Seattle opens new apartments for chronically homeless
February 27, 2018 | By Daniel DeMay
When it comes to helping people who are living on the streets, housing is the big-ticket item, but it’s also the most important factor in helping them get their lives back together.
That’s the mantra of the housing-first strategy, an approach Seattle embraced early on and highlighted again on Tuesday with the grand opening of an affordable, supportive housing complex for those who have been chronically homeless.
“Most of us take safe housing for granted,” said Dow Constantine, King County Executive, during a ceremony celebrating the opening of the building. “But the fact is that safe and affordable housing is out of reach for so many in our community. … This is housing-first in action.”
The Estelle, a brand new 91-unit building in South Seattle, includes 24-hour support staff on site and 15 of the units will be dedicated for patients coming out of Harborview Medical Center who need medical or mental health support. The on-site health care services will be available to all residents of the building.
Constantine was joined by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and several officials who helped bring the project to fruition, and DESC executive director Daniel Malone led the event.
The small apartments look about like dorm rooms, with a main living and sleeping space, a galley kitchen and a large bathroom designed to accommodate people who might use wheelchairs, walkers or other assistance equipment.
Apartments come furnished with a bed, dresser, table, chairs and basic household items such as cookware, dish towels and cleaning supplies.
Services in the building will be paid for, at least in part, by a $220,000 annual grant funded by the county’s document recording fees, Constantine said.
Four people had already signed leases and taken possession of apartments Monday, officials said. One special guest who had moved into another DESC-operated supportive housing building drew a standing ovation after sharing his story and experience.
Alex Nichols, a resident at Aurora House in Edmonds, spent years living on the streets battling drug and alcohol addiction. He moved into Aurora House about a year and a half ago.
Nichols said he battled cocaine and alcohol addiction for years, but didn’t know until he started working with DESC that he also had been battling bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
“When I was living out on the street, I was out to die,” he said.
Living in the Aurora House still hasn’t been easy for him, as he daily faces the challenge of his addiction and his mental illness. But the impact for Nichols has been immense.
“It has done nothing for me but absolutely change my life,” he said.
With the support system and the patience of the building manager there, Nichols has been sober for two months and said he’s grateful for everyone who supported him along the way. Pointing to a table of awards that were later given out to people and organizations that helped the project along, Nichols said has an award of his own.
“I have an award called life, a house, people who care about me, who love me,” he said. “And I owe it to these people.”