If you listened carefully this morning, you could hear the soft padding of young feet in jammies in the hallways at Brettler Family Place. Tea kettles whistled and warm voices called “wake up,” where once the drone of air compressors and the pop of impact drivers filled the soundscape.
For the past year, the sounds and sights of construction have dominated this little hillside on the western edge of Magnuson Park. Now, homemaking has taken over. Because yesterday, the first dozen families moved from shelter and transitional housing facilities across the region into their new, permanent, affordable homes at Brettler Family Place.
“This is the beginning of something great for me,” said Joyce, who called her car ‘home’ not too long ago. She was all smiles as she approached her apartment for the first time, its third floor views extending across Magnuson Park to Lake Washington and the Cascade mountains.
Monday afternoon, six new families received their orientation by staff at Solid Ground, who developed the 52-unit Brettler Family Place, and Mercy Housing, who are managing the property. They went over ground rules and guidelines for making this new community a safe, welcoming, environmentally-friendly one. For some, it was the first permanent housing they have ever had; for others, the first in a long time.
The first 12 families got their keys on March 7. Within a few weeks, 51 units will be filled with formerly homeless families. In the context of the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, this represents significant progress: Within a few weeks, homelessness will be over for these 51 families. The supportive services on site will help ensure that they maintain their new position on solid ground.
And all around King County, as these families exit the facilities they have been living in, other families anticipate moving into now-vacant slots at transitional housing programs. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of candidates for those programs.
Throughout the spring, the landscaping at Brettler Family Place will take root – and the yard, which still reminds you of a construction zone, will fill in. The Lowry Community Center will open to host casual get-togethers and formal events. Kids will ride their bikes in the park. And life will start to settle down from the crisis-driven cycle of homelessness to something more even-keeled. From beautiful buildings will come a vibrant community.
The process of transforming a formal military airfield, one of the nation’s foremost “swords in ploughshares” conversions, will come a step closer to fulfilling its promise of 200 housing units for formerly homeless folks. Sometime in the next year, Solid Ground hopes to launch the final phase of the development, constructing additional family units as well as housing for veterans and other singles.
When the Naval Station Puget Sound was first listed for base closure in the mid-1990s, there was a tremendous outpouring of ideas about how to best use the remarkable facilities and setting. Throughout a multi-year, city-wide planning process, the Sand Point Liaison Committee – under the leadership of former City Council member Jeannette Williams – helped the city craft a plan that incorporated recreational, cultural, educational and other uses. The notion of housing formerly homeless people on the site was proposed early on in the planning process. While there was some trepidation at first, it was soon roundly accepted by the Committee, which represented most of the community clubs and neighborhood organizations in the NE part of the city, as well as other park stakeholders.
I had the privilege of serving as the alternate representative for the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness to the Liaison Committee. In that role I saw how initial fears about locating housing for formerly homeless people in the park transformed into concerns about how we could work together to build the best possible community for these people. Since Spring 2000, when families and singles first moved in to repurposed Navy buildings, neighbors from the surrounding community have invested their time, talent and love in making the Sand Point Community Housing program successful. Individuals and groups from “up the hill” continue to help shape and support this growing community.
But for the families who moved in yesterday, that is all just old business. For parents like Justine, their sights are set on the future.
Justine is a 20-year-old single mom, who, along with her young daughter Analiyah, moved into her first real home yesterday. “I’ve never had my own permanent housing before,” Justine said. Kicked out of her family as a teen, she’s had a handful of challenging years. But now, Brettler Family Place is giving her the stability to pursue a nursing career. She’s almost finished with her prerequisites at a local community college. Her sense of hope, and that of her new neighbors, is as powerful as the promise of spring. And like the blooms that will soon overtake the park, new life is shooting up at Brettler Family Place.