Category Archives: Programs

Stay the day: It just might make all the difference if you work nights

By Brett Renville, documentary filmmaker

Like a lot of people, my work demands that I put in long days. Sometimes, due to the nature of video production, it can go long into the night. But it’s just the cost of doing business and I know at the end of the day—whenever it ends—that I have a place to go, to rest and grab a few hours of sleep. Be it back at home, or, if I’m on the road, in a hotel, I don’t worry about it. I can curl up under the blankets, flip on the TV, listen to music, whatever. I’m comfortable, secure and safe.

I didn’t give this a lot of thought until I met Robert Taylor, program coordinator at Compass at First Presbyterian, a 24-hour shelter that opened last month in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood. When I stopped by just after lunch, I noticed a couple of men sleeping in the new 100-bed facility. I figured they were catching up on the exhaustion of living on the streets.

The community at the opening celebration of the new Compass at First Presbyterian 24-hour shelter– Photo: Capitol Hill Times

Turns out, Robert informed me, they had just come in after finishing work: the graveyard shift. They were resting up before putting in the next eight hours. The night shift is a ready employment opportunity for the homeless population, yet, it’s also, ironically, a barrier for homeless people trying to access shelter. And like many of the barriers that prevent homeless people from gaining a foothold and finding security, it’s hidden in plain sight.

Shelter in a World that Never Sleeps

Robert walked me through the steps of a 24-hour shelter and how it can have a transformational impact on the homeless population, seeking opportunity, livelihoods and stable housing.

Think about it. We live in a 24/7 world. While you and I sleep the night away, a massive workforce is wide awake, working through the darkest hours. Stocking grocery shelves, packing warehouse boxes, serving meals at late night diners—and a million other things— they are the drivers of our economy. And largely unseen.

But when their shift is over, say 3, 4 or 5 am, it’s time to unwind, eat and grab some sleep before setting out for the next shift. But what if you don’t have anywhere to go? Shelters typically offer a place for the night. So, what does that offer a homeless person who works nights? Not much. No bed, no meal, no shower, no security.

Photo: KUOW

As Robert pointed out, the opportunity lost is two-fold. Graveyard shifts, which offers more money due to the unconventional hours, are widely available but incredibly hard to swing when you live on the streets. This means the prospect for steady employment, at a higher wage rate, is within reach, but beyond the grasp of many homeless people.

Seattle is a rising economic star dimmed by an epic homeless crisis. Diverse employment options must figure into the constellation of creative solutions. Robert pointed to the pillars of Compass’ housing model: Stability, Growth and Community. For the homeless individuals who come to the shelter at Compass at First Presbyterian, there is no mandate to move on at daybreak. They don’t head back to the streets, only to start all over the next day. Instead, they are settling in, getting rest, a warm meal, a shower. They can do laundry and case managers are on-site to help them begin the process of navigating journey toward stable housing.

Enhanced shelter: It’s more than a safe refuge for the night. It’s a launching pad. And the difference is night and day.


From a tent, to transitional housing, to home: A Veteran’s 18-year journey

By Evan Mack, Program Manager, Compass Veterans Center

Our city’s homelessness crisis generates a lot of stories. Sometimes there are successes among them, though we rarely hear them. As program manager at the Compass Veterans Center in Renton, here’s one I’d like to share.

Recently, we were introduced to a gentleman, a veteran, who had lived in a tent in the woods for 18 years. I’ll call him Al. Our goal was to find Al permanent housing. There were many barriers to taking the first steps. How would we even begin? We started slowly. Our team took time to develop a relationship, to demonstrate we could genuinely help him. We gave him the time and space he needed to get comfortable with the people who would work with him to access the support he needed.

I’ll be honest, there was not a lot of confidence in Al’s chances for success. He had an 18-year history of “doing it on his own.” Why would he trust us? But we started to work together. We connected him with counseling, a case manager, and resources to ensure that he would quickly stabilize as a new resident.

Supportive On-Site Services

One important way we help our residents is to teach them how to better navigate their own finances, housing and the health care system. We bring the services on site, and as Al would quickly demonstrate, this fosters the positive outcomes we strive for.

The next thing we knew, Al was working on housing applications. We’d see him sitting at one of the community tables, drinking his coffee and filling out forms. Then, after just seven months, surpassing all our expectations, Al found permanent housing. Because it takes time to move beyond the many barriers our residents face, this process can usually take up to two years.

Community building is a key component in services for Veterans

Al’s story is exceptional in so many ways and he puts a human face on how we’ve effectively constructed our program. It’s a testament to the importance of building a diverse staff. Each team member brings in much needed expertise on topics from public housing to local school districts. Their know-how quickly gets our residents established into the program. It continues to support them as they successfully transition out of homelessness.

