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Auction helps Renton's Vision House fulfill mission

Mandee Schouten, a Vision House resident, poses with some of the children she works with in her part-time job as a teacher’s aide at Vision House’s child-care center. The children, from left to right (last names withheld on request) are Devan, 4, Jimena, 4, and Samantha, 4. - Matt Brashears/Renton Reporter
Mandee Schouten, a Vision House resident, poses with some of the children she works with in her part-time job as a teacher’s aide at Vision House’s child-care center. The children, from left to right (last names withheld on request) are Devan, 4, Jimena, 4, and Samantha, 4.
— image credit: Matt Brashears/Renton Reporter

Susan Camerer has wanted something bigger for Vision House since the beginning. That beginning was in 1990, when she and her husband John started the nonprofit in their basement.

Susan is executive director and John is director of operations.

“I always felt like Vision House would have a lot of units,” Camerer says. “I always felt it would be bigger than just one house in one community.”

Vision House began as a recovery program for men with drug and alcohol addictions. These men live in two group homes, one in southeast Renton and the other in Burien.

These men are an important part of Vision House. But equally important are the families of homeless single women and children living in Vision House’s 20 transitional housing units in two Renton Highlands complexes, and the 70-some children receiving childcare at Vision House’s Children’s Village. Three more Vision House housing units will open this year, along with an after-school program for older kids, computer rooms for residents and offices for Vision House staff. Four Vision House housing units opened this spring.

“It’s great,” Camerer says of the expansion. “We’ve worked so hard and so long for it. I’m excited to get the units open, I’m excited to get the offices.”

Vision House’s staff has increased along with the families served. Susan and John are no longer the only staffers, but are part of a 50-member team.

All working to satisfy what Camerer calls “such an incredible need.”

More than 2,000 homeless people were counted in King County during the outdoor One Night Count in January.

Vision House typically has about 50 families on its waiting list.

Vision House has room for 20 more units on unused land adjacent to one of its Highlands complexes. But first the Camerers plan to build the 20-unit Vision House Jacob’s Well in Shoreline.

Vision House construction is donation-based, with help from the Master Builders Association and its many contractors. Camerer says the donated labor and supplies cuts construction costs in half, which is good news for donors.

“From a donor’s perspective, it’s just so nice to know that when you give money it’s not necessarily for building, but for programming and supporting the families,” Camerer says.

Families like Mandee Schouten and her sons Cole, 2, and Sean, 10.

Schouten, 32, moved to Vision House about a year ago. She had nowhere to go after her release from a Seattle treatment center, where she was recovering from an alcohol addiction.

Before treatment Schouten and her sons lived at her mother’s house in Sammamish. But Schouten’s mother didn’t want her daughter back.

“She didn’t trust me. It was too soon,” Schouten says.

Problems with one of her son’s fathers drove Schouten to drink. She would put her boys to bed and wake up the next day not knowing what happened the night before.

“It was horrible, just horrible,” Schouten says.

Vision House has helped Schouten turn her life around. She has been sober for 15 months. She’s taking medical assistant classes at Renton Technical College in the morning and working at Vision House’s childcare center in the afternoon. She wants to work in a pediatric office. Her son Sean is getting straight As and playing football.

Schouten should be ready to leave Vision House within a year. Moving day will be difficult.

“I just love Vision House,” she says. “If not for Vision House, I don’t know where I would be. I might not even be alive, the way I was going.”

Vision House has treated about 520 homeless people since 1990. Most stay a year, but families can stay as long as it takes to become self-sufficient.

All of the families leaving Vision House in the past two and a half years have moved into permanent housing and become self-sufficient.

About 40 percent of Vision House residents come from King County. The rest come from across the world.

Camerer gets many requests for help setting up Vision House models in other parts of the world, from Auburn and other U.S. cities to places in Africa and Australia.

These places often send representatives to Vision House’s four-day training sessions. The next training session is in fall 2009.

But for all Vision House’s success, Camerer says she “never feels content or satisfied.”

“It doesn’t feel like we’re big, it doesn’t feel like we’re successful. It feels like there’s still a lot more that needs to be done,” she says.

Vision of Hope

Vision House is holding The Vision of Hope Dessert Auction Oct. 4 from 7-9:30 p.m. at Renton Technical College. The evening will feature hearty hor’s d oevures and desserts and a silent and live auction. Meeghan Black of King 5 News will emcee the event, and a former Vision House mother will share her story. Funds raised will benefit Vision House, which provides transitional housing for homeless families. The event is free. Online RSVPs are preferred, at www.vision-house.org. Or call Vision House at 425-228-6356.

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