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VOA provides rent, support services for disabled, homeless

Dale Briese and Mary Tracey
Dale Briese and Mary Tracey

Because of support services Volunteers of America (VOA) provides in its Permanent Supportive Housing Program, Dale Briese finds landlords responsive to renting one-bedroom apartments to chronically homeless and disabled people through the program he manages.

Since January 2007 they added 31 units to the six they had. Most are in five apartment complexes.

“We are a housing-first model. That means we move people into housing before we help them find work,” said Dale, who has been with VOA six months, noting that housing-first has been VOA’s model for a long time.

VOA leases apartments from private owners, rather than buying housing, with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds.

At first landlords were leery, concerned about potential damages, but VOA contracts with them guarantee that VOA is responsible for any damage done by tenants. Case workers visit once a week and do a monthly inspection of apartments.

As case managers, he and Mary Tracey, who has been with the program four months, deal with issues that lead a person to be homeless—chemical dependence, mental health problems, disability, transportation or unemployment. Of their clients from 18 to 73 years old, 51 percent are men and 49 percent women.

“The people need encouragement and resources,” Dale said. “There is much paperwork to fill out for employment, mental health and government assistance. Often it’s overwhelming and the people give up.

“We nurture them through the system,” said Dale, who had done social work for 20 years, first in bereavement with the Spokane AIDS Network and in health education with corrections facilities through the Regional Health District and Community Mental Health.

Growing up in Post Falls, church had an impact on his desire to give back to the community and promote community health. In 1983, he completed a degree in social work at North Idaho College.

He finds that some may resist moving from living in tents or on the streets, because living within four walls may seem too much like incarceration or institutionalization.

Some hesitate to go to a faith-based shelter that expects them to attend worship before they receive a meal or shelter. For some, that’s too much.

“Our goal is to help each find the best resources for them,” he said, “to provide the tools they need to live successfully within walls.”

For example, recently, Dale picked up a man at a local tent city and put him in an apartment. He helped the man settle in for a few days to settle in so he would acclimate from living in the tent city to living within four walls.

Mary had previously worked with the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program and the House of Charity in crisis response. She values working with this program that helps people avoid crises.

“We take time to teach them how to live in a residential setting, letting them know they don’t need to hide from a guard, helping them navigate in their freedom and guiding them to take responsibility for their new home as their sanctuary, their place to rest and recuperate from the world,” Dale said.

He knows faith can be helpful in healing people who are alone, but he also knows people’s beliefs differ.

Following VOA’s style, he is gradual in his approach of helping people find their own faith or spiritual walk, navigating to discuss faith only as appropriate, because ultimately, “a spiritual path helps keep people healthy,” he said.

He hopes the program’s annual report statistics will set a model that encourages the community to build a stock of supportive housing for homeless people and infrastructure to help them re-enter the community and be healthier.

VOA can provide the permanent supportive housing as long as there are funds from the federal and city budgets to subsidize support services and the one-person apartments for single disabled people. It’s a partnership.

In the first year, some have already transitioned onto disability or employment.

“Eight of 10 that were in the program when I started have found employment or training,” said Dale, who was part of the Otis Hotel Home Finders Team.

As part of his work with VOA, he served six hours a week for six weeks on the team, in collaboration with Catholic Charities and the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program, to help find homes for people who lived at the Otis Hotel before it evicted low-income tenants in mid November.

VOA also houses 25 women in Hope House, provides transitional housing for pregnant and parenting teens and their babies in six bedrooms at Alexandria’s House, serves and shelters homeless teens downtown through Crosswalk, provides transitional living for five men 18 to 21 at Flaherty House and offers Independent Living services for teens leaving foster care.

VOA-Spokane just received one of seven grants from the Veterans Administration to VOA chapters to provide five transitional apartments for veterans and assistance with seeking medical and mental health care.

For information, call 328-4685 or email dbriese@voaspokane.org.