Bruce helps homeless find their way
Thursday, December 9, 2010
WENATCHEE — For Lorraine Pettit, the last straw was waking up freezing in her car. Hugh Roberts knew his parents didn’t raise him to be a drug dealer on the streets of Wenatchee. Jonathan Werremeyer was well on his way to drinking himself to death. Amanda Lopez’s drinking caused her to lose her children.
All four were recently homeless. All of them are now — or in Pettit’s case, were — residents of Bruce Transitional Housing, a warm, safe and friendly place where they can reshape their lives.
The former Bruce Hotel at 206 Palouse St. was purchased by the Women’s Resource Center in 1993 to house homeless single people and families. Since then, it has become a safe retreat for hundreds of people. Over the years, local service clubs, private businesses and generous individuals have contributed money, materials and labor to add to grants to improve the Bruce and its many programs to help the homeless.
Bruce Transitional Housing is one of four nonprofit groups that will be helped this year by contributions to The Wenatchee World’s Neighbors Care Fund. All four groups aid the region’s homeless population.
Transition is a key part of the Bruce program, said Carol Nordal, director. It’s been a safe haven for victims of domestic abuse and people whose lives have been shattered by drugs, alcohol and mental health problems. Others find themselves without a home due to loss of job, loss of income and medical problems. It’s been a safe harbor for thousands of children while their parents find their way.
Nordal said the adults all must have one thing in common: they have to want progressive change to better their lives. Counseling, job training, degree-oriented education and classes to improve health, nutrition and parenting skills are all part of the package. Residents pay a stipend for their stay, which is limited to two years.
“When they move out of here, we want them to have a good chance of making it,” Nordal said. “We’re trying to do more than put a Band-Aid on the situation and offer real help to get people back to being productive members of the community.”
Nordal said she was surprised at the amount of homelessness here when she moved from Spokane three years ago.
The problem always increases in winter as cold weather decreases other housing options, she said. “But this year, we’ve been full all year around because of loss of jobs or loss of income.” About 80 people currently live at the Bruce.
Although there is always a long waiting list to get in, many get a room and find the structure doesn’t fit them, said Carolyn Perry, the facility’s case manager. Alcohol and drugs are not allowed. Residents have to participate in the programs and show transitional progress, she said.
“I’m honored to work here and so appreciative of people trying to improve their lives. But it’s very sad to see the ones who don’t make it,” Perry said.
Lorraine Pettit, 55, is one who seemingly has made it. She ended up homeless after leaving a job and poor living situation in Fairbanks, Alaska, three years ago. She cashed in an annuity and moved to California for warmer weather. She didn’t find a job, the money quickly disappeared and Pettit found herself homeless.
When she moved to Wenatchee — at the suggestion of a friend — in 2009, she ended up living in her car. She came to the Bruce last December.
“I got tired of being a Popsicle,” she said. The Bruce, she said, helped her get her life back on track. She started taking computer education classes to improve her skills.
She was hired as the Bruce’s office manager last summer. She recently moved to an apartment house operated by the Bruce for former residents ready to take a step out on their own. She’s also the resident manager there.
Hugh Roberts, 44, moved to the Bruce last year with his girlfriend Susan Nickles to get away from a life of drugs and crime.
It didn’t work for him at first. Roberts left but returned a few months ago to rejoin Nickles, who had stayed at the Bruce.
Now, both are enrolled at Wenatchee Valley College, she in the nursing program, he in criminal justice.
After 13 years of service in the Navy and National Guard, and tours in Iraq, Roberts said he came home, went through a divorce and hit rock bottom. He started using and then dealing drugs to support himself. Caught and facing serious jail time, he decided he better shape up.
“I knew I was screwing up. I was raised better than that. I was sleeping in my car out of shame,” he said. “I was blessed to find this place.”
Jonathan Werremeyer, 26, said he developed a severe drinking problem while working a fast-paced life as a cook and bartender in the Seattle area.
Friends persuaded him to go to a treatment center in Selah. He moved to Wenatchee to be close to his mother and moved into the Bruce for its structure.
He now works security at the Bruce — overseeing breathalyzer and urine tests for drugs and alcohol use — and is taking prerequisite classes at WVC to get into the school’s nursing program.
Amanda Lopez, 28, said she’s abused alcohol since she was 15. It’s landed her in jail, revoked her driver’s license and cost her a marriage and separation from her four children.
Her 3-month-old son was taken away by the state Child Protective Services this summer. She came to the Bruce to put her life back together.
“It was pretty iffy at first. I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she said. “But I’m here to concentrate on my stuff and getting my son back. I have a lot of people here helping me out. If it weren’t for the Bruce, I’d still be on the streets.”
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151
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