|Moving speeches at the Gala by LIHI residents Colleen, Willie, and James (L to R) were a highlight of the night.|
Hello, My name is Willie. Early last year, after over a year at a homeless shelter I learned about a vacancy at the Glen Hotel Apartments in downtown Seattle. I was offered a small studio with a shared bathroom in exchange for an affordable rent and helping around the apartment building. But in reality I was offered so much more.
I have a dream. I want to run my own business - a restaurant. My case manager at the Glen - Richard - has been helping me find resources to make this dream come true and apply for jobs I need in the meantime. I'm a jack of all trades - I can do maintenance, landscape and yard work, I can weld and paint. I've worked in fast food restaurants, in auto repair and conference centers. I've been helping around my apartment building ever since I moved in, mopping, painting, offering any skills I can. When Valencia who manages the Glen Apartments learned about a custodian job opening at another LIHI site she encouraged me to apply. To me that's what LIHI is about - offering people second chances. Where I come from there were no second chances. I got in trouble and served time. Once I got out I was determined to better myself.
It has been an uphill battle. I'm disabled. 97% of my vision is gone. As I read this all letters are double. People judge me for the way I look, and assume I can see from both my eyes. Still I am determined. I graduated from the school at the Department of Services for the Blind so I can get around with no help. Last month I enrolled in the Fare Start program so I can learn how to run a kitchen. I keep busy and I like it. One day I will invite you all to my restaurant. I make fantastic BBQ vanilla hot wings. Maybe you'll try my balsamic chicken with peas and potatoes.
I'm glad to be doing something - I can't just sit around. I like to work with my hands. LIHI offered me a second chance, an opportunity to better myself, to contribute and give back. Today, thanks to LIHI I have a place to call home, a job and the stability I needed to work on my dream.
Thank you for being here today and supporting LIHI and dreams of people like me.
My name is Colleen and I'm so excited to be here today. I live in Lacey in a house for homeless women. A couple months ago I told my LIHI case manager that I would love to make a couple cookie bouquets for today's auction. Soon after I got a call from LIHI - they invited me to also attend today's event and speak to you about my journey from homelessness - to housing - to building a dream of running my own business.
I moved to Washington state two years ago with a solid transition plan in place. I secured housing in exchange for work for a family who needed a temporary helper. I cleaned and managed their house while one of the adults recovered from a surgery and I saved for a place of my own. Despite sticking diligently to this plan, one year after arriving in Washington I became homeless. My employer had become emotionally abusive and eventually turned against me leaving me without employment or a place to live.
One night while at a homeless shelter I volunteered to make some cookies for an open house - I seem to do that a lot!. That's when I met Lisa from "Enterprise for Equity" - a non-profit helping people with limited incomes start small businesses. She praised my cookies for their unique presentation and asked if I ever thought of turning this talent into a business. Right there in front of me was a chance to take my destiny back into my own hands. I knew I could be self-reliant again. The only thing standing in the way was housing. I needed to know where I was going to be for the next 10 months to commit & follow through with this amazing opportunity.
I had applied for several housing programs in the area only to learn that my name was added to long wait lists. My time at the transitional shelter was ticking. After almost six months of no permanent roof over my head, I heard back from LIHI about an opening at Arbor Manor in Lacey. A huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. I could finally think beyond the daily crisis of homelessness.
For the next 10 months I attended classes and worked on a business plan for the Sugar Canvas Boutique Bakery. Since I graduated I've continued to network diligently and growing both my client book and my collection of cookie cutters - I currently have 1004 designs ready for my clients to choose from. My case manager Jill Kruger encourages me every step of the way and gives me hope that in the end all this hard work will pay off. "Girl, you're going places" she tells me, and even purchased a KitchenAid mixer to support my dream. LIHI staff really go the extra mile for residents like me.
There are five of us living at Arbor Manor - a large single family home for homeless women. It's a wonderful place, a real refuge from the hardships we've faced before moving in. The women who have lived here have no or little income, no family to support us during our crisis and no one to take us in. The shelters will only allow us to stay for up to 90 days, if we didn't have long term programs like Arbor Manor, we would be on the streets indefinitely. Arbor Manor gives us a REAL chance to get our lives together, work on our goals and move on.
My goal is to never experience homelessness again. LIHI has given me an opportunity to work on standing up on my own two feet - with their support I know I can do it.
Ladies and gentleman, my name is James and until just last year I was homeless. At first being homeless can be a freeing experience. Not worrying about falling behind on rent yet again because of unemployment, not having to swallow my pride and ask for help. Being homeless is also a trap. All your energy focuses on survival and safety, securing food and a place to sleep at night. You feel so powerless. I stayed at multiple shelters across the city for over 18 months. I really appreciated having a place to rest for the night but soon I realized that a shelter was no place to put my life back together.
During this time being able to go to the Urban Rest Stop was a blessing. This was a safe place, a place where I was treated with dignity, where instead of having to shower in a large shower room I was afforded the decency of privacy. I was given laundry detergent and was able to borrow a pair of coveralls to wear in a friendly waiting area while doing my laundry.
Like so many patrons at the Rest Stop, I'm a veteran. I served in the navy in Silverdale, WA and hoped this experience would give me a running start in the work force. But for 9 years after completing my service I found it very hard to keep a steady income. I took on anything I could get, fast food chain jobs, mystery shopping jobs, seasonal hospitality jobs. None lasted or paid enough to rent a place. While I was homeless keeping a job was even harder but the Rest Stop helped me show up for work shaved and clean and my clothes presentable.
One day while I was there I learned that LIHI had just opened a new transitional housing program for veterans. A staff member helped me fill out the paperwork and soon I was given a key to my own place. Most importantly though I was given a chance to put my life back together.
My room at Arion Court is small and I share a bathroom with other tenants but the place is awesome and I'm happy here. The staff are so supportive. After I moved in my case manager helped me get back on my feet and just in nine months I was able to secure a permanent apartment in the same building. Now that my housing situation is stable, I'm eager to finally be able to take advantage of my VA-sponsored GI Bill and find a good vocational program.
Why am I here tonight? I'm here to let you know that LIHI changes people's lives for the better. I'm so grateful that the Urban Rest Stop and LIHI were there for me when I needed them. They are my safety net today. They should be there for those who need the help tomorrow. When you give today, put yourself where I was during those 18 months of homelessness and look at me today.
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