Category Archives: Services

A Thanksgiving Recipe for Stability: Enhanced shelter

With approximately 1,000 newcomers arriving in our city on any given week, it’s a question I welcome: Where are you from? Each time I am reminded of—and thankful for—the good fortune to be a native of this incredible city, Seattle. Perched at the crossroads of the Asia Pacific and the hub of an economic powerhouse, the Emerald City leads the way for the tech industry, scientific research, global health and development and academic excellence.

Today however, a surge of job opportunities and growth, our city leads in other ways. Rising median home prices have doubled in just five years to over $700,000 and soaring rents are pricing people out of their homes. The social safety net is worn thin. This puts our city in the eye of a perfect storm that is sweeping more and more people to life on the streets.

As we all give thanks this week, I am also taking stock. Grateful for many blessings, I am asking, “what is the way forward for our region?”

The future is up to us. With the ongoing challenges of homelessness and the affordable housing shortage, it’s clear that we have to turn to smarter solutions. Enhanced shelter is top among them.

What is enhanced shelter?

Compass at First Presbyterian, which opened last August, is an example of the enhanced shelter model in action. It provides wrap-around services in a 24/7 framework. It allows residents to stay the night and the next day—for as long as they need. It’s not just a safe haven; it’s a launch pad for long-term housing. We show support rather than showing them the door every morning. Guests who work at night, such as brothers Dion and Brillian, are able to safely sleep during the day. Lowering barriers by allowing partners, pets and possessions, we are working with residents, providing much-needed resources, as they redefine their lives.  And let there be no doubt, it’s working.

Photo credit: Brett Renville, documentary filmmaker

As Q13 explored in this recent piece, Compass at First Presbyterian’s “relentless team of helpers” connects guests with the services and support they need to build greater stability in their lives.

Success comes one person at a time

How do you make progress in this battle against homelessness? One person at a time, by responding to their individual and unique needs. How do you measure progress? Again, one person at a time. From a 100-bed shelter and in three short months of operations, we’ve already helped a number of guests find homes.

Family is a major pillar of the Thanksgiving celebration. Working with partners in the community, we were excited to reunite one of the shelter stayers with his family. To reunite a family that has experienced crisis and homelessness is a source of inspiration to our own Compass Housing Alliance family: our staff, our supporters and the many clients we work with throughout the year. We also take pride in helping people find stability while staying with their partners or pets. Whatever shape families take, we are honored to help them on their journey to permanent homes.

Photo credit: Brett Renville, documentary filmmaker

The transformation of Seattle’s homelessness crisis is founded in an ongoing drive to innovate, collaborate and partner across sectors. It’s a role in which Compass Housing Alliance continues to take bold and courageous steps toward smarter solutions. Seattle, once again, will be leading the charge, serving as the model and the blueprint to successfully address homelessness. We will be the city that other cities look to. I’m confident of it and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

Most of all, I am thankful for you, our community who offer their time, gifts, and donations, and for our partners who strengthen our programs in so many ways. Together, we make strides toward our vision of a world where everyone lives in a safe, caring community.

With gratitude,

Janet Pope

Executive Director, Compass Housing Alliance

P.S. please remember our residents as you shop the holiday sales this weekend. To learn more, click here. To make a gratitude gift in support of our work, please visit our online giving page, here.


Living a good life, leaving the streets: Brillian’s story

By Janinne Brunyee

“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.

Addiction to homelessness to stability: Nicole’s journey to Compass at First Presbyterian

By Janinne Brunyee

“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.

Photo: KUOW

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.


Homelessness Count Shows System Improvements, Growing Needs

The numbers are daunting. The January 27th count found 11,643 people experiencing homelessness in King County. Around 47% were considered unsheltered, living in vehicles, tents, abandoned buildings, or on the street.

Despite this, the report from All Home contains good news. Over 7,500 households moved from homelessness into permanent housing in 2016. This represents a 50% increase from 2013. Housing organizations created hundreds of new units of permanent affordable housing over the past year, along with hundreds of new shelter beds. Beyond the physical spaces, Seattle and King County increased access to services to help people move from homelessness to housing. It’s taking less time for people to move from homelessness to housing, and fewer are returning to homelessness.

Crowd of volunteers gather for Count Us In
Over 1,000 volunteers participated in Count Us In

With all this progress, why are so many people still experiencing homelessness in King County?

Housing by the Numbers

Headlines tell us Seattle is the fastest growing big city in the nation, continuing to set new growth records. Rents continue to rise during this rapid growth. According to the report, rents have risen 57% over the past six years, so that someone paying $800 per month in 2011 now has to pay $1,256 for the same home. Only 29 units of affordable housing are available for every 100 low-income residents.

Who Homelessness Impacts

The new study breaks through many of the myths surrounding homelessness in our area. It also confirms many points that we know from our work. Homelessness disproportionately affects people of color due to structural disparities in housing. Many people experiencing homelessness struggle with other significant barriers, such as lack of access to mental health services. Here are a few call-outs from the survey results:

Local Residents

Over 90% of our homeless neighbors were living in Washington State when they became homeless, with 77% already in King County.  More than half of those surveyed lost their housing due to economic challenges from job loss, eviction, or divorce or family dissolution. Nearly a third have jobs but aren’t able to meet housing costs.

