April Aiken is the Program Manager of our Nyer Urness House and Compass on Dexter programs. Both programs provide affordable housing with supports.
Nyer, named for Reverend Nyer Urness who served as the chaplain at the Compass Center from 1989 until 2006, is home to 80 single adults who have struggled with chronic homelessness. On-site supportive services include case management, an in-building Neighborcare Health medical clinic, daily meals, and more.
“We meet them where they are,” April said. “We work with them on their goals. They choose what they want to do. There is so much growth, and lots of positive changes. There are many awesome people here.”
April has been with Compass for 11 years, first starting at the Renton Veterans Center. She reflected on why she does this work.
“I’ve always been drawn to this work,” she said. “I have my MSW, and this is what I wanted to do from day one. This is who I want to work with. I created my whole course schedule around understanding addiction, mental health, what are the barriers. That whole scope because I want to help. Everybody should have their basic needs met. Everyone should be valued for who they are. The population that is unhoused just needs that recognition and that help.”
April has recently upgraded the Phinney Room at Nyer, it is a community space with a fantastic new mural. There is a pool table donated by an individual and the residents often use the room (according to our COVID protocols) to cool down, relax, and connect.
“We have a projector there so they can watch movies,” she said. “They love the mural, playing pool, foosball, and even ping pong. It helps build community and it keeps everyone active!”
The residents are in their 50s on average and have had long stretches of homelessness and poverty in their lives. Some are Veterans. Some have never gotten a fair shake. And some have overcome enormous emotional trauma.
“The residents here at Nyer are the so-called ‘hardest to serve’,” she said. “Their reputation is not earned. They show us love even with their challenges and their histories.”
Building a welcoming, supportive community is the name of the game, and April and her team excel at that. For some residents, Nyer is their home for the duration of their lives. They stay with us, and the community supports them all the way through. They know that they are cared for, loved, and not alone. Those are powerful feelings, and we are proud that Compass can be that place for them.
“We do sometimes lose people,” April said. “Dealing with loss is hard. But we remind ourselves that they weren’t alone. They were loved and respected. We were able to be present for them and that is a gift that goes both ways. I have a lot of gratitude for that.”