FUSION continues to expand transitional housing units

When it comes to transitional housing units, vacancy is a good thing, executive director says.

In Federal Way, the demand for one nonprofit’s services and resources has never been greater, said FUSION Executive Director David Harrison.

The nonprofit, FUSION, offers several services including transitional housing. As of July, the organization has 21 transitional housing properties in the Federal Way and NE Tacoma areas with the latest unit under remodel.

Harrison says that units number 23 and 24 are in blueprint design phases and the money raised at the nonprofit’s annual gala — this year held Aug. 2 — will help fund property number 25.

“The demand for our services has never been greater,” Harrison said. “… the need to help people in our community has never been greater.”

FUSION’s transitional housing process helps families experiencing homelessness build self-sufficiency and progress into permanent housing. Screening for the transitional housing program is a higher bar than for the nonprofit’s family shelter, the Pete Andersen Family Center which opened in 2020.

Transitional housing is a “deeper dive requiring a lot of work,” Harrison said. Having families secure immediate, temporary housing at the shelter also allows the families to get to know the FUSION staff and vice versa.

“We have found, not by design, but really just by circumstance that having families go to the shelter first … helps us identify the people we could consider ready for transitional housing,” he said.

In the last two years, not one family has returned to homelessness after going through FUSION’s 12-month transitional housing program. Often, all of the 21 units are full, though Harrison said five families have recently moved on to their own permanent housing.

“In transitional housing, having a vacancy is a good thing,” he said.

Permanent housing can mean various things to different families. It may be homeownership or it could mean market-rate apartments. However, the stability of housing also means families can maintain their kids’ school enrollment and their own employment, build savings, and secure reliable transportation.

“They have to work every day, every second counts,” Harrison said.

Transitional housing tenets pay a monthly program fee, which helps build life skills such as paying rent or other bills.

Throughout the 12-month program, Harrison said, families focus on finding sources of income, learning budgeting skills and saving money, and occasionally working on life skills such as how to be a good tenant.

Harrison praised the work of FUSION transitional housing case manager Stephanie Barnes who works with families to identify their own barriers, creates plans to progress from transitional housing and helps families see those plans through.

“It is a moment of celebration, because I know that if they do that work, it will dramatically change the trajectory of their family,” he said.

Another goal of both FUSION and Harrison is to erase the stereotypical image of who is typically thought of when people hear the word “homeless.”

“People focus on the tent with the blue tarp — that’s their mental image of homelessness,” he said. “We’re trying to get people to understand that it’s the mom with two kids in the grocery cart at QFC and she’s living in her car … it’s the parents who are couch surfing each week.”

In May at a FUSION event, Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) Superintendent Dr. Dani Pfeiffer discussed the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which provides ​​rights and services to children and youth experiencing homelessness.

She said since the 2019-2020 school year to the current school year, FWPS has seen an over 75% increase in scholars who are served by the McKinney–Vento program (863 students to 1,310 students who have accessed support of the program).