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Some homeless programs fit in perfectly downtown

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Bruce Transitional Housing residents Christina Alford, Tom Sheehey and Cynthia Tate

The residents at Bruce Transitional Housing let it be known that they were miffed and wanted to talk to someone from at The World about the recent controversy in downtown Wenatchee involving some homeless individuals.

They felt that our news stories gave the impression that people who are homeless are trouble makers. They took great exception to that characterization and wanted to set the record straight.

So on Friday, I walked over to visit our next-door neighbors to listen to their concerns. The folks at The Bruce,  as it is called, have been exemplary neighbors. Virtually every day, I exchange pleasantries with those who gather in the urban garden area they have created in the alley between  Mission and Chelan streets.  

As we talked in the lobby of what was once a hotel, I was struck by the powerful sense of family that these homeless individuals have found at the program operated by the Women's Resource Center. 

They were just as disturbed as the downtown business owners with the behavior that they had witnessed around the PowerHouse Ministry drop-in center on Wenatchee Avenue. But they wanted the community to know that the vast majority of homeless in our midst are not causing problems and are doing everything they can to get back on their feet.  

"We're all down and out here," said Christina Alford, "but thank God for The Bruce. We've all had our problems only we're a real tight-knit group."

That was plain to see. The Bruce is far more than just a place where people who are homeless spend time. It is a safe haven for those who have been on the streets. Residents have to adhere to a structured program that involves strict rules, such as refraining from drugs and alcohol. It also offers a supportive atmosphere where residents do chores to help the place function and also look out after each other. Each person is on a program designed to get them employed and back on their feet. It's an effective mix of help plus accountability. 

The Powerhouse drop-in center, by contrast,  is an unstructured environment without the rules and accountability. It's apparent that a number of those who frequent the drop-in center have substance abuse and mental health issues and are in need of services.

The folks at The Bruce know what it's like to be "on the outs" and wish those individuals could get or accept help.

"Being out there on the outs is horrible," said Cynthia Tate, an artist who deals with congestive heart issues. She recalled the stress of not knowing where her next meal was going to come from and always having to watch her back. She was living in a garage until a friend told her about the program at The Bruce. Tate said if she hadn't discovered The Bruce, "I'd be dead right now."

Being homeless, they told me, does a real number on a person's self confidence. Getting a job when you have no place to clean up before an interview or a phone number for an employer to call makes it nearly impossible to turn the corner, said Tom Sheehey, a single father who at 49 is close to getting his GED and is rediscovering his construction skills after a lengthy battle with alcoholism.

"The Bruce has been my saving grace," said a tearful Jill Luscombe, a single mother who's desperately trying to regain custody of her two-year-old daughter. She's been clean and sober for a month and a half and said she's grateful for the help she's gotten from the staff to get her life back on track.

The same is true of those I met with in the lobby of The Bruce. To a person, they are on their way to self sufficiency, like Hugh Roberts, who's getting a degree in criminal justice and Rose Allen. A number had been to college at one time in their lives. Most had held a steady job in the past. They just happen to have fallen on hard times for one reason or another. 

"These are real people with real dreams and wants and fears just like the rest of us," said Carolyn Perry, a staffer at The Bruce for the past 13 years. The tragedies that have happened in their lives could happen to any of us, she observed.

She lights up when talking about individuals who have were down and out but found their self confidence and have gone on to become productive members of the community. 

Carole Nordal, a social worker at The Bruce, said the controversy about the drop-in center underscores the need to do more than just provide food and housing to those who are homeless. That's what The Bruce and other structured programs provide.

I was inspired by my visit with the folks at The Bruce. It underscored the fact that there are many individuals who are struggling in our communities — who have lost everything but who have so much to contribute if they can discover a way out of their predicament. 

The headline on one of our stories on the controversy read: "Downtown vs. down and out."  It was catchy but it really didn't describe the reality. Downtown business owners do support homeless programs in the district, just not the one on Wenatchee Avenue.

There appears to be a need for unstructured programs for the homeless like the PowerHouse Ministry in the community, but the city's core retail area is the wrong place. However, structured homeless programs in downtown like The Bruce and Solomon's Porch are significant assets to our community and very much do belong in the downtown core.