Toothbrush, toothpaste, bed, fresh paint, check — all things in the little room summed to tidy, clean, warm.
That is, ready for its “participant,” the preferred word around there for residents of the recently opened Don’s Place, emergency housing in north Auburn.
The goal of all the preparation is to make sure each person feels at home the moment they cross over the threshold into their room.
“Everybody deserves to have the best,” said April Aiken, Deputy Director of Housing Services for Compass, the 104-year-old Seattle-based agency that operates Don’s Place in partnership with King County Health Through Housing.
At the moment, the repurposed Clarion Hotel at 916 St. NW houses 40 participants, but can support as many as 90 leaving chronic homelessness or who are at risk of falling into homelessness, with a special focus on veterans and seniors. It opened in late December 2023, and celebrated its grand opening last week.
Don’s Place offers a wide range of services to help participants regain their footing and build new lives for themselves, including:
24/7 staffing and controlled access;
Case management support tailored to individual needs;
Connection to physical and behavioral health services on site;
Programming targeted to growth and enrichment, educational attainment, job readiness and more;
Access to food support, three meals per day.
Veterans and seniors receive preference in the referral process.
No doubt, Don Castro, or as most people in Auburn who knew him called, “Old man Don,” would have been honored to have his name attached to the facility. He was a Vietnam War veteran who fell on hard times in his later years, losing his home when he could no longer drive a truck.
Though he knew the trauma of homelessness himself, Castro was a friend to everyone on the streets, for whom he saved socks and clothing, made deliveries to those in need, and helped in every way he could before his death in 2020.
The need is acute, said Aiken.
“Now that all the resources from COVID are gone, we are seeing an influx of homeless individuals. We have set aside roughly half of the building for unhoused individuals from the Auburn area. They are referred to us by Kent Hay (Anti-Homelessness Director for the city of Auburn) and from six or seven referring agencies and partnerships like We Care, the Muckleshoot Tribe and Walk to Freedom. It’s a very select group of people that can refer individuals into the program. King County owns the property, and it chose agencies that are active in Auburn,” said Aiken.
Being inside is not always easy, especially for the long-term, chronically homeless.
“Sometimes it’s an adjustment, and we understand that, and we will meet them where they’re at. We’ve had individuals at our other facilities who have been outside for 20 years. Some may not sleep in there for the first month or so consistently, so it’s working with them and getting them more comfortable being indoors and understanding that that’s their safe space. Some people just aren’t ready or it, and that’s okay, too,” said Aiken.
In the long term, all Health Through Housing properties, including Don’s Place, will operate as permanent supportive housing. With the goal of moving people in as soon as possible, the program started as emergency housing. The housing combined with 24/7 staffing and the on-site supports will help very vulnerable people in South King County regain health and stability, said Aiken.
There is no typical resident profile.
“We have people from all walks of life,” said Aiken. “People are excited to be here and moving forward. They’re getting a lot their medical needs taken care of. It’s not widely known, but many medical issues cannot be met if the person is unhoused, so when someone comes in with medical needs, they are able to get surgery, hip replacements and things like that, so they can get back to work or actually walk.
“We have four full-time case managers on-site 24/7 who meet them where they’re at. They’ll do a housing stability plan, ask them what are your goals, what would you like to achieve while you’re here, so we’ll work with that, whether it’s to get house, get a job. We want to support them.”
There is no timeline for staying, and participants can remain there as long as they want or need. But the goal is always to get everyone into permanent housing
“King County sends the applications to Compass, and as long as the applicant can show they are chronically homeless, or are at risk of chronic homelessness, and have a documented disability, that’s all we need. We don’t check backgrounds, and we are very low barrier,” Aiken said.
Aiken said Don’s Place places a special emphasis on building relationships between staff and participants, and it shows in little ways, as when Aiken urged a participant who was hesitant to join a crowded elevator to get on.
The woman looked up.
“Okay, mom,” she teased Aiken with easy affection
“Better than being called Principal, which I have been at other places I’ve worked,” said Aiken.
For referral information, email HTHreferrals@kingcounty.gov.