Each of our 58 units, available to formerly homeless individuals, couples and families, has a veteran as the head-of-household. And we are beating each of the Veteran’s Administration program goals. For example, 77 percent of our residents here go on to permanent housing, above the VA’s 60 percent goal. Tracking them a year later, we found 89 percent of those residents still in permanent housing, well beyond the 50 percent target.

Congressman Adam Smith meets with Veterans in Renton

Making Veteran Homelessness a Memory

I’m not a vet myself, and this is a question that often comes up when I talk about the work I do. After several years of providing support to this population, I’ve come to learn that while our residents are vets, their military service is only one part of their lives. It’s an honor and privilege for me to be on the front line to help make homelessness a part of their history as well.

Evan Mack is the program manager at the Compass Veterans Center in Renton, breaking down the barriers to finding permanent housing for veterans and their families.

Small Gestures Add up to Big Wins

By Justin Phillippi, Program Manager, Nyer Urness House

Many people are surprised to learn that most of the residents I work with here at Nyer Urness House are older. On average, they are approximately 55 years old. For most people, that’s not really old, actually. It’s just that our residents at 55 are fast approaching average life expectancy for someone who has been chronically homeless in King County and grappling with end-of-life issues.

This brings a number of interesting realizations for me and my colleagues. When we meet our new residents, we find there is so much life ahead for them. They’ve just landed in stable and safe housing. They’re discovering a new community, a new space to forge human connections, ways to be helpful to others. And after much loss and so many struggles, newfound stability offers what we now call “big wins,” small but meaningful triumphs that many of us might readily overlook.

Sharing Meals and More

Big wins come with human-to-human connection: learning new skills, participating in events, sharing stories, playing games and cooking together. These bonds are so clearly valuable to our residents as they rebuild their lives. My favorite example are meals, nothing is more powerful for bringing people together. It’s not about what you’re making—though making ice cream is pretty popular—and it’s also more than just assembling ingredients and the process of cooking. It’s the accomplishment. It’s doing it together. It’s about sharing something that is good. It puts you in the present. And sometimes when you just need to be with other people, it’s an open door to check in and discover commonality.

Homelessness doesn’t offer someone a lot of space to pursue a hobby. When our residents have found their home, they discover many unique and unexpected ways of recapturing the things that they were missing. Now in a position to help in ways they couldn’t before, they often find creative ways that they can give back too. It’s incredibly empowering. Last New Year’s Eve, they organized a shopping trip and prepared a home-cooked dinner. Then they paired the warm meal with a movie night to provide a respite from the streets for the homeless in our own neighborhood.

I work in a field where victories are hard to come by. New Year’s Eve came after we’d lost a number of residents at Nyer Urness House. The experience of creating and sharing a meal was a hard-won win for our residents, which gave it ever greater meaning. Now, I’m starting to discover more big wins where I didn’t expect them: it’s in someone’s word, when someone reaches out to you. It’s when they tell you about a personal issue, they offer you their trust and in turn, validation for the work I’m doing.

These may sound like small gestures, but I can assure you, they are big wins.


Introducing Mack—and another side of Seattle’s homelessness crisis

A glimpse of Compass Housing Alliance’s Road to Housing program

By Brett Renville, documentary filmmaker and guest blogger for Compass Housing Alliance

 When you see the homelessness crisis that is gripping our city, the first thing that comes to mind is the need for shelter for the night and a hot meal. But how often do you think about someone who is living out of their car or RV? Who needs a generator to keep warm and gas to keep it running? What about someone who could go to friends or family for help, but mechanical troubles keep them from getting their car on the road?

When I set out to produce a short video—“Charting Futures, Changing Lives”—for Compass Housing Alliance, I was introduced to a program called Road to Housing (R2H) and I discovered a whole new dimension of challenges and needs that define homelessness in our city.

R2H is a program that provides homeless adults and families with children living in their vehicle a safe place to park. But it’s much more than a parking spot. The program is a stop on the road out of homelessness and into permanent, affordable housing. While I was filming, I discovered a people-centric program and the impact it has in addressing each person’s individual needs.

Meeting Mack in his RV

During production, I had the pleasure of meeting Mack, who, I’d guess is about 70 years old, with an impressive beard and a big personality. He immediately called me brother and loved my camera. He’s an optimist and a pessimist. He didn’t say why he was homeless, but he can’t walk and his medical condition confines him to his RV. If you want to talk to him, you wait for him to pop his head out the window. As Compass Housing Alliance staff checked in on him, I learned more about Mack and what it’s like to live out of an RV parked in the middle of the city.

