By Janette Turner
“When I was falling in with the wrong kids,” said Rick Steves recently, reflecting on his youth, “my parents moved me to Edmonds.” Having a safe place to grow up is something Steves wants to pass along to others. It’s why he donated money and worked with Edmonds Rotary and the YWCA in the past decade to create Trinity Place transitional housing in Lynnwood for homeless women and their children. It’s been nearly eight years since the complex opened, so I checked in with Steves and other key partners for an update on the project.
The creation of Trinity Place
Steves said his motivation to create Trinity Place was “self-interest.” “I don’t want to be filthy rich in a desperately poor world. I want to walk the street safely, leave the car unlocked, see people take their kids to school and have them play sports without fear of gangs.” Saying it’s in the best interest of citizens to take care of all residents, Steves noted not doing so would be “pennywise and pound foolish.”
“People say we have an economic crisis,” said Steves, “but it’s a crisis of distribution, not societal wealth.” Tired of hearing people say homeless mothers should “work harder,” he decided to help our “most innocent victims,” by finding a place for them to call home.
Rotary becomes a partner
“We were looking for a project for our centennial year,” said Michael Kealy, Edmonds Rotary member and Windermere real estate specialist, who commended Rotary presidents Vern Chase (2003-4) and Elizabeth Crouch (2004-5), for bringing vision and connections. Kealy also gave kudos to Steves’ ex-wife, Anne Jenkins Steves, for steering the group to the YWCA, which she had long sponsored.
When plans for a new housing structure were deemed unfeasible, Rotarian Bill Toskey helped select the Lynnwood apartment complex near city services, and Steves used a retirement nest egg to purchase the 24-unit building. His ownership continues for 15 years, while YWCA operates the facility to provide transitional housing for residents.
The Trinity Place 18-month transition
“I can go on forever with success stories,” said Maria Bighaus, YWCA Director of Housing Services for Snohomish County, who explained the key to stopping inter-generational poverty and drug addiction is transitional housing. During the year-and-a-half residency at Trinity Place, the women’s needs are assessed. “We get them connected to minimize the impact of illness, such as alcohol and drugs,” said Bighaus. “We help the families plan for the future. We help them write down the schedule for the month. We help them prioritize. But Housing and Urban Development has changed the definition of homelessness, and now you need to be on the streets, in a car or from another system, or have an eviction notice. So, couch-surfing, or going from place to place, is no longer homelessness. Where are you and the children going to eat, sleep, do homework? There is no safety for those children when the choice is to stay in a bad situation or sleep on the streets.”
“At Trinity Place, they are in charge of their lives,” said Bighaus. “The whole time they are preparing for the 17-month mark when they come to graduation panel review. Their well-being can be one goal, and at the same time they can make sure the kids go to school and get the education they deserve.” To ensure a safe place for all residents at Trinity Place, one rule keeps nonresident adults over the age of 18 from spending the night.
“We help them look for a job,” said family advocate Karen Carson. “We help get their GED, set a budget, deal with tickets. We look at all that each week.” The aim during the 18 months is “self-sufficiency.”
“It goes by fast,” said family advocate Sarah Pederson. But with the current federal budget sequester dimming government help, Trinity Place may be the first and last collaborative housing project in the area.
The lasting legacy
The involvement of Steves and the Rotarians at Trinity Place continues. According to Crouch, Rotarians maintain landscaping and hold special events for resident families. “During the holidays we do gifts,” said Crouch, “and in the summer we do barbecues and backpacks for school supplies. What I love about the Trinity Place project is its sustainability. It is emblematic of Rotary service, the community, collaboration, and sustainability, as it is in a permanent place and has a sustainable impact.”
“The circle gets bigger,” according to Bighaus, “and it comes back and they pay it forward. They don’t forget.” Bighaus noted it’s a two-way street, with one former resident returning to donate two thousand dollars. “They are always in our minds and hearts, and it is exciting to see them do well and their kids go to college. But that takes time.”
Other Rotary organizations across the country have contacted Steves about similar projects. But the big reward for him is knowing each night there are more than twenty local “women with their children in a safe, warm, comfortable place for their little families.”
For more information on Trinity Place, or to donate, see the website.