Article in Puyallup Herald re: HHH’s 25 years of serving families…

By on June 11, 2009. Posted in . Tagged as , , , , .

A good article from the Puyallup Herald – thanks much!

Helping Hand House focuses on homelessness: Organization is celebrating 25 years in East Pierce County

Neil Pierson / Published: June 10th, 2009 08:00 AM

“We’re into permanent solutions,” she reiterated. “We want to provide services and programs that will help families never be homeless again.”

Many of Helping Hand’s “graduates” will be attending the organization’s 25th anniversary party on June 11, Renz said. She thinks that’s a great chance for clients to learn from others who’ve been successful.

Officials with Helping Hand House don’t think in the short term when it comes to solving the problem of homelessness.

Helping Hand, which was founded 25 years ago by Puyallup resident Margie Addington and still bases its efforts in the East Pierce County region, is very clear on its mission: Ending homelessness through a variety of education, awareness and fundraising efforts.

“An overnight shelter is not a good solution for really any homeless people because you can’t do anything,” said Nola Renz, Helping Hand’s executive director for the past 12 years. “All you’re doing the next day is looking for the next place you’re going to stay that night.

“We decided to try to approach this to have a long-term impact on the families and really help them to be stable and self-sufficient when they left us,” she added.When Addington started Helping Hand in 1984 it was a “really small grassroots organization,” Renz said. The organization still wasn’t very big when Renz took over in 1997, providing 11 homes and turning away about 25 families per month because they didn’t have the money to help them.That began to change over the last decade. Helping Hand now has 60 housing units scattered throughout Puyallup, Sumner, Bonney Lake, Buckley, Eatonville and Orting. In 2000 and 2001, the organization benefited from two federal grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which contributed heavily toward the creation of two transitional housing programs and the purchase of 21 homes throughout East Pierce County.

Grant money, however, doesn’t come along very often, Renz said. Helping Hand relies heavily on volunteer support and donations to accomplish its tasks.

Lisa Heintz, Helping Hand’s volunteer coordinator, said a number of churches, community groups and individual partners donate time and money, assist clients with skills training and even find gifts and make birthday cakes for homeless children. Students from Emerald Ridge High School, Rogers High School, Aylen Junior High School and Pacific Lutheran University are just some of the youth who’ve been involved with Helping Hand, Heintz said.

Renz estimates that 75 to 80 percent of the people who seek assistance through Helping Hand eventually wind up with permanent housing. Over 25 years, the organization has served over 4,600 families.

Officials attribute the high success rate to several factors. Case managers help adults achieve financial literacy, proper education and interviewing skills to find employment. They also help children stay in school.

“Our case management is very intensive,” Renz said. “The case manager meets with the family at least once a week, talks to them often every day.”

Providing help for kids is just as crucial as it is for adults, Renz said, because it helps end the cycle of homelessness. Helping Hand’s statistics show that homeless children are four times as likely to have developmental delays and get sick twice as often. Nearly half of homeless school-age children suffer from depression or anxiety.

Helping Hand cites numerous success stories. Heintz spoke about a woman who escaped a “worst of the worse” domestic violence situation with her ex-husband. She had two children under 3 years old, was diagnosed as clinically depressed and had nowhere to live.

Within four months of setting goals, the woman passed her high school equivalency degree test “with flying colors” and the same day obtained a job in the health care field, Heintz said. Within a year of coming to Helping Hand, she had saved enough money to pay for her own residence.

“To be able to see that whole cycle work itself out, it’s pretty incredible,” Heintz said. “When you’re working so closely with these families, you really do get to know them.”

Helping Hand has two different housing plans for clients. Emergency housing provides those in need with a 90-day solution while they work on long-term stability plans with a case manager. Transitional housing allows families a place to live for up to two years while they receive extensive training in financial, education and job skills.

In addition to its emergency housing and transitional housing programs, Helping Hand assists residents who have received eviction or utility shut-off notices by paying their bills.