On Tuesday, on a hot, smoky, afternoon donors and members of the Spokane community gathered to witness Transitions Program for Women break ground with their golden shovels for the Home Yard Cottages at an open field in West Fairview that will be made available to homeless individuals and families by next year.
All the while attendees listened to speeches from local and state organizers and leaders while observing visual designs of the new cottages by Heylman Martin Architects as they ate kabobs, various vegetables and house-shaped cookies.
Steven Jarvis, chair of Transitions’ board of directors, said there has been a, “huge outpouring of support” from the Spokane community regarding time, connections and financial support, despite facing obstacles and changes along the way. According to Jarvis the discussion and planning for the project began around four years ago.
“I think the thing I’m most excited to be able to tell you is always that I can confidently say, in spite of any of those changes that have happened in the last few years, what hasn’t changed is the commitment this project has to our mission to end homelessness here in Spokane for women and children” Jarvis said.
Mary Reinbold, development director at Transitions, said the Spokane Dominicans (now the Sinsinawa Dominicans) donated the property on Hemlock Street used for the project to Transitions in the early 1990s.
While addressing to the crowd, Edie Rice-Sauer, executive director of mission and services at Transitions, described how at the end of the day everybody gets to go home as well as what the word home means for people.
“For many of us I think home means a place to recover, to get back our energy from the day, to recalibrate and maybe find some respite,” Rice-Sauer said. “But in Spokane every day, 1300 people do not have a place to call home and Transitions is trying to respond to that concern by building these cottages.”
Rice-Sauer described some of the unique and “unusual” features of the project including use of energy efficient technology that will be making 15 of cottages net zero: creating as much energy as they use, and building the new houses as cottages through utilizing the city’s cottage housing ordinance.
She added these cottages will range from 475 square feet to 1000 square feet, while paying attention to what participants want in the new housing.
According to Reinbold, there will be 24 independent cottages at the site housing around 24 adults and 35 children with some cottages being able to house only individuals and others housing families, as well as a community building where the residents and surrounding neighborhood will be able to attend community meetings.
City of Spokane Councilwoman Karen Stratton, who represents the 3rd council district, discussed how there is a “substantial shortage of affordable housing” in Spokane.
“This project will provide permanent, stable housing and on-site support services to our most vulnerable citizens,” Stratton said. “This is one big step in our journey to end homelessness.”
Stratton described a time she was finishing shopping at a Safeway and noticed a car parked next to her with a young woman and her children inside.
“I knocked on her window just to check on them because it didn’t look like she was going anywhere and I asked her if she needed help,” Stratton said. “And she said ‘No. My family – we’re staying put for the night,’ and they were living in their car because they could not find a place to live.”
She added that she sees the project as an opportunity for families such as that of the homeless woman at Safeway to get help and, “move on with their lives.”
Stratton said building mixed-income neighborhoods that are open to everyone can play a “key role” in reducing poverty and promoting equity.
“New research shows that…environment, the impact of peers, local surroundings and neighbors contribute significantly to success,” Stratton said. “Simply put, those poor kids who grow up in more mixed-income neighborhoods have better lifetime economic results.”
Most importantly, according to Stratton, the project will give people a place to call home and home is “where our stories begin.”
Washington State Representative Marcus Riccelli described how homelessness is getting attention, saying there is “an awakening of significant proportions to the gravity and particularly the staggering of number of our youth that are homeless.”
“I think, particularly, that we can invest millions and billions of dollars into education,” Riccelli said. “But we know that kids won’t be successful if they’re trying to do their homework by the dome light of a car.”
Riccelli encouraged attendees to call upon legislators to pass a state capital budget that will invest in projects similar to the cottages across Washington state.
David Browneagle, vice chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians explained how he thought the project would have stopped, “if there wasn’t caring and if there wasn’t love involved.”
He then described when people talk about others it is easier to talk about, “them and their heartache and their hard times.”
“Well, I would guess everyone here, your family had a hard time at one time,” Browneagle said. “I believe everyone here lost a family member – either accident, suicide, disease; and you hurt. And when we can remember that, then we have a point-of-reference.”
He added that “it’s not them, it’s not us: it’s all of us.”
Browneagle said the people who will be residing in the cottages should be taken as they are and allowed to develop their strength, power, integrity, knowledge of self, so that when they walk out they will learn more and more until they become a productive citizen.
While speaking to the crowd, Browneagle said that each person attending was there because they care and love because they were “raised right” or went through some hard times and found themselves.
“If 99 percent of us could care and love, we wouldn’t have all the problems we have; hate, anger, pity,” he said. “Because we wouldn’t have a chance to do any of that because we would be caring about one another; we would be loving one another. And where does it all begin? Right here.”
He added, “I could be hateful, I’ve had some hard times in my life, or I could be forgiving and loving. I choose forgiving and loving; I’ve got more friends that way.”
Browneagle closed his speech with a prayer.
Construction of the cottages, done by Walker Construction, is expected to be finished by August of next year.
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