By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News
It was a warm and sunny day on May 11, with temperatures reaching the high 70’s for the first time since last summer. Along Mission Hill Road, between beda?chelh and the Mission Beach Cemetery, a crew of men and women were hard at work at the Village of Hope site. The focus of the day was centered on the original site’s communal building that stood for over two decades and accommodated numerous homeless tribal members and families while they worked to get back on their feet.
Previously known as the homeless shelter, the site took on a new name when the Tribe set plans in 2018 for a revamp that would usher in new opportunities for tribal members looking for a fresh start, by adding seventeen tiny homes to the site. Originally intended to open at a much earlier date, the Tribe held a ground breaking ceremony in October 2021, after meeting many challenges during the height of the global pandemic. And just a year and some change later, the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Village of Hope took place in December 2022, and those seventeen doors were opened for a large portion of Tulalip’s homeless population, just in time for the holiday season.
Teri Nelson, Executive Director of Tribal Services, stated, “Since December until now in May, seventeen cottages are full of singles and families with children. Seven of those residents have gotten full-time employment and two have signed up for college classes. And they’re able to do their classes online in our computer lab, which is set up with five computer stations. Everybody has a different story as to why they ended up where they are. It has a lot to do with the cost of housing. When you’re looking at rentals over $2,000 a month, it’s kind of like well, do I want to eat, or do I want to be house poor?”
Along with the seventeen new homes, the Tribe also added a new community center where the residents can gather to break bread together and join-in on fun activities throughout the week. However, even with the addition of the new community center, the previous communal building still remains a functioning place that people visit for some quality R&R, and to also use the amenities of the building’s kitchen and laundry areas.
Now, when looking at the old site next to the newly established Village of Hope community, it became highly noticeable that the original building needed some updates and repairs. Enter LGI Homes, a national construction company whose slogan is ‘we don’t just build houses, we build homes.’ The community-focused corporation began a company-wide initiative in 2015, known as Service Impact Day, in which they shut down business operations every May 11th to dedicate time and elbow grease to help local communities with their projects for an entire day.
After completing a successful day of manual labor in the springtime heat, Division President of LGI Homes, Ryan Stokes, exclaimed, “This is our favorite day of the year because we get to come out and give back to our communities. We’re the 15th largest home builder across the United States. We founded Service Impact Day in 2015 and we’ve been doing it every year since. We’ve donated over $350,000 and over 450 employee service hours. This was a great project, and we got a lot of work done today. We appreciate the opportunity to come out and serve the community of Tulalip and the Village of Hope.”
In a side-by-side photo comparison of the building, provided by Teri, it is pleasing to see that the newly refurbished community center kept its signature charm, that originally stood as a sign of hope for the homeless population throughout the years. Only now, the building showcases a rejuvenated shine with a fresh coat of paint and a brand-new deck/wheelchair ramp.
“It felt like Extreme Makeover,” said Teri. “I hung around for a while after they started and I checked in on surveillance every now and then, wondering if they were going to make it before the day ended. And they did! The original deck was dilapidated, there were carpets and plywood laying on top of it to cover up all the holes, so that was our main wish. And they even provided the lumber, which is expensive. And we also wanted painting done, so they painted the front of the building for us – they spruced it up!”
Following a group photo with LGI Homes, in front of the completed project, Teri expressed a desire to replace the ‘Homeless Shelter’ sign next, as they actively move away from that name due to the negative connotations it brings. She explained that there is a new Village of Hope sign that is similar to the current neighborhood welcome signs throughout the reservation, and that it’s just a matter of figuring out a time to install it with Public Works.
“Homelessness is not an identity, it’s an experience,” she passionately stated. “When you are serving families and those children say they live at a homeless shelter – that is not their identity. We are always mindful to say this is your home. We help people who are in a vulnerable state in their lives, and there’s a lot of people out there who are not very friendly to the homeless population. They’re very judgmental and place a lot of blame and shame on them, and that’s not what’s going to help them. They want to feel seen. And since we became the Village of Hope, our residents are really coming together as a community. There’s a lot of community engagement, we have weekly resident dinners, monthly resident meetings, and we are working on creating a resident council that gives them a voice.”
In addition to resident dinners and meetings, the Village of Hope partners with other Tribal departments to bring classes to their community, including a nutrition and cooking class with Snap-Ed. More classes are on the horizon for the residents as the Village of Hope plans on bringing in culture bearers for a drum making class, as well as professionals to teach a homebuyer’s class and a credit building class. Teri stated the plan is to build a robust calendar filled with activities and events for the residents. A portion of those classes will be funded thanks to a monetary donation from LGI Homes, a surprise presented on the day of the remodel.
Said Teri, “It is amazing to have people come with compassion and good hearts, and who genuinely want to give back. It really aligns with a lot of our values as a tribal community. The Division President is over the entire Pacific Northwest region of four different states, and he picked this project. I think that’s so great, and I just have a lot of gratitude for their staff and team.”