.
Then there was a turning point. Nicole watched her best friend overdose. “Seeing him foaming at the mouth, beyond the help of the EMTs was a reality check. It was my wake-up call.” For the first time, Nicole understood that she could kill herself and she didn’t want that.
The Process of Recovery
It took more than one attempt at rehab for Nicole to start her process of recovery. “I did a one-year stint and relapsed a week after I got out. Then, two years at another in-patient treatment center worked and I have been clean ever since.”
Nicole biggest motivator was her unborn daughter. She was pregnant when she entered rehab for the second time. “I got clean and sober so I could not hurt the baby who went to live with my sister in New York after she was born.”
Beating addiction did not immediately resolve Nicole’s homelessness. It would take another five years before she was ready to “come inside.”
“I had to break the habit of being outside where I actually felt safe,” she explained, adding that being homeless had become almost like a routine for her, one that was driven by her desire to stay clean and avoid the people and places that were triggers.
But the realities of sleeping in a tent or spending nights in shelters had begun to wear on Nicole.
“I got tired of being tired, of going to bed feeling dirty. Dragging a suitcase around all day had gotten old. And I was tired of people beating on the door, shouting that there was five minutes left on the floor, and 10 minutes in the shower,” Nicole recalled about shelter living.
Richard, an outreach worker from Union Gospel Mission, had been trying to help Nicole find shelter and put her on the path to Compass at First Presbyterian. Here she has a support system and her team is helping her re-establish her identity, tracking down a copy of her birth certificate and driver’s license so she can get back in the system.
Looking to the Future
“It’s time to start being a woman again. Working, paying bills, finding housing and taking on responsibilities. I am beyond ready,” she declared as she considered employment options. “My dad used to work with wood all the time and I either want to work with wood, or learn landscaping or go back to Farestart.”
Nicole recognizes addiction came at a high cost to her life and her family. But as we looked to her future, I realized I am rooting for this woman. To find her footing. To become everything she has ever dreamed of. To be able to have a real relationship with her daughter. And, with stability and support at Compass at First Presbyterian, I understood that for the first time she has a chance of achieving that.