Mack talks to his parking lot neighbors, he reads the Bible, he cooks for himself. Limited mobility means that Mack spends a fair amount of time watching Netflix. Yet with train tracks lining one side of the parking lot, the thundering noise they generate as they roll by, along with the deafening blare of horns, I wondered how he slept through the night.

Road to Housing offers support

In their outreach, the Compass Housing Alliance team has built a relationship with Mack. They ask about his health, help him fill prescriptions, drive him to doctor’s appointments, bring him gas for his generator, and with whatever else he might need. But ultimately, the goal is to do whatever it takes to help Mack, and his neighbors in the parking lot, to progress toward finding stability and housing. For Mack, the goal is to get healthy. That’s the first stop in his transition out of homelessness. Then, he plans on getting his driver’s license and driving to Idaho, where he has friends, to settle down and spend the rest of his days.

Mack introduced me to another side of Seattle, which we think of as a world-class city, with so much innovative energy and resources, yet with a growing population, who call their cars their homes. Mack is just one in the many individuals – dare I say hundreds – that make R2H such a compelling outreach program. Compass Housing Alliance provides assistance and support to start their road to housing. In meeting Mack, I discovered the impact of their work is paramount.

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:

Finding home for homeless families starts with the power of partnerships

By Janet Pope, Executive Director, Compass Housing Alliance

When we consider the escalating homeless crisis in Seattle, one figure stands out in bold relief. Approximately 500 families with small children are sleeping outside in King County.

As we work each day toward finding meaningful solutions to address the complexities of the homelessness issue, there is growing urgency to help the most vulnerable in this crisis—children. In seeking answers, we all grapple with a difficult question: What will it truly take to move children off the street and into a place they can call home?

There are no easy answers. It’s going to take a comprehensive and holistic approach. It’s going to take a long-term view and out-of-the-box thinking. It’s going to take people-centric and tailored services alongside an increase in responsive and affordable housing. The list doesn’t end there. However, the lynchpin to finding real solutions is collaboration across sectors and creating innovative and dynamic partnerships.

Growing Impact through Partnership

Why such an emphasis on cross-sector collaboration and partnership? Because it’s a model that works and homelessness is a problem that is greater than any one organization can address alone. Compass Housing Alliance draws on nearly 100 years of experience of serving people in crisis. We have been forging key relationships and alliances for the past decades. Drawing from long-term insight and perspective, we fundamentally believe partnerships are the most powerful tool we have as a community if we truly intend to have an impact on homelessness.

We’ve seen what a difference partnerships can make through the success of Compass on Dexter. Working with dozens of area partners, our affordable home for families in South Lake Union builds intentional community both for our residents and the wider neighborhood. Residents of the 72 units, the majority being families with small children, benefit from onsite case management services, a children’s center, an outdoor play area, and a shared community room. Our community room hosts partner organizations and the wider community for frequent events. This community-based approach helps challenge the stereotypes about people seeking housing stability and has led to a 98% resident retention rate since opening the building.

Strengthening Community Connections at Ronald Commons

Ronald Commons Partnership Speakers
Compass Housing Alliance Executive Director Janet Pope (at right) grew up in the Shoreline neighborhood that is now home to Ronald Commons

The power of partnerships had a very personal impact for me last month as we opened doors to Ronald Commons in Shoreline, which offers 60 units of affordable housing and comprehensive support services for homeless and low-income individuals and households in the community. I not only had the great privilege to be among the architects of an inspiring example of this model of collaboration. I was witness to its impact, in my own neighborhood, where I grew up.

Compass Housing Alliance joined forces with organizations with deep roots in the community. We worked with Ronald United Methodist Church, which was eager to transform an underutilized piece of land into much-needed homes. Compass Housing Alliance purchased and developed the land and found a ready partner in Hopelink, who would provide essential, wrap-around support services and a food bank.

We then looked further afield, to local government, business and financial institutions, building bridges across sectors to transform an empty lot into our newest residence solution. Ultimately, there were many more hands at work, working together: from Beacon Development for construction support and local and King County representatives for community advocacy to funding partners at Bank of America, the National Equity Fund and King County Housing Authority. They each, in their own way, were instrumental to realizing Ronald Commons and clearing a direct path toward stability for homeless and disabled individuals, and for military veterans and families with children and pets.

Resources and expertise hail from many directions. By forging truly innovative partnerships, we can harness diverse and complementary assets to ensure community buy-in and greater opportunity. By working together, we can be truly catalytic.

The day Ronald Commons PlaygroundRonald Commons officially opened its doors, my heart swelled as I watched children swinging from the bars of the new outdoor playground. We had yet to cut the ribbon, but they were already finding their way toward reclaiming their childhood. At that moment, it hit home for me—literally and figuratively. This is the community where I grew up. And this is the most important work we can do: To a provide a safe, permanent and supportive place for children to live. And for children to call home.