Somewhere to Call Home

Shari Wade is one of the thousands of Seattle residents who has experienced homelessness at some point in time in her life. After struggling to get back on her feet, her life was turned around by permanent affordable housing through Pioneer Human Services. Her story reinforces why I am so committed to investing in more affordable housing for those experiencing homelessness and to support households on the verge of homelessness. – J.A.D.

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For years, I struggled with homelessness and joblessness as I tried to find a stable home. I lived on the street and in former Nickelsville for a time before affordable housing changed my life. I don’t know where I’d be today if I hadn’t found permanent affordable housing through Pioneer Human Services.

I grew up in the foster care system, and experienced many years of neglect and abuse. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn many life skills that would help me make good choices, and soon I was living on the streets. As my situation grew more desperate, my mental health declined. Eventually, I was arrested – a factor that would become a huge barrier to housing and employment for me in the future. 

Without an address, and with an arrest on my record, I couldn’t fill out a job application or gain entry to housing programs, and the vicious cycle of homelessness continued. I used what little money I had to pay application fee after application fee, only to be disappointed time and time again. I remember being so tired that I would fall asleep in the library, before being woken up and asked to leave. I remember taking hot bricks from the fire in homeless encampments, and wrapping them in a blanket for warmth. My situation became more and more desperate, and I was eventually arrested again.

For many, this cycle repeats over and over again. I was one of the lucky ones. After four months in jail, I learned about Pioneer Human Services and the affordable housing options they had available. Fortunately, they had a place for me in their short-term clean and sober housing program. It’s hard to describe how I felt when I received the key to my new apartment. After being homeless for so long, finally there was somewhere I could call home, a place where I could cook my own meals and lay my head at night. Over time, I felt the desperation I had become familiar with fade away.

But not everyone is as lucky as I am. In Seattle, there are tens of thousands of families competing for affordable homes with subsidized low rents and a limited number of housing vouchers to help with rent in the private market. We need to create more opportunities for those experiencing homelessness to find stable homes, and make what affordable housing we do have more accessible. Mayor Durkan’s Building a Bridge to Housing for All plan is one of the ways to address these needs by creating safer spaces in sanctioned encampments that serve as a first step to permanent affordable housing. The plan will also help families at risk of homelessness on the waitlist for housing vouchers and create more permanent affordable housing.

Today, I work with Pioneer Human Services in the Real Estate and Project Planning division, and I hope to resume my college education soon. The former Nickelsville site is just a half a mile from where I now work full time – it’s a daily reminder of how far I’ve come, and of how affordable housing has changed my life.

-Shari Wade