Mary’s Place set to open new shelter for families and address myriad health needs

February 28, 2019
2Marys Place_Father and Daughter
By Regence

Regence believes that every partnership we cultivate, every dollar we pledge and every hour we volunteer makes the communities in which we live, work and play healthier. This post is part of a blog series that highlights how Regence is collaborating with community partners to positively impact the quality of life of people and families in our communities.

King County-based Mary’s Place is a leading advocate and supporter of families in emergency situations experiencing homelessness. On the heels of its successful end of year fundraising campaign, No Child Sleeps Outside, the nonprofit is set to open its ninth shelter in late March, which is expected to help 300 families move into permanent housing each year. Mary's Place has a unique model of moving into empty buildings that are slated for demolition and utilizing them to comfortably provide shelter for families with children, as well as providing services to those experiencing medical crises.

“Before we came here, we had to stay in a car. It was rough,” says 13-year-old Tanisha. “Going to school was stressful—you’re just thinking about it all the time.” Her older brother Khalil adds: “We had to go to public restrooms to brush our teeth or change our clothes. It was a heartbreaking experience.”

Children are often scared when they enter Mary’s Place, but at the shelters’ Kids Club they find a sense of community. “They get to come in and get to be kids,” says executive director Marty Hartman. “They can run, play and get to know they’re not alone in this crisis – that they aren’t defined by their homelessness, and that they are amazing children with a bright future ahead.”

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Shelters help keep families together

Tanisha and Khalil’s mother, Essi, shares the importance of serving entire families: “We would call places, and they would have room for women and children. And my husband, God bless his heart, would say, ‘I’ll sleep in the car.’ But we didn’t want to divide our family.” At Mary’s Place, they were able to stay together as a family and subsequently get into permanent housing.

In 2018, Mary’s Place helped over 600 families secure housing, and nearly 200 of those families never entered a shelter, but instead went straight from the outdoors to a home. Families that do enter one of their shelters stay an average of 90 days. Obstacles to securing housing can include a lack of identification, language barriers, a disability or an eviction on their record. Over 70 percent of adults in the shelters are employed, but they may not be able to save enough money for an apartment deposit.

“It’s a complicated problem and local government is working to put effective policies in place, but we can’t wait,” says Linda Mitchell, Mary’s Place’s chief communications officer. “We are fortunate to have private funding from partners like Regence to be innovative and nimble, and to pilot innovative programs. We move people into homes as quickly as possible and work with experts in the field to best address the barriers to health and housing.”

Since 2015, Regence has invested more than $300,000 into Mary's Place to meet the health needs of families by directly addressing barriers to healthcare and implementing wellness interventions. “While the immediate goal is to keep families safe, equally important is caring for their overall health so they can move toward stable housing or employment,” says Andrew Over, Regence’s market vice president and a Mary’s Place board member.

Help doesn’t stop once families are in homes

Mary’s Place follows up with families for three to six months to make sure they are stable, getting proper nutrition, and are able to utilize other community resources if needed. Partnerships with food pantries, career counselors, and working relationships with potential employers and landlords all play into the mix to keep families stably housed.

“It feels great to have a house again, and to have family time and movie nights,” says Tanisha.

“Mary’s Place is helpful in so many ways,” says Khalil. “I really enjoy the staff for what they do for kids and parents, and people who need someone to talk to. I hope that whatever obstacles life has in store for us, we can get through it as a family and stay strong.”  

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