Despite an array of unforeseen challenges, renovations of the FUSION Family Center are underway for completion this fall with the help of a $1 million donation from a local business.
Federal Way’s FUSION, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing temporary housing and support services to homeless families, purchased the former Econo Lodge Hotel in 2019 to create the first emergency family shelter in the city and in the nonprofit’s history.
FUSION originally planned for a July opening. However, renovation roadblocks have led to tentative plans for a soft-opening in mid-September with a grand opening Thursday, Oct. 1.
While a global pandemic forced delays in construction, the building and its vision of hope for local families are beginning to take shape.
The Pete Andersen FUSION Family Center, named after a Seattle man who died from COVID-19 in March, is designed as a limited-stay temporary shelter with programs and resources in place to help families find permanent housing.
“It will be nice, but not luxurious,” said FUSION Executive Director Robin O’Grady. “Families will be safe, secure and taken care of when the shelter is open.”
Floods, drugs and hope
The former hotel was well known for all the wrong reasons in Federal Way.
When Project Manager David Harrison did a records request spanning a two-year period for incident calls to the site, he received 27 pages of police reports showing officers were called on average of 4-6 times per day.
FUSION purchased the hotel in November 2019 and renovations started in February of this year, O’Grady said.
Soon after, issues of the building presented themselves, such the necessary purchase of a new roof for $85,000, and fixing the do-it-yourself style wiring and unpermitted structures within the previously family-owned building.
Conducting the structural upgrades to meet 2020 building codes was “like putting a skeleton inside the building while it’s still standing,” Harrison, noting the $146,000 price tag.
Renovations make up $1.5 million of the $5 million total building cost including the site’s purchase, which is comparably lower than surrounding shelters, Harrison said.
As construction began, Harrison swabbed 12 different locations in the building and discovered the entire inside of the hotel was coated in drug residue from meth. The findings sparked involvement from the health department and additional safety precautions.
Anything porous or absorptive was thrown out, and a licensed lab deep cleaned the inside surfaces before an oil-based primer was put on the walls to encapsulate the remaining molecules.
A sprinkler line that was accidentally cut had also caused a flood of the third floor, requiring further razing of the facility’s insides. All in all, gutting the hotel resulted in eight dumpster loads of rubbish and ruined items.
Of the recent $1 million donation from The Lennar Foundation, some of the funds will be used for reserves, some for the facility’s operations and some to assist with the renovation costs, O’Grady said.
The facility also received donations such as windows from Milgard, paint from Sherwin-Williams, furniture pieces from Ashley Furniture and flooring from Shaw.
With 90 beds available in 29 rooms, The Pete Andersen FUSION Family Center shelter is expected to serve 116 families a year, or 406 individuals, with more than 250 of those anticipated to be children.
The brightly lit hallways of the once questionable hotel now lead to common rooms where families do laundry, share a kitchen to cook most meals, or watch television.
Each room will have a mini-fridge and microwave, for small food necessities such as heating up baby bottles, but most of the cooking will be done in the common areas.
“One thing we learned by visiting other shelters in the area is that you don’t want to make it too nice and comfortable,” Harrison said of the lack of televisions in the individual rooms. “[Their] job is to go find a place to live and find a job and move on.”
Each room, varying slightly around 240-260 square feet, will have a full sized bed, two twin-sized beds, a dresser, desk, lamps and a few chairs. Availability of cribs will be determined at a later date due to liability guidelines.
The residents’ floors have two washers and two dryers each floor with an industrial laundry on the ground floor, and families will be required to place their linens outside of their doors once a week to ensure cleanliness is kept up.
Each family member can fill up one tub of belongings to bring in, and all belongings brought into the facility will go through a sanitization process to keep bedbugs, fleas or any other insects out.
There are also two adjoining rooms on each floor to accommodate families with eight or more members, and two ADA-accessible rooms on the ground floor.
After-school programming, set to be open from 2:30-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, will be run on the first floor by a team of volunteers working with kids for tutoring and helping build the youths’ resilency. Women’s Relief Society is providing supplies and furnishings.
Shelter residents are housed on the facility’s second and third floors, with the bottom floor reserved for resource rooms, computer bays, staff offices, and a conference room featuring the very kitchen table where FUSION founder Peggy LaPorte developed the nonprofit idea around 27 years ago.
How will families be selected?
Using a Housing First model, Families will be screened on the phone from lists provided by Mary’s Place, the Federal Way School District, Communities In Schools, the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act, or by word of mouth referrals.
“We will be screening-in families as opposed to screening them out and our service models will assist in helping create internal motivation to change,” O’Grady said. “The shelter will house families with children and youth in their care.”
Some instant disqualifiers of families include any history of arson, violent crimes, predatory behavior or meth manufacturing.
Once they pass the background checks, families will then be invited for an in-take assessment in several different domains including legal, mental health, and employment histories to develop a family stability plan.
The approval process and background checks should take roughly 24 hours, O’Grady said.
While the FUSION Family Center is anticipating short-term stays between 60-120 days, there will be variable stay for families who need more time.
“We’re going to do our best to not return anyone to homelessness even if that takes six months instead of 90 days,” O’Grady said.
For the initial few weeks, families will be spaced to comply with health guidelines throughout the building.
FUSION plans to phase in 10 families in October, another 10 in November and the final nine families by December. O’Grady expects the facility to be at full capacity by January 2021.
Safety on site
With the building’s notorious history in the city, many people experiencing homelessness continue to gravitate toward the site, which could put future residents at risk, O’Grady said. The center is a closed facility and families will need to be screened prior to entry in an effort to provide safety for all guests.
“It’s not an open facility. People cannot just walk in from the street and say ‘help me,’” O’Grady said. “Which is unfortunate, but also fortunate for the safety of our families.”
Security cameras will be installed throughout the building and on each floor. Federal Way’s Safe City program will also be installing two cameras overlooking the shelter grounds, the parking lot and surrounding areas.
Shelter residents will be given a facility key fob, and all people will enter through one main entrance. Side door emergency exits will sound alarms if opened.
The facility will have 24-hour, seven days a week staffing and an on-site security guard. FUSION officials are over-planning for security the first year with hope to dial back as necessary as time goes on.
Wall of Hope
On the first floor of the facility, O’Grady motioned toward the northern wall of the great room — soon to be the site of a community supported Wall of Hope.
The Wall of Hope is a campaign to give the Federal Way community an opportunity to be a part of history by supporting the Pete Andersen FUSION Family Center, said board member Sandy Huggins.
The wall is a physical affirmation of Federal Way’s support for FUSION featuring photos of families who have been helped by the nonprofit.
People can purchase tiles that will have three lines of writing determined by the purchasers. Tiles sell for $200, $500 and $1,000.
In addition, there are 29 guest rooms and eight community rooms that individuals and businesses can also sponsor.
New beginnings taking form
O’Grady says the FUSION Family Center project is the reason for her goose bumps and keeps her up at night.
“I’m so excited I can’t stand it,” O’Grady said. “I feel like we all are very excited because now it’s starting to really come together and we can see the vision of the program coming to fruition in real time.”
When the idea of a shelter was brought to the FUSION Board of Directors, the location was originally planned for SW 344th Street near Light of Christ Church until neighbors pushed back against the shelter being located so close to their community, Harrison said.
The previous spot also had little access to social services.
“This is a much better location,” Harrison said. “Services are right here, buses are right there, the post office, grocery store … After two years now, we’re seeing it all come together.”
For more information, visit fusionfederalway.org.