Editor’s Note: This is the third story in the Mirror’s year-long “Humanizing Homelessness” series.
To some, it’s just another three-bedroom house. But to Elisa and her four kids, it is a safe haven.
Two years ago, Elisa turned to FUSION (Friends United to Shelter the Indigent, Oppressed and Needy), a Federal Way-based transitional housing and community services nonprofit, to escape domestic violence.
As a single mother who was once homeless, Elisa is now the first person in FUSION’s 25-year program history to purchase their own home.
When she arrived at her newly-purchased home on April 11, Elisa thought she was coming to look at the new paint job — a “sugar-coated lie,” said Elisa’s FUSION case manager Stephanie Barnes.
Instead, Elisa was greeted by more than 40 people who gathered to surprise her with a fully furnished home.
Hugs from family members, friends and supporters consumed Elisa as she walked up the driveway to her new home as the crowd cheered.
FUSION co-founder Peggy LaPorte had the honor of handing Elisa the keys to her new home upon arrival.
Elisa and her kids turned the key in the lock, opening the door together and her kids ran inside. They quickly came to a halt as they saw the modern furniture and flat screen TV inside their home.
Elisa followed them in, looked around at her home, and started to cry.
“I knew I was buying a house, I just didn’t know how I was going to fill it up,” Elisa later told the Mirror with a laugh, tears still in her eyes.
The Federal Way-based office of Lennar Homes Seattle began working with FUSION in 2018 for Lennar’s Focused Acts of Caring charity partnership project, said Bill Salvesen, division president for Lennar Homes Seattle.
“The more we talked, the more we shared ideas, it was just obvious that the culture of both organizations was really connected,” Salvesen said of the partnership with FUSION.
Furniture used in staging Lennar model homes was collected and donated to Elisa’s new home. Susan and Duane Kettlewell, owners of Staged for Selling, volunteered to complete the home’s interior designing.
Lennar’s team of a dozen volunteers pulled the home together with attention to details: the kids’ rooms are decorated with their favorite interests. The kitchen drawers are filled with utensils. A framed family photo of Elisa and her kids hangs in their living room.
“It’s quite an amazing blessing for everyone involved,” said Salvesen. “Elisa, who is the real hero today, is the reason everybody is here.”
Buddy’s Home Furnishings provided mattresses and box springs for the family, and GE Appliances provided a washer and dryer, said Julie Siegler, director of marketing for Lennar. Many others donated flowers, kitchen items, and even a lawn mower.
“It’s all about being connected with our community,” Siegler said. “To be a part of this, it took a village.”
“This kind of a partnership means so much because we couldn’t do it without them, without so many others, too, in the community,” said Peggy LaPorte, co-founder of FUSION.
Since the beginning, Elisa took advantage of every opportunity to better herself, improve her income, and thrive in FUSION’s program, LaPorte said.
“It’s surreal they did this for us,” Elisa said about the community’s generosity.
“[I am] overwhelmed, so thankful and grateful,” she said as the welcome home celebrations quieted down. “I just did not expect all this from doing something that I just felt like was the next thing to do. I didn’t do it for a reward or anything, just for stability for me and my kids.”
Three years ago, Elisa was homeless, unemployed, recovering from addiction, tangled in an abusive relationship, and didn’t know how she was going to provide for her family of four kids.
“I felt like I’m clean and I’m doing the right things but I’m with this guy who’s not clean and is not doing the right things and I felt like if I didn’t leave the situation and the abuse, I was going to get sucked right back into that,” she said. “And I knew for my kids, I couldn’t do that.”
Elisa was married for nine years and “it started out fine,” she said.
Now that Elisa is out of the relationship, the red flags she missed along the way are obvious, she said.
After she was laid off from her job, Elisa found another position in administrative work.
“Then he started wanting to drive me to work. And then he wanted us to move out of the house we lived in. Then he started causing these little fights between me and my friends. Then it started moving to ‘your family doesn’t like me.’”
Her husband spread “like poison” throughout all of Elisa’s relationships, she said. Two months after giving birth to her second son, Elisa had no relationships other than with her husband.
He coaxed her to quit her job and stay home to be a mom, meaning “now I counted on him for everything,” Elisa said.
With no friends or family connections left in Washington, she moved to California with her now-ex husband so they could be closer to his family.
“The minute we got to California, everything changed.”
Stemming from a pain medication prescription after medical retirement from the Army, he began to use harder drugs, she said. The amounts of opiates, the frequency of gangs and violence, and the abuse all began to increase, Elisa said.
“I think he knew I had nowhere else to go,” she said.
The relationship went on for another two years, back and forth with promises of changed behavior until Elisa got clean, then she said, “I was done.”
Elisa left her husband and their abusive relationship with only the clothes on her back and the faith that the Lord would see her through, she said.
She lived on her friend’s bottom bunk for two weeks before she got involved with Catholic Community Services and went to a clean and sober house for three months. Then she discovered the FUSION transitional housing program.
“Immediately everything started changing,” Elisa said. “All these things started manifesting and all these people started getting placed in my life that were just pushing me up to a new level.”
She earned a transitional housing place and found an incredible support system. She began the process of her divorce, she started school, she finished drug court, and she got a job.
“I always knew if I needed something, I could count on [FUSION] and they would help me find a way to get through it,” she said.
In early April, she became a homeowner for the first time in her life. She has a steady job, lives a sober life and her kids have a safe home.
During the welcome home event, her children excitedly ran through the hallways of their new home, her 5-year-old daughter stopping for a second at the living room couch to give Elisa a kiss and say “I love you” before heading into the garage to play.
“It just means security for my family … we don’t have to move in two years, we don’t have to worry about a lease or a deposit or anything,” Elisa said. “It’s just safety and security and accomplishment.”
It’s still difficult accepting help and learning to trust people who genuinely care and want the best for her, Elisa said. But she’s also learned to never lose hope.
“Knowing who I was three-and-a-half years ago I think is part of the reason why I feel like ‘How do I really deserve this?’” she said. “But I do, because I worked hard for it.”