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Diversion program keeps a family sheltered and together

Not a day goes by that Henry R. doesn’t give thanks to God that he found help for his family when they faced homelessness. The 43-year-old former grocery store journeyman fought back tears when he shared his story with Mayor Ed Murray recently, and said that had it not been for our Shelter Diversion program, his wife and five kids almost certainly would have been displaced, if not forced to split up. Seattle’s mayor is working to find solutions for our city’s intensifying homelessness crisis, and has enlisted expertise from agencies like Neighborhood House to help tackle the problem.

Henry says their lives became unstable after he underwent necessary surgeries to repair rotator cuffs that were torn from overuse. Their mounting medical bills, his wife’s own health issues and his subsequent downward spiral into alcoholism nearly destroyed the family.

Ironically, it was his mother’s efforts to shelter her three sons from gun violence in California and move the family to Seattle years ago that contributed to him in turn losing his own family’s housing.

“Here I was, providing for my family, providing excellent customer service at a steady job, and then I became a full-blown alcoholic and unable to support my family,” Henry said.

Henry’s case manager and Housing Stability Specialist Melissa Espinoza, said a lot of families can’t save enough for typically-required first, last and apartment damage deposits, and are stuck in a vicious cycle of homelessness limbo. What they really need is just enough to get them to the next level, and for Henry and his family, that meant receiving move-in assistance as well as employment support—he’s now working with an occupational counselor to find employment.

On average, the cost to save a family through diversion is $1,300. A definite advantage to the program is flexible funding, which allows case managers to apply assistance where it’ll be most useful. Solutions vary from paying for tickets back to a client’s supportive network of friends and family, to mediation among family members to house a family at least temporarily, to move-in assistance. Espinoza adds that in many cases, clients like Henry need just a push along with some minor coaching and already have a strong sense of stability and know what that looks like for their family.

He’s very involved with his community and is now an associate pastor at his local church. Family is very important to him, and he said his children have had the greatest influence on him and have helped him maintain his sobriety for more than 10 years now.

Nathan Buck, education and community services director at Neighborhood House, described Diversion as a program that’s completely client-centered.

“Family is at the forefront,” he said. “We provide the resources to clients and give them support so they can get to that next level, where they want to go.” Buck added that families are able to choose what’s best for them, and now in its third year, the program has helped a number of families permanently get off the streets and get roofs over their heads.

Said Henry, “Neighborhood House gave me more confidence knowing when we did get into housing, we would have support and a little stability and then we’d be able to take care of ourselves.”