The Fig Tree: Community helps in healing struggles of homeless people

by Marilyn Urness, EWU Intern

Ami Manning's belief in the healing power of a community stems from her own experience with homelessness.

As director of housing services with Transitions, her job involves working with case managers from the Transitional Living Center, known as TLC, which provides a safe, secure place for women and children who have undergone traumas such as domestic violence, addiction or homelessness.

"Folks can't heal or gain any momentum unless they have a safe place to call home," she said. 

When she was a child living in Missoula, Mont., her family, supported by her single mother, was left homeless in the middle of winter when their space heater malfunctioned and burned her home to the ground.

"It was the first time in my life that I looked around and there were strangers who cared about whether or not we had a house that night," she said.

Ami was too young to understand how difficult it would be for her and her family to be homeless. She said there was help from people saving silverware and bunk beds to old women giving them envelopes with five dollars and offering prayers. This experience gave her faith in the healing power the community has.

She believes people need to help those who have fallen get back up on their feet. People need a stable environment to gain momentum in their lives. "Folks on the street, in a car or in a shelter have a hard time gaining on any other things," she said. Ami has been in nonprofit work almost 20 years. While she served in several agencies, her passion lies in women's and children's transitional housing projects. Housing has always been part of her career, from starting in tenants' rights to her work now at Transitions' Home Yard Cottages.  

Her first work in transitional housing was at St. Vincent de Paul in Coeur d'Alene. There she worked in the transitional housing center, teaching children literature and art. She helped them understand art as a process to express their inner voice rather than just as creating a product.

Ami went on to work with the YWCA's domestic violence center and later with Habitat for Humanity Spokane. Having studied government and women's studies at Eastern Washington University, she said she is not a social worker, but has done social work for most of her career. 

In 2014, Ami joined Miryam's House, another project of Transitions programs for women in Spokane. It promotes dignity, community, growth, wholeness and justice. Transitions, founded in 1986, works to end homelessness for women by "giving every woman the opportunity to find success on her journey to stability and self-sufficiency," she said. At Miryam's, Ami attended dinners cooked by one of the women and served from 6 to 6:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. Staff and residents would sit down and chat. 

This experience expanded Ami's view of the role of community in the healing process. She once believed events—like building a house—were where most change and healing take place. She now believes change starts and happens in small moments of integrity and fellowship during dinners. At the TLC, she helps provide a stable, supportive environment to help women and children housed in 15 family apartments move out of poverty.  Case management helps each occupant reach goals.

TLC provides family-oriented programs, such as parenting support, to give families the opportunity to heal and grow. Life skills classes give residents the tools they need to become independent.

Ami joined Transitions when its staff and board were envisioning and developing the Home Yard Cottages. At the time, Transitions was discussing the best use of a plot of land, which the neighborhood had thought was a park. Ideas ranged from turning the land into orchards and a communal garden to building more transitional housing units.  

Study results made it clear that Spokane residents were experiencing a continual increase in rent with no parallel increase in wages. That created a housing dilemma.

This meant it was almost impossible for women coming out of transitional living centers or shelters to have permanent residences.

"I am passionate about affordable housing for all," said Ami. "It feels almost impossible to get folks going and move them to where they want to be without having that sort of home base."  So, based on Transitions' mission to end homelessness, the staff and board decided to build 24 cottages for supportive housing for families and individuals. 

They were completed in October 2018 on two acres of land next to the TLC at 3128 N. Hemlock. This provides a next step after the two years TLC offers residents who need that extra support. Fifteen of the Home Yard Cottages are equipped with solar panels making them net-zero—the amount of energy a building uses annually equals the amount of renewable energy it creates.

The cottages range in size from 475 square feet for a single person to 1,000 square feet for a family of six. Rent is 30 percent of the resident's income. These cottages provide personal space for residents, compared with communal space at shelters and TLC.

The Home Yard Cottages are permanent supportive housing, so as long as residents earn less than a certain income limit, they can stay indefinitely. One family was coming to the end of their two-year period in transitional housing at TLC. Needing more time to attain their goals, they now reside in a cottage, where they have a support system to continue working on those goals.

Another family—a pregnant mother and her children—needed a safe place as an anchor to meet their goals and heal.  Now they are thriving in their new home, Ami said. From their stable home, they have connected with parental care for their baby.  The children are enrolled in preschool, giving the mother time to work on her GED.

From her own experiences, her faith in the healing power and responsibility of the community has given her an empathy for those in need. This belief has followed her throughout her career, giving her the power to change and influence people's lives for the better.

Other Transitions programs are Women's Hearth, Educare, and the New Leaf Bakery and Café.

A local volunteer 21-member Board of Directors governs day-to-day operations. A Board of Members, with one representative from each of four sponsoring communities—the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, the Sisters of Providence, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa—provides guidance.

For information, call 328-6702 or email info@help4women.org.

https://www.thefigtree.org/jan20/010120transitionsmanning.html

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January, 2020