News Tribune article highlights 25 years at Helping Hand House

By on June 3, 2009. Posted in . Tagged as , , , , , , .

Wanted to point you a great article in the Tacoma News Tribune highlighting the lessons learned in 25 years of working to end homelessness in Pierce County. Attached below, check it out at the TNT here.

For 25 years, these helping hands have worked to end homelessness, a family at a time

Last updated: June 3rd, 2009 12:15 AM (PDT)

In a perfect world, 4,618 families would show up for this month’s 25th anniversary of Helping Hand House.A total of 12,554 moms, dads and kids would be there to tell how the Puyallup nonprofit helped them rebuild their lives after homelessness.

When Margie Addington founded Helping Hand House to serve families in East Pierce County, in 1984, she worked on her own with the backing of service clubs and grants.

The original idea was basic: Get families into housing. Expect them to find a job.

When Addington retired in 1997, Helping Hand House operated 11 homes on an annual budget of $165,000.

The annual budget is $1.9 million now. They operate 60 units, and every family has a case manager.

“They were one of the first organizations to shift their mission from ‘serving’ to ending and preventing homelessness,” said Troy Christensen, chairman of The Road Home leadership team. “They were the first organization to provide Housing First to the families in Pierce County.”

Kathy Doubikin knows about it first-hand. After a move and a divorce, she and her three sons ended up without a home, friends or family. In early 2008, Helping Hands had an opening.

“Having a place to go was a blessing,” the Puyallup resident said. “Having someone to listen to, care for and encourage me to take the steps necessary to start saving and rebuilding was a blessing.”

She began taking classes on budgeting, home and car repairs, job searches, cooking, canning. She got her sons enrolled in school. She opened a savings account. She found three part-time jobs, one of which developed into a full-time managerial position.

“I’m at the point of graduating out this Christmas,” she said.

“They back you up,” Doubikin said. “They listen to you.”

Empathy for the homeless goes right to the top of the Helping Hands hierarchy – all the way to Nola Renz, the executive director who replaced Addington 12 years ago.

Renz grew up in a family that bounced in and out of housing from state to state in the Northern Plains.

“The earliest recollection I have of it was when I was about 4,” she said. “We were sleeping in our car. I didn’t know we were homeless. We were camping.”

There were no shelters then, no food banks. The family had burned through the kindness of relatives. Renz attended nearly two dozen schools, none of which had help for homeless students.

“The schools wouldn’t let you take books home,” she said. “You couldn’t check out library books.”

Renz once took 50 cents from the family’s money jar to buy school supplies. Her father met her at the door with a switch.

“That’s why it is so important to me that our children are fully equipped for school,” she said. “That is huge.”

“We see ourselves ending homelessness, not just for grown-ups, but for the next generation,” said Marion Hogan, Helping Hand House’s deputy development director.

Renz graduated from high school, married, had three children and fled a dangerous relationship. She struggled, found a decent job, then another, and put herself through college.

Today Renz tells her clients that if she could work and go to school at the same time, they can, too.

And they do.

“If our parents are in school, they have to work 20 hours a week, too.” Hogan said.

They know they are the lucky ones.

Last month, more than 300 families called for help that would keep them from losing their homes.

“We could serve 18,” Renz said.

Another 400 people called needing homes.

“That’s up from 50 a month” last year, she said. “We can serve four, or five, tops. Pretty depressing, huh?”

You bet it is, especially since Helping Hand House has shown us how to do better.

Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677

What: 25th anniversary celebration for Helping Hand House

When: June 11, 3 to 7 p.m.

Where: Pioneer Park pavilion, downtown Puyallup

Originally published: June 3rd, 2009 12:15 AM (PDT)