EVERETT — In an interview at her Evergreen Way office, Donna Moulton revisited the perspectives she has had while working with people in poverty: therapist, social worker, CEO of a children’s advocacy center.
She said she understands the myriad paths that can force people into dire situations.
Moulton is now the CEO of Housing Hope, an Everett nonprofit that aims to break the cycle of poverty and homeless in Snohomish County. She took over for Fred Safstrom, who retired after 25 years with the organization, in February.
Now, with nearly six months under her belt, Moulton said she has a good grasp on the community and Housing Hope’s goals. She pointed to the success of HopeWorks, a Housing Hope affiliate focused on job training, and its recent graduation class of 108 trainees.
“That was always the goal, whenever HopeWorks was started, for us to have at least 100 trainees go through in a year,” Moulton said. “And 12 years later, we nailed it.”
HopeWorks privately operates Kindred Kitchen, Tomorrow’s Hope Child Development Center, RENEW Home & Decor and Ground Works Landscaping to help people get steady employment and housing. Moulton said the program is just as much about finding community as it is cashing pay checks.
“I spoke with people who didn’t think that they had any worth before they came into the program,” she said. “But from having that connection with the program, the other trainees and the trainers themselves, they were showing up with a sense of dignity in the work that they were doing.”
These programs, Moulton explained, work to untangle the root causes of homelessness.
In its 36-year history, Housing Hope has had three CEOs. Each has brought a different zest to the role. As a longtime social worker, Moulton recognizes how everything is “interconnected.”
“I think as a systems person,” Moulton said. “I’m looking at all of the issues that might impact the households we’re working with — really looking systemically at what’s going on holistically with those families — so that we can provide the the biggest bang for the buck.”
Growing up, Moulton moved a lot. Her father’s job in engineering pulled her family across the country.
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work, she spent 14 years working with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault near Chicago. She started off as a children’s counselor and finished as the director of client services.
“I think I had just about every single role that they had at the agency,” Moulton said, chuckling, “which was really great experience.”
In 2017, she moved to Phoenix to take over as the director at Childhelp, a children’s advocacy center. Annually, the center helped about 7,500 kids who experienced trauma.
“I kept trying to impose a more systemic model on the work that we were doing,” Moulton said. “My reasoning was that maintaining child safety wasn’t going to be in place for very long if folks didn’t have a safe place to live, income, transportation or unmet medical needs.”
She wanted to help people not just in their lowest moments, but to work on those issues at their roots, then offer wraparound services to move forward.
So she took the CEO position at Rural Resources Community Action in Colville, north of Spokane, where she worked through the pandemic. Then, upon Safstrom’s retirement, she saw the listing at Housing Hope in Everett.
“I was sitting in the airport, and I read it, and I kind of put it down, and I read it again, and I kind of hit my husband on the shoulder,” Moulton recalled.
She continued: “I knew that I would be working with folks that had limited opportunities based on poverty and homelessness, and it’s a population that I really like working with. If we can provide holistic services to households, when we’re looking at all of the things that are impacting their ability to thrive, then we can have really long-term outcomes that create sustained progress moving forward.”
Her goal is not simply to get people housed, but to keep people housed through job training, child care and family support.
Having lived all over the country in both her youth and adult life, she can see the unique problems Washingtonians face.
And despite their work, people are still slipping into homelessness, she said.
“What I’d really like to see happen is to increase our collaborations with other agencies in the county that have expertise around medical, dental, psychiatric services, general mental health support and chemical dependency,” Moulton said. “How can we maximize their connection to those kinds of services so that they’re successful moving forward?”
Moulton is now trying to reach Housing Hope’s remaining goals, to meet Snohomish County’s growing need.
HopeWorks is considering expanding its Kindred Kitchen program from training groups of 4 to 16, Moulton said.
Housing Hope is also in the process of building a new Child Development Center. Currently, the center supports 130 kids, but they’re outgrowing the space. Moulton hopes to increase capacity by 100 spots. The center is set to open in 2025.