EVERETT — When the hospital released Vern Van Winkle after his left leg was amputated just below the knee, he had no home to return to.
So he was sent to the Everett Gospel Mission.
“I was pissed. I was told I wasn’t going to be kicked to the street — the Mission is the streets,” Van Winkle said. “I would have healed faster if I hadn’t gone to the men’s mission.”
He returned to the hospital when an infection in his wound flared up. When discharged the second time, there was a new housing option available to Van Winkle, who had been living in his car prior to his surgery. A place that would have on-site medical care and a staff that could check on him daily, just what Van Winkle needed as he adjusted to his new life.
Clare’s Place, located on Berkshire Drive in the Glacier View neighborhood in the central part of the city, opened in July.
It is one of three supportive housing buildings coming to Everett in 2019. Cocoon House, which helps teens and young adults, moved to an expanded location in April and Housing Hope is opening HopeWorks Station II on Broadway later this year.
Supportive housing combines housing with services to assist residents as they move out of homelessness.
Where Van Winkle now calls home, Clare’s Place, is managed by Catholic Community Services. It provides 65 units for chronically homeless people, operating on the Housing First model which prioritizes permanent housing with low barriers for entry. Once housed, residents are connected to treatment and other assistance programs.
All rooms have been assigned, according to Catholic Community Services. Once fully operational, the building will host a medical suite staffed by the Community Health Center of Snohomish County.
Neighbors worried the building would increase criminal activity in the area. But so far, police contact has been minimal, according to Everett police officer Aaron Snell.
A few years ago, Van Winkle’s life had begun to collapse around him. The Everett resident and Cascade High School graduate was his mother’s full-time caretaker, fixing meals and taking her to doctors’ appointments. As her health declined from complications related to diabetes, he ignored his own medical needs, Van Winkle said.
Her death came quickly.
“I wasn’t prepared for it,” Van Winkle said, tearing up.
After she died, her house was sold, leaving him homeless. Van Winkle moved into his car, which made it difficult to manage his diabetes and hold down a job. He struggled with thoughts of suicide.
“I didn’t want to be around anymore,” Van Winkle said.
He was sent to Fairfax Behavioral Health Hospital.
As his diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage, worsened, he stepped on a piece of glass leading to the massive infection in his leg, he said.
At Clare’s Place he is able to heal from his amputation and learn a new routine. His new home is sparse and tidy. A brown leather chair sits in front of a television. A handmade blue and yellow quilt, donated by the Everett Quilting Guild, lays atop his small bed.
“I don’t know where I would be without Clare’s Place — rolling down Broadway in my wheelchair,” he said.
Van Winkle helps tend the garden beds out back and keep outside areas clean.
“He really wants to participate and give back,” said Sarah Jayne Barrett, Catholic Community Services’s director of housing services for the northwest region.
Van Winkle rolls around the property and picks up litter, she said.
“A lot of people have the assumption that homeless people are coming from Seattle or out of state,” Barrett said. “This is a local guy that’s fallen on hard times.”