News

New codes would increase transitional housing

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

Local social service agencies are hoping to increase the number of transitional housing units in Federal Way if city code is changed to allow the units to be located closer together.

The new code would allow transitional housing units to be located within 400 feet of each other in areas of the city zoned for high-density, multi-family, residential use. Those areas typically are apartment and condominium complexes.

Current codes, passed in 1994, require transitional housing units to be 1,000 feet from each other to prevent clusters from cropping up in the city. The City Council will make a final vote on the amendment Sept. 17.

Peggy LaPorte, founder of FUSION, a local non-profit that raises money to provide transitional housing to homeless women and their children, called the code amendment a tremendous help.

“Because there’s such a need for transitional housing, we wanted to purchase more units, but we couldn’t,” she said. “The change will help.”

In addition to maintaining the housing units, FUSION contracts with the South King County YWCA for case management services to provide support, guidance and encouragement to the women living in the housing.

FUSION currently operates six transitional housing units in Federal Way — each with a mom and her kids in residence — and a seventh unit is being renovated and should be ready by the end of September.

The code amendments will allow for two more units, which FUSION hopes to acquire with Community Development Block Grant funds applied for this year.

Families living in FUSION homes stay an average of a year, according to Elizabeth Westburg, the South King County YWCA’s director of emergency and transitional housing. All of the current tenants have at least one child, and children’s ages can range from infants to teens.

About 75 percent of FUSION’s transitional housing residents move on to permanent housing on their own, LaPorte said. Still, the number of single moms with children seeking emergency shelter keeps growing.

Paula Doepker has lived in one of FUSION’s units with her three children almost a year. She called the housing program a “real positive experience.”

“I have been overwhelmed by the support and caring of people in the community,” she said

Doepker said she and her children lived with her sister for awhile and then moved into a shelter in Auburn for a couple of weeks. It was at the shelter she learned about FUSION’s transitional housing program.

She and her children now live in a two-bedroom condominium in Federal Way.

“I think the stability has helped incredibly,” she said. “After what we’ve been through, I’m feeling a lot better. We did a lot of yo-yo living before.”

The YWCA doesn’t keep a waiting list for FUSION housing because there are so many homeless women seeking shelter, Westburg said.

For every family FUSION serves, 13 others are turned away, LaPorte said.

If passed, city code changes would be a step to helping more homeless women and children, most of whom are leaving domestic abuse situations, Westburg said.

“This housing probably is not their first stop after leaving,” she said. “Or, they could have left a couple years ago, but in trying to make ends meet, they ended up homeless.”

Doepker said the friends she’s made and help she’s received have helped her family make it through some hard times.

“The YWCA has been incredible, and especially our caseworker. My kids adore her, I adore her, I don’t know what we would have done,” she said. “Whenever we need something, someone’s there.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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