South Whidbey Homeless Coalition secures House of Hospitality at last

From left to right

Families and vulnerable adults who lack safe, steady housing now have the opportunity to apply for residence in the South End’s first House of Hospitality.

The South Whidbey Homeless Coalition signed the final papers and took ownership of the Camano Avenue property in Langley on Thursday, March 26. The house was formerly a space utilized by various support groups and non-profits such as Helping Hand, Opportunity Council and Pregnancy Aid. It will open as the new House of Hospitality May 1.

“It feels like being in the center of a miracle,” said Judy Thorslund, chairwoman of South Whidbey Homeless Coalition.

About 30 years ago, Langley philanthropist Judy Yeakel purchased the property with the intent for it to be a hub for South Whidbey non-profit groups.

Since Yeakel’s death a year ago, the house was put on the market.

Thorslund said plans to purchase the house went into the works “practically the moment it was brought to our attention.”

“This house, a vision of Judy Yeakel and the result of her quiet philanthropy, enriched lives in South Whidbey for 30 years,” the coalition wrote in a recent news release.

“It aligned with what the family’s dreams were for the place,” said coalition member and board secretary Faith Wilder.

There are three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen and a common living space in the house. About six people will be able to live in the home simultaneously, for a maximum stay of 90 days. There is also an office space in the upper level, which will be used by staff people, including a part-time administrative assistant. The coalition is making families with children a priority, according to Thorslund, who added that there are already three families “waiting in the wings” who have been approved to move in.

“We’re glad that we’re the first step in stability for people,” Wilder said.

In the future, Thorslund said the coalition hopes to consider the option of placing tiny houses on the property for additional housing, though their primary goal is to ensure the main house is open and operational.

The house cost a total of $190,000, which was funded through a combination of loans, donations and a contribution from Island County.

Island County provided a $40,000 grant for the coalition to operate the house in coordination with the Island County Coordinated Entry Program. According to the county’s website, the program is a state-mandated strategy that has proven effective in contributing to the goal of ending homelessness. It is also a way to “streamline” processes such as referral, assessment and access linking individuals to housing and service agencies.

Island County human services department will decide which families or individuals will benefit the most from living at the South Whidbey House of Hospitality. Other families and individuals may be better served in other areas, Thorslund explained.

The coalition received blessings from Langley Mayor Fred McCarthy and South Whidbey School District Superintendent Jo Moccia.

The coalition had consulted with the school district primarily because of their prioritization of housing children and families, as well as the house’s close proximity to Langley Middle School, which is across the street. Thorslund mentioned that she will also be in close contact with the staff of the district’s Readiness to Learn program, which assists families in need.

McCarthy expressed his support for the coalition’s establishment of the warming center at Langley United Methodist Church and for the House of Hospitality.

“I think both of these efforts are a citizen/community member-based and proactive plan for existing and emerging needs in our community,” McCarthy wrote in an email to The Record.

The coalition accepts donations — from toiletries to furniture — and pledges on an ongoing basis. Monetary contributions will go towards the operation of the house and repayment of loans used to purchase it.

Wilder said the organization wants to be “conservative” in taking care of the debt, and hopes to repay it in entirety within two years.

A team of seven pro-bono workers are currently working to ready the house in time for its opening on May 1.

“Thanks for your hearts, South Whidbey,” Thorslund said.

The coalition will host a community celebration and house dedication from 1-5 p.m. April 18 at the house. Beverly Graham of Operation Sack Lunch and violinist Gloria Ferry-Brennan will perform. Refreshments will be provided.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to South Whidbey Homeless Coalition and mailed to P.O. Box 744 Freeland, WA, 98249.

For additional information, email swhomelesscoalition@gmail.com or call 360-221-5970.