SMOKEY POINT — If you’d asked Brandii Cantrell a year ago whether she’d have her own place by this Christmas, she would have laughed at you.
Days before the holiday, she sat in her freshly furnished living room while her 14-month-old son, Braden, ran around in bright green striped socks, showing off his toy trumpet and Dr. Seuss books. He seemed excited to have his own space, for his toys and books to be within reach of busy little hands. His stuff used to be in boxes wedged in a small room he and his mom shared at a shelter in Marysville. Before that, they lived in transitional housing for recovering drug addicts.
And before Braden, Cantrell was homeless for three years, living on the streets or wherever she could find a place to crash. She used meth and sometimes heroin.
“For a long time, I didn’t see a way out of that,” said Cantrell, 28. “It was when I got pregnant with Braden that I realized I needed to get help. Once I got out of that hole, opportunities kept popping up.”
One such opportunity was a new home at Twin Lakes Landing, the latest and, so far, largest project by the Everett-based nonprofit Housing Hope. There was a grand opening for the complex Dec. 8. She and Braden moved in Dec. 15.
“I’m not looking to be homeless again. I don’t want to go back,” Cantrell said. “I want my life to be different.”
Cantrell dropped out of high school when she was a freshman. Her parents were homeless and battling addiction, she said. It’s a cycle she continued.
Now, she’s celebrating 16 months clean and plans to resume her education, starting with getting her GED. She hopes to someday work in a career that lets her use her experience to help others, she said.
While she’s pursuing her studies, she’ll have access to computers, internet and other technology in a lab at Twin Lakes Landing. Living there is more than having an apartment; Cantrell, like her neighbors, will meet regularly with Stef Zandell, a family support coach. Zandell plans to have classes on site that teach life and job skills. The goal is to become a hub of services for low-income families, including programs for parents and children.
The support is what makes the move to Twin Lakes Landing so valuable. Without structure, Cantrell said she would be terrified of becoming homeless again.
“I’m not afraid to want things from where I’m sitting now, having this safe place,” she said.
Twin Lakes Landing is a $15 million project paid for through a mix of tax credits, grants, donations and financing. Most of the 50 units are for formerly homeless families. All are either free or low-rent, based on what residents can afford.
Thirty more families were set to move in the Friday before Christmas, Zandell said. Children already have tested the playground, and a community garden is ready for planting when the weather gets warmer. The apartments are a short walk from the Twin Lakes park and neighboring shopping center.
Residents usually stay in Housing Hope apartments for a couple of years before moving into permanent housing, spokeswoman Sara Wilson said. Over the next decade, the nonprofit expects to help 182 families at Twin Lakes Landing.
Cantrell watched a news report recently about the homeless population in the Everett area.
“I’m one of 50 here with an apartment, and I’m just so grateful,” she said. “I know I’ve been given an opportunity. I’m not going to waste it.”
Her grandparents planned to bring her 10-year-old daughter to the apartment Saturday so Cantrell and her two children could have time together. Cantrell was thinking she would cook dinner in her new kitchen, turn on some Christmas music and watch them open presents.
For the past few years, she hasn’t cared much for Christmas. There wasn’t a whole lot to look forward to, with no place to call home for the holidays.
“This is the first time I’ve had my own apartment. This is the first time I’ve had a place for family to come visit,” she said. “There’s just so much hope in my life right now.”