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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.


Volunteers Help Create a Caring Community

We recently honored our volunteers of the year, nominated by different Compass Housing Alliance programs for their dedication and impact on those we serve. Our volunteers serve meals, create kids programs, offer haircuts, and help around the office. Because of our volunteers, we are able to make a bigger difference. These are just a few of the many people who make our work possible.

Amy Hardie and Wendy Lundin-Clark

Amy and Wendy have served dinner at Peter’s Place on Thursday nights for over two years. Every Thursday, our guests look forward to spending time with them, checking in, and sharing news. Amy and Wendy have learned all of our guests’ names and show true interest in their lives. They celebrate their triumphs and empathize with their hardships and struggles. From the start, Amy and Wendy have treated each guest with unconditional respect and love. They have taken the simple task of serving dinner and turned it into an opportunity to create meaningful bonds with the men and women they serve. We are grateful to have Amy and Wendy as a part of the Compass Housing Alliance community.

Stina Nesbit

Stina volunteers twice a week at Cascade Women’s Program.  She willingly takes on long term filing and organizing projects, assists residents with tasks around the building, and conducts our weekly screening of phone applicants.  Her presence truly has made all our jobs easier and more enjoyable!

Stina has a very welcoming and giving spirit.  She is dependable, friendly, inquisitive, and kind.  Above all, she is always willing to help out staff or residents without any judgement. Stina understands that even the smallest job impacts our community and has a positive influence on our residents. Her giving and compassionate nature has led her to begin pursuing her master’s degree in psychology, in the spirit of helping others.

Pastor Kari Lipke

Kari Lipke is the Pastor at The Garden, a growing community of faith that shares a strong partnership with Gethsemane Lutheran Church. Kari reached out to Compass on Dexter right as we opened. Conversations led to the development of a week-long summer camp for our children titled Earth Care Camp. More than 35 volunteers have been involved in putting it on since 2015, providing all of the food and supplies. The camp creates opportunities for kids to build relationships with one another and the volunteers. In addition to the camp, Kari has created The Neighbor Program, which is a group of committed volunteers who offer childcare for mothers attending our women’s group every Sunday.  Thank you, Kari, for helping us grow and put down roots here in South Lake Union!

Renton Lions Club

The Renton Lions Club is a long time partner of Renton Veterans Center. The Club leads by example in the community. They pick up trash to keep the city clean and hold donation drives for basic needs and household items.

Club members treat our residents as valued members of the community and work to build connections for a more safe, caring community for all. We thank the Renton Lions Club and their leadership for all they do!

  • Chris Johnson, President
  • Jim Brown, Chair
  • Rosemary Reichert, Co-chair
  • Betty Brown, Lead

Irene Gehring

Irene Gehring has come to the Pioneer Square Men’s Program every Monday night for over 6 years to give haircuts.

Whether one or several men show up to have their hair cut, Irene creates her own welcoming world in the 2nd floor community room. She engages with residents while cutting their hair and talks to those who show up to visit. We thank Irene for her dedication, warmth, and care.


We are so thankful for these and all our volunteers for making a difference in our community. They embody our values and help create a safe, caring community for all.



RCommons_001Compass Housing Alliance, Hopelink and Ronald United Methodist Church broke ground October 12, 2015 on Ronald Commons, a new affordable housing project with an on-site 12,000-square-foot Integrated Service Center. Slated for completion in late 2016, Ronald Commons will offer services and permanent, affordable housing to sixty formerly homeless and low-income households, including families and veterans.

Compass Executive Director Janet Pope Helps Turn the Soil for Ronald Commons
Compass Executive Director Janet Pope Helps Turn the Soil for Ronald Commons

All sixty units are reserved for households earning 30 percent or 50 percent less than the Area Median Income, with rents well below area average. The property helps expand the availability of affordable housing in Shoreline.

“Compass Housing Alliance is very excited to be developing our first permanent housing facility in Shoreline to meet the need for affordable housing. Ronald Commons will be within a community where residents can access multiple supports on their path to stability as well as the schools, arts, and other amenities that make Shoreline such a wonderful place to live,” said Janet Pope, Compass Housing Alliance Executive Director.

More than housing, Ronald Commons combines the resources, talent and vision of three organizations with deep roots in the community. Hopelink will own and operate a new Integrated Service Center on site with a grocery-style food bank and other critical services for the broader community.

“This groundbreaking celebrates the culmination of a dynamic long-term partnership and represents our shared vision to bring stability and progress to the lives of thousands more families in need in the greater Shoreline community,” Lauren Thomas, Executive Director of Hopelink, said. “Although Hopelink has long served this area, we are thrilled with creating our first permanent home together in Shoreline, as Ronald Commons will enable us to help more low-income families and individuals acquire the tools and skills they need in order to exit poverty for good.”

Ronald United Methodist Church has a long history of actively serving the local community, guided by a belief in “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” As part of the Ronald Commons project, Ronald United Methodist has nearly completed a remodel of the church building that expands space for community partners and furthers its mission of community outreach.

“The Ronald Commons project began nearly 5 years ago as a vision for our faith community. We wanted very much to be in mission to our neighborhood and our community, as we are in mission in various ways all over the world. In creating Ronald Commons, we have crafted a unique partnership that bridges the sacred and the secular, and supports the mission and vision of Ronald, which is to be a diverse, faithful, active community reaching out in service, hospitality, and hope,” said Pastor Paula Mccutcheon, Pastor of Ronald United Methodist Church.

Compass Housing Alliance, Hopelink, and Ronald United Methodist Church will celebrate the groundbreaking with a ceremony and open house from 4:30-6:00 p.m. Monday, October 12 at Ronald Commons: 17839 Aurora Avenue North, Shoreline.

For Ronald Commons’ affordable housing construction, Compass Housing Alliance’s primary team includes development consultant Beacon Development Group, SMR Architects, and general contractor Walsh Construction.

To finance Ronald Commons, Compass Housing Alliance has received a combination of funds and support from the City of Shoreline, King County Housing Finance Program, King County Veterans and Human Services Levy, WA State Housing Trust Fund, WA State Housing Finance Commission, Impact Capital, National Equity Fund, Bank of America, Home Depot Foundation, LISC/Met Life, McEachern Charitable Trust, WA State Department of Commerce, and the Sambataro Family Foundation.