Bridgette Jones and her 13-year-old daughter Almesha first became homeless after Bridgette had her uterus removed last April. Stays with Bridgette’s sister-in-law and other friends didn’t work out, and Bridgette says the pair was left “crawling shelter to shelter.”
Then, after a month at a homeless shelter on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Bridgette and Almesha found Way Back Inn, the Renton nonprofit that provides 90-day housing for homeless families, plus help with rent and utilities for families at risk of becoming homeless.
“Our mission is to try to give people some dignity and a safe place to live while they try to put their lives together,” says Dorothy Francis, board president.
The Jones’ have been living at Way Back Inn’s Kent house, called Campus Park, since Dec. 20. Their stay was recently extended to March 31.
Bridgette, 39, is originally from Seattle. She calls Campus Park “a blessing.”
“It’s a fully furnished house,” she says. “It’s really nice. It has a washer and dryer, two bedrooms.”
Almesha, a student at Chinook Middle School in Seatac, also likes her new home.
“I like staying here,” she says. “I feel safe and stuff. I have my own room, I don’t have to share one no more. I like it here.”
The rent and utilities are free for Bridgette and her daughter. She only has to pay for phone service, plus a refundable $250 deposit.
Bridgette was denied by a couple shelters and transitional housing places before finding Way Back Inn.
The self-labeled “kind of like a shopaholic” blames the denials on her bad credit. She also has health problems: She is bipolar and has chronic pancreatis.
A case manager is helping Bridgette establish good credit. She’s also earning her GED. Both were set up through Way Back Inn.
Meeting with a case manager is one of the requirements for Way Back Inn tenants. The families must be working toward self-sufficiency. Each family is also provided a family contact and a maintenance worker. The
families must also have at least one child under 14.
Most Way Back Inn families are headed by single mothers, says family screener Tonya Ward.
Of the 10 families now staying in Way Back Inn homes, three are led by couples and one by a single dad. The rest are led by single moms.
The families spend their 90 days in homes spread across Renton, Kent and Tukwila. Way Back Inn has six houses in Renton, four in Tukwila and one in Kent.
Way Back Inn acquires its houses through donations, which is how the organization got its start in 1992. That’s when Way Back Inn founder and Boeing employee Larry Kennedy and his helpers were offered the use of a dilapidated house to fix up for homeless families.
Kennedy and the others had previously been renting apartments for families. Before that they made Christmas baskets for needy families with money from a swear jar in Kennedy’s Boeing machine shop.
Kennedy is no longer with the organization, but many board members, like secretary Connie Hyman, have volunteered with Way Back Inn a decade or longer.
Hyman is one of 10 board members. Another 40 people are on the volunteer list.
“It’s quite a community effort supporting the families,” says Paula Borhauer, assistant treasurer. She started attending Way Back Inn meetings after a January book drive.
Most of Way Back Inn’s about $200,000-a-year budget comes from grants and donations.
The houses are donated by organizations, individuals or cities. Kent gave the organization one house, and Tukwila four houses. The City of Renton gives Way Back Inn about $15,000 a year to help with utilities and the City of Tukwila about $6,000 a year.
Volunteers help keep the 11 houses in good condition, often with help from ABODA, a local housing-services company.
“We try to get away from the shelter aspect,” says board president Dorothy Francis. “Colorfully decorated. We have yard people who come in. We want to make them feel they’re in a nice home, like a bed-and-breakfast.”
As a family contact, Hyman often sees firsthand the tenant families’ gratitude.
“To me, one of the best things is a couple times kids have been shocked to have their own bedroom,” she says.
Like the family that came to Way Back Inn from a motel room.
“The three kids split one room,” says Vern Francis, board member and project coordinator. “We took them to one of the houses and they couldn’t believe they had the whole house, not just a room. That really turns your heart to see the smiles on their faces.”
Some Way Back Inn families come from motels. Others were recently evicted from apartments. Some come from the streets or their cars. But most, like Bridgette and Almesha Jones, come from shelters.
They come because housing is expensive and hard to find, says Dorothy Francis. And many, like Bridgette, have bad credit or trouble sticking to a budget.
But once the families come to Way Back Inn, they have a better chance of making it.
Ward, the family screener, says about 79 percent of Way Back Inn families move into their own housing or long-term transitional housing. She doesn’t keep job-placement statistics for the graduating families.
Way Back Inn provided housing for about 48 families last year and rent and utilities assistance for about 33 families.
Vern Francis has seen success stories happen right before his eyes. Like the 22-year-old woman who moved into a Way Back Inn house in Kent with her 8-year-old son and snuck in her 37-year-old dad, who he suspects had a drug or alcohol problem.
“She was taking care of her dad and her son,” Francis says. “But she was clearly going to make it. The odds were not in her favor of having success, but I could tell although she was struggling, she was making it, crawling out of a deep hole.”
Dorothy Francis heard the woman landed a good job, at a Starbucks roasting plant in Kent.
Bridgette Jones hopes to have similar success.
“I’m hoping to get a job real soon here,” she says. “I’m hoping to get to a stabler place. I’m getting my GED, and I’d like to become an electric technician, or a medical, clerical or administrative assistant.”
She credits Way Back Inn with allowing her the chance to turn her life around.
“Way Back Inn is giving me the opportunity to get things together,” she says.
Emily Garland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 255-3484, x. 5052.