EVERETT — The challenges are immense and the remedies complex. Long before the pandemic made everything harder, people suffering from chronic mental illness, homelessness and substance use disorders weren’t hard to find on local streets.
“We see them on the streets every day,” said Tom Sebastian, president and CEO of Compass Health.
Yet in this dark season, there’s good news from the behavioral health care agency that serves five counties in northwest Washington. On Nov. 11, Compass Health announced that it’s received a $1 million gift from the Sunderland Foundation.
One of the largest gifts in Compass Health’s 118-year history, the donation from the Kansas-based foundation will support the nonprofit’s Broadway Campus Redevelopment. Already, the project’s first phase — a five-story, 82-unit housing complex — is rising on the corner of Lombard Avenue and 33rd Street. The units, just behind Compass Health’s Bailey Center on Broadway, will provide supportive low-barrier housing.
Compass plans, according to a Herald article earlier this year, call for the 70-year-old brick Bailey building to be torn down. Its services will be in a new structure. Phase two includes a crisis triage center with a 24-hour staffed program, much like what Compass has now, on the north half of the block along Broadway.
On the block’s south side, a planned third phase would house administrative offices that are now near Everett’s Forest Park. That complex could include more supportive housing, plus primary medical care.
“We’re right on track and continue construction,” Sebastian said last week. The $26 million, 47,000-square-foot housing development is scheduled to open in April. “It’s up and enclosed, they’re working on the interior,” he said.
Eighty-one units are individual studios with their own bathrooms. One larger unit is intended for people in transition from Western State Hospital.
“This gift from the Sunderland Foundation is transformational,” Sebastian said in a statement. The donation “brings us one step closer to realizing our most ambitious project to date.”
The foundation was established in 1945 by Lester T. Sunderland, former president of the Kansas-based Ash Grove Cement Co., which had a plant on the Duwamish River in Seattle. The company was acquired in 2017 by CRH, a global building materials group headquartered in Ireland.
Today, the Sunderland Foundation makes grants to nonprofits for construction projects in places where the cement company has historically operated.
Sebastian said that through a state-of-the-art regional center in downtown Everett, the goal is to change the approach to behavioral health care “in support of whole-person health.” That includes primary care and permanent supportive housing, along with behavioral health.
“With this housing-first concept, first they have a place to live,” said Dr. Camis Milam, Compass Health’s chief medical officer and a psychiatrist. Unlike places that require sober living from the start, housing first makes a safe residence the foundation on which to build toward a more stable life. People who live with serious mental illness are often not cognitively able to maintain housing on their own, she said.
“This will be a linchpin for Compass,” Milam said. The agency has some housing, but not in a central location. “This will become a mall of services they need,” she said.
Tom Kozaczynski, Compass Health’s chief development and communications officer, said the agency hasn’t previously received a grant from the Sunderland Foundation. “It’s one of the largest philanthropic gifts we’ve received,” he said. “This gift is an incredible gesture and affirms the work that our amazing teams accomplish daily — we’re truly humbled by the Sunderland Foundation’s support,” he said in a statement last week.
It will help add credence in supporting the project among the local philanthropic community, Kozaczynski said.
Compass Health serves about 17,000 people annually in five counties and has 700 employees, Sebastian said.
“The demand is so great, it’s grown exponentially,” he said. While years ago, the faces of homelessness were most often alcoholic men, Sebastian said, “there’s a wide range of experience with homelessness now.”
He said the new building will include eight units as part of the VASH program, Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, which provides rental assistance, VA case management and other support to veterans who are homeless.
The project, Sebastian said, is also an economic boost during the pandemic, providing about 150 construction jobs and later 50 additional jobs. Along with the new Housing Hope complex across Broadway, the complex will give a fresh look to central Everett’s south entryway.
Randy Vance, the Sunderland Foundation’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement that the Compass Health project “reflects our mission to support bold initiatives that act as economic and social generators in the community.”
Most important are those who’ll be helped.
Milam, the doctor, said the housing complex will have an open space for 12-step sobriety groups and other gatherings.
“This is long-term support,” she said. “Our clients deserve to have a nice space to have that help.”
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org