The New Nativity House, well into construction, has established its shape at Yakima Avenue and 14th Street, and it’s a good match for the neighborhood’s scale.
Come the new year, it will take up its mission there, helping to bring shelter and security to many of the broken people who every day trudge between meals, beds and social services.
This new mission is an expansion and a consolidation of the work Catholic Community Services has been doing for people who are homeless and living in and around downtown Tacoma. Based on the agency’s response to community concerns and its commitment to accountability, the bigger job and the central facility have the potential to make for a healthier neighborhood.
The $16 million complex will combine three existing CCS programs: The Tacoma Avenue Shelter, Hospitality Kitchen and Nativity House. To that mix, it will add 50 efficiency apartments – safe, secure homes for people whom the Feds define as the chronic homeless. Those apartments will run on the Housing First model, which means that the people who live in them do not have to be clean and sober when they move in, nor do they have to promise to hit that goal. Instead, they will have access to on-site or nearby services, including alcohol and drug abuse treatment, AA meetings, medical and mental health care, legal and veteran’s services, job training, financial literacy classes and one-on-one assistance.
Those are the tools many have used in similar programs, including those run by MDC here, to become stable enough to move on to more independent, yet supportive, housing. They are saving taxpayers millions of dollars across the state and the nation. A National Alliance to End Homelessness study shows that the Housing First model keeps people out of emergency departments, courts, jails and serial rehab failures, for a savings of $30,000 a year per person. Given that math, the 50 New Nativity House apartments have the potential to save $1.5 million in local dollars.
That persuaded the state, county and city to allocate $4.8 million to the New Nativity House project, and it attracted another $6.2 million in private tax credit investments, for a total of $11 million of the project’s cost.
That left $5 million to be raised locally. Half would go to construction and half to The Pathways Fund to pay for those key support services for Nativity House guests and residents. To bring it in, Mike Tucci, Sr., and CCS Agency Director Denny Hunthausen convened a capital campaign steering committee.
Members of the committee have gone to potential major donors with a joyful pitch: Do the right thing by our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, and save lives and tax money in the process.
The message resonated with individuals and foundations. As of the end of June, the campaign has raised $4,145,427.11 in cash and pledges.
It has been a joy, Tucci said. “We are truly grateful for the generosity of so many in our community who have stepped up to support this critical endeavor.”
That leaves $854,572.89 for the rest of us, and Tucci is eager “to launch the community phase of the campaign in the fall and invite all of Pierce County to participate in this vital initiative to help end homelessness.”
As the member of the steering committee who didn’t know any wealthy donors to approach, I am pretty sure we, the extraordinary ordinary, are Tacoma’s richest resource.
Some of us have family members and friends who fell under the weight of mental illness and addiction. Our extended family thanks a Seattle CCS program for the new and happy life of a sibling, so we (and she) will be giving.
Some of us want to do the right, and meaningful, thing for the person who asks politely for money for booze, but uses the word “food” instead.
Some of us want to support a solid effort to give people a better place to spend the day, and night, than in front of a business, or in an illegal encampment. That’s good for business and bad for crime, none of which is petty when it hits our home or car.
Some of us, especially first responders including firefighters and police officers, like the idea of not getting punched or barfed on by the street drunks who know them by name and regard them as friends.
We will all have our chance when the fundraising campaign goes to the general public in the fall. If you can’t wait, don’t. Please feel free to send donations to The New Nativity House, Catholic Community Services, 1323 Yakima Ave., Tacoma, WA 98405.
Beyond that, there is one more element to the campaign.
Though all 50 efficiency apartments will have small kitchens, private bathrooms and practical, built-in furniture, they will need the linens, cookware and cleaning supplies that make a home. Rosemary Zillmer, who is working on the campaign, thinks of those things as feathers for the 50 nests. She, Nativity House director Nick Leiter, and another Tucci-led committee are figuring out how best to collect these new items for the opening round of residents who will likely move in after Christmas. They also are considering partnerships that can keep the supply coming as residents move on from those first, stabilizing apartments.
Zillmer, impressed by the rampant generosity of workplace friends, youth groups and unions, likes the idea of awarding naming rights for a room in return for a $5,000 donation. As a random bargain shopper, I like setting up registries, as we would for a baby shower or a wedding or a guy who saves students from a potential mass shooter, and opening them up to donors.
It’s not necessarily a choice here. The committee is looking forward to hearing suggestions for ways to donate and partnerships to form to build into a sustainable furnishings plan. If you have a great idea, please let me know.
And next time you drive Yakima Avenue, give a wave to the construction workers building The New Nativity House.