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.

 

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.

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: brettrenville.com

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.

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