Category Archives: Programs

The First Thanksgiving: Making traditions of our own at Compass at First Presbyterian

By Robert Taylor, Program Coordinator 

Whew! Gotta love the after-holiday catch up! Back at my desk at Compass at First Presbyterian, I am realizing how grateful I am to the community for all the positive energy and generous outreach over Thanksgiving.

The holidays can be a tough time in the shelter community. As you can imagine, people miss their families and the memories of a life past can create feelings of nostalgia. Therefore, I find that there is some importance in having large of amounts of good food. And I think we had that in spades! Among the staff, our hope was to make it a very special day for our guests, a day where they weren’t thinking about the challenging issues in their lives. Our goal was for them to be there, at ease and able to relax. We wanted them to have a good time and the atmosphere of joy among the staff made the day complete.

Everyone loved the celebration of food and cheer here at Compass at First Presbyterian! The day started with a brunch. Generous volunteers from the Royalty Panthers Social Club arrived to serve at around 11 a.m. They provided full sack lunch meals filled with sandwiches, fruit, chips, drinks and more.

Several members from the Royalty Panthers Social Club gathered in the kitchen to make ham and turkey sandwiches. We love our community and volunteers!

We followed up with a genuine traditional thanksgiving meal provided by Operation Sack Lunch. It was a feast, but it may have been the enormous assortment of pies that blew us all away—all told, there were more than 20!

Then the food comas set in. Everyone was mellow and things got rather quiet very quickly. In step with Thanksgiving tradition, we had football on TV, followed by a night of movies in the dining area.

Looking back on our first Thanksgiving holiday at Compass at First Presbyterian, our own tradition is just getting started. With so many pies to consider, I look forward to the next!

Video Postcard: An unscripted moment in Brillian’s journey home

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

Back in October, I started to follow the journey of Brillian and Dion, two brothers who left the streets of Seattle to become residents at Compass at First Presbyterian, an enhanced, 24/7 shelter. As a documentary filmmaker, I was drawn to their story, one that has become increasingly, and tragically, common in our city. They were working hard, trying to get on their feet and find a place to call home, all against the overwhelming challenges of Seattle’s affordable housing crunch.

I sat down with Brillian and he told me about his new job at Denny’s, his hope to live the American dream, the struggles of being homeless. He also talked about his love for music and his desire to be a musician. Then, suddenly he did something unexpected. He started singing a Kanye West song.

It was stunning, and I even felt a little awkward at first. But that was over in a moment, and it quickly felt good and natural. I thought, “He is really singing to us in the middle of an on-camera interview.” This marks the first time in my 13 years of shooting documentary films that a subject has ever burst out singing during an interview!

Confidence and Aspirations

As a salsa dancer, who has been performing for a couple of years, I had a few more thoughts cross my mind when Brillian started singing. Thoughts that reminded me of myself. First of all, Brillian was singing to a couple of strangers! When I perform, I still get nervous when people watch me. Brillian not only lacked nervousness but he had confidence too. He knew he was good. He has the confidence I wish I had, the confidence I still struggle finding as a dancer.

What amazed me most was this was all coming from a 24-year-old homeless man struggling to survive in this city. For me this really humanized this homelessness crisis.  Homeless people are just like you and me. They have stories and aspirations we all can relate to.


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:


Home for the Holidays: gifts and volunteer opportunities

Help make the season bright for everyone!

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.

For holiday gift giving and volunteer opportunities, contact Jenny Marquette at or call 206.474.1071

On the fast track: Dion and Brillian transition out of homelessness

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

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:



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.