By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Social justice rabble-rousers.
That’s one description writer David Buerge uses in the new book, “Building Hope: the first 25 years of Housing Hope.”
It’s hardly a label that first comes to mind when meeting some of Housing Hope’s founders. The Everett-based nonprofit agency has worked since 1987 to alleviate homelessness.
Today, its executive director Ed Petersen, board member Todd Morrow, deputy executive director Fred Safstrom, retired chief operating officer Bruce Eklund and others long involved with Housing Hope are part of Snohomish County’s establishment.
Buerge, a historian and former writer for the Seattle Weekly, spent the better part of the past year writing the Housing Hope history.
Buerge interviewed the agency’s leaders and longtime volunteers. He was most touched hearing stories of people helped by Housing Hope.
“They were beaten down by circumstance and shame,” Buerge said Friday. “Yet they became successful. Housing Hope helped them find that success.”
Describing the agency’s key players today, the writer said “I’ve never met a group as committed, idealistic and intelligent.”
“It’s not a sentimental approach to homelessness,” Buerge said. “They go for practicality. They actually plumb the depths of the problem.”
Beneath the practical smarts that helped Housing Hope’s leaders negotiate finance, grants, property management and development, there remains a spark that earned that label: “Social justice rabble-rousers.”
Petersen, a son of Norwegian immigrants who settled in Everett, attended Pacific Lutheran University. At PLU, he and Eklund were roommates. During college, Eklund helped inner-city kids as part of the United Students Social Action Committee. Petersen joined the Peace Corps, serving in Venezuela.
“There was always that sense of mission,” said the Rev. Mark Samuelson, now a pastor at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Everett. Samuelson was pastor at Everett’s Central Lutheran Church during Housing Hope’s earliest days, and is a past president of the nonprofit’s board.
It was Sept. 30, 1987, that the agency’s founders first met in Central Lutheran’s Friendship Room to create Housing Hope. Through his work at Mental Health Services, Inc., now Compass Health, Petersen knew about the growing numbers of homeless people in Snohomish County.
At the same time, several Everett churches formed the North Snohomish County Association of Churches, which became the Interfaith Association of Northwest Washington, and that group was concerned about the homeless. And in 1985, then-County Executive Willis Tucker appointed Petersen to a homelessness task force. The county saw a need for a new agency to provide both shelter and services.
Since its modest beginnings, Housing Hope has completed 53 housing developments. In addition, more than 200 families have built their own homes through Housing Hope’s sweat equity program.
Petersen said about 600 families today are in stable housing thanks to Housing Hope.
Because housing is just one piece of the puzzle, Housing Hope runs programs to help with employment, adult education, child development, teen parenting and credit counseling.
The agency’s education program is called College of Hope. Through its HopeWorks Social Enterprises, Housing Hope runs a landscape business and provides jobs.
“It’s a complete picture,” Buerge said.
The writer took on the book project after writing a family history of Peter Henning Jr., a Stanwood man who was involved in Housing Hope.
Petersen said Friday the book cost about $100,000 to produce, and about half has been paid for. “We need to sell about 2,000 books,” he said.
Housing Hope hasn’t accomplished everything alone. The Boeing Co., the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, and hundreds of supporters have helped. Housing Hope has 75 employees and about 300 volunteers. “Those volunteers are the root of our success,” Eklund said.
The book’s epilogue is written by William H. Gates Sr., the charitable Gates Foundation’s founding executive director. “Housing Hope was early to the table in recognizing the need for an individually tailored response to each family’s situation,” Gates wrote. “They have led Snohomish County and many other communities to the current stage of our journey.”
That journey isn’t finished.
“I wish I could say that over 25 years the problem of homelessness has gone away. But it hasn’t,” Samuelson said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Housing Hope’s 25th anniversary
Housing Hope will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a party and book launch for “Building Hope: the first 25 years of Housing Hope” at 6 p.m. Friday at the Historic Flight Foundation, 10719 Bernie Webber Dr., Mukilteo.
The event is free; appetizers will be served from 6 to 7 p.m.
RSVP by Wednesday by calling 425-347-6556 or online at www.housinghope.org/25th.html.
The book, $39.95 for hard cover or $24.95 for paperback, will be available at Friday’s event, at www.housinghope.org/book.html, at the agency’s office at 5830 Evergreen Way in Everett or at J. Matheson Gifts, 2615 Colby Ave., Everett.