Families with Children

Over 900 families with children are experiencing homelessness. Nearly a quarter of our homeless individuals belong to these families. These numbers are sobering, but we are making progress. Efforts by King County, the City of Seattle, All Home, and partner organizations such as Compass Housing Alliance to engage and help homeless families are getting results. While we still need to move children and families into permanent affordable housing, 97% were sheltered on the night of the count.


The survey identified 11% of individuals experiencing homelessness as vets. Veterans reported physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress at much higher rates than non-veterans in the survey.

For more details on these populations and survey findings, check out the full 2017 Count Us In Report.

What We’re Doing to Meet the Challenge

Compass Housing Alliance works to meet the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. Our comprehensive services and case-management help set people on the path to stability. Due to the growing needs, we are expanding in several areas:

Permanent Affordable Housing

We opened Ronald Commons in Shoreline a few months ago with our partners at Hopelink and Ronald United Methodist Church to provide housing to families, veterans, and low-income individuals. Hopelink operates an onsite Integrated Service Center including a food bank, family services, and financial education.

We are currently in the design phase for Compass Broadview, another mixed-use development in the Broadview/Greenwood neighborhood.

Enhanced Shelter

When we open Compass at First Presbyterian this summer, we’re not only adding 100 beds to the shelter system, we’re applying our proven, person-centric approach to shelter and support.

Our low-barrier model allows people to stay with their partners and pets as well as store important belongings. On-site support services and case-management connect individuals with the resources they need to find stability.

A grant from the City of Seattle and space provided by Seattle First Presbyterian Church make this shelter possible.

Responsive Housing Solutions

In order to provide more housing at a lower cost and in a shorter amount of time, we need innovative solutions. Steel-frame modular housing allows us to move people into housing sooner. Additionally, we can house people at a lower cost and with lower environmental impact.

We are excited to open our pilot project, Compass Crossing, later this year.

Our region faces enormous challenges. In working together and building partnerships, we can turn the tide on housing and homelessness in our area. We are committed to continuing the vital work of building a world where everyone lives in a safe, caring community.

Interested in following up on this story? For media inquiries, contact: Jacqueline Koch | email | 206.687.8546

Strawberries, stickers and lemon drops: The touchstones for kids to transition out of homelessness

By Corinne McKisson, Program Manager, Compass Housing Alliance

Here’s a fact we can all agree on: Kids tend to tell it like it is.

An extroverted 8-year-old, and one of the new residents at Ronald Commons, Compass Housing Alliance’s new low income housing building in Shoreline, reminded us of this recently when she asked: “How long can we stay here?”

Reading between the lines, her question belied a hard truth: the ongoing uncertainty about the pathway out of homelessness. Having a permanent place to stay was not something she was well acquainted with. From this child’s perspective, her future was still unclear. When I told her she could stay as long as she wanted, she did a double-take, and asked incredulously “forever?”

She could hardly contain her excitement. At a tender age, she has a very clear-eyed appreciation of what a long-term address might mean for her and her family. It represents continuity, safety, stability and the start of a family life that might better resemble that of her friends at school.

For most people, the transition out of homelessness and into stable housing is a process. More so for children. Though we know they are resilient, they are still in need of reassurances. And these can be hard to come by as formerly homeless children vigilantly watch their parents. They aren’t blind to the exhaustion that might come across a mother’s face as she is adjusting to a new place, new neighbors, new routines and new rules. They can sense the guilt that comes with finding a home when friends are still living in tents on the streets and in shelters. There’s a sense of vague longing for a community that is left behind.

With great intent, the team at Ronald Commons has also created a few touchstones for these kids as they start to settle in their new home. We know families and their kids all have lots of questions. They’ve been living in chaos and as things are calming down, they are trying to navigate their way around new relationships and a new community. We are an important part of that discovery. We are a consistent friendly face to socialize with. We are the new adults in their lives and their trust in us grows in tandem with that of other neighbors. We are the ones who plan activities for them to help strengthen their connections to their new neighbors.

It Starts with Small Things

We’ve learned that it’s very small things that can draw kids into a conversation, the building blocks for a relationship. For me, it’s a bowl with lemon drops in my office. A drawer to keep stickers, stamps and gum. These are like precious magnets that start the day-to-day connection points, and keep us tuned into how they are doing and how they are adjusting. It’s working better than we had hoped. How can we tell? My office is right by the play area and when the kids are outside, they frequently  come and talk with me at the open window. Inside or out, my office is a destination, which, by extension, is me.

Ronald Commons opened in a snow storm in February. Now it’s spring. I say that literally and figuratively. Since these children first moved in, they have blossomed. Now that it’s getting warmer, it’s fitting that they have taken an interest in the community garden. It’s almost time to plant and they have joined in the planning meetings. The kids listen to talk of snap peas, herbs and greens. But then they freely contribute their opinions. What is most important to grow in the community garden? Strawberries. Lots of strawberries. The anticipation in their voices is real. It’s also a clear sign that these kids are settling in to more than just a home, but their childhood.