by Anna Kaplan
When someone goes from experiencing homelessness for decades to moving into a permanent home with a bed, kitchen, and door, they undoubtedly experience something profound.
But what has often been forgotten in the process are the basics: items like bedding, plates, shower curtains, or alarm clocks.
“People coming in here don’t have anything, and they need all those kinds of things that we all need to make a house a home,” said Daniel Malone, Executive Director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC). “It would probably be wonderful for people to come into an empty apartment, given what they’ve been experiencing, but that’s not good enough. They need their kitchen supplies and bathroom supplies and bedding and all that.”
And that is where the local community comes in. On Feb. 17, DESC hosted “Adopt an Apartment,” where neighbors help furnish an apartment a homeless individual will be moving into.
Cars full of bedding, kitchenware, cleaning tools, and bathroom items arrived at, The Estelle, DESC’s newest permanent housing structure in Mount Baker, and volunteers whisked the necessities up the stairs and into the 91 apartments.
Volunteer and former DESC employee Jaunita Mclaughlin said her group of family and friends adopted 26 units.
“We know that some of the people who will live here are already our neighbors. They just live in places where no human being should live—under bridges or in parks or otherwise in the shadows,” Mclaughlin said. “This is a way for us to give them a housewarming party and welcome them into a new permanent place where they won’t have to live in substandard conditions anymore.”
The Estelle is DESC’s 12th housing program and provides apartments for those in need of housing, bringing the total number of permanent units the organization provides to over 1,500. The DESC also manages five shelters, serving more than 3,000 individuals every day.
Sara Marckx Russell, a volunteer and former DESC employee, said the community’s simple action of furnishing these apartments is a huge help in the transition from homelessness to having a home.
“For them to go from someone in the community that people are afraid to make eye contact with, to being welcomed into an apartment by members of the community, it’s like they feel like they’re a real person again—like they can be seen and accepted by people,” Marckx Russell said. “Volunteers and donors make a huge difference because they make people feel like humans.”
In addition, DESC has partnered with Harborview Medical Center to provide in-house care at The Estelle. Harborview will staff practitioners in the building, so residents can have 24/7 medical care without having to leave their apartment building.
In addition, 15 of the apartments are allocated to Harborview patients who have been identified with the highest need, such as patients who require consistent medical attention but are not best suited for assisted living communities.
“These people have essentially become stuck in the hospital,” Malone said. “It’s a good arrangement for Harborview in that they can get these people out of the hospital, where they don’t belong and where they don’t want to be, and into the community.”
Funding for The Estelle comes from the Seattle Housing Levy, the Federal Low Income Housing Tax, and DESC donors. However, Volunteer and In-Kind Gifts Officer Don Rupp said donating financially is not the only way to get involved with campaigning against homelessness.
“There are a lot of different ways to help,” Rupp said. “Advocating in any way for homelessness is great: volunteering, donating time, money, and items, even household stuff. We love that.”
Residents of The Estelle will begin moving into their homes on Feb. 26, and a formal grand opening will be on Feb. 27, when Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and others will speak to celebrate the folks moving into their new homes.
Malone reiterated that people in the Seattle community want to take action to solve the homelessness crisis.
“The typical person in the community can’t, by themselves, cause apartments to be created,” Malone said. “But they can do something like this, which is a tangible thing that is going to make a direct difference in the lives of the people who get that kind of service. It’s all in service of us coming together as a community, and doing our part to make it work out.”