Coffee with the ED : March

At our inaugural Coffee with the ED on March 17, Alisa Chatinsky presented the strategic framework, The Sophia Way Forward and responded to questions from the gathering.

What are the top three priorities for 2021, and how do you plan to achieve them?
Our first priority is the health and safety of our clients and our staff. We want to encourage everyone to get the vaccine and ensure those who wish to can get one.

The second priority is financial stability for The Sophia Way. We want to continue to grow our reserves and continually increase staff pay based on merit.

The third and a significant priority is to house more women. We want more women to have a place they can call home. To help us do that, we have started a new Client Assistance Fund, which will be used in various ways, big and small. For instance, to help a woman prevent eviction or pay the first month’s rent or a utility deposit. Or provide something they need to keep their job, such as a set of new tires for their car so that they can get to work or a pair of steel-toed boots they may need at their workplace. Initial funding from the City of Sammamish, has helped more than a dozen individuals so far this year, and we hope to add to the fund bit-by-bit. The goal of $100,000 is in addition to our philanthropic goal of $1.365M this year.

We are excited about the Eastgate Permanent Supportive Housing project that Plymouth Housing is promoting. There will be 92 apartments with an allocation for people from the Eastside (the 2020 One Night Count estimated that more than a thousand people experienced homelessness on the Eastside). We are working with Plymouth Housing on this, and the more we build such relationships, the better we will work together to support those without homes in our community.

Can you expand on the Campus of Care initiative?
The Campus of Care initiative is one of our long-term goals that came out of our World Café that brought community members to the table to brainstorm. It came out of thinking about what someone in crisis might need. Creating a place that can best serve them, providing everything they need at a single location.

We envision a Campus of Care for the entire community. It would serve not just those experiencing homelessness but anyone in the community who needs support – be it applying for food stamps or healthcare or documentation. We want to be the leader in this initiative, but the benefit is for the community.

Do you feel you have enough case managers to meet current needs? Are the case managers The Sophia Way staff or from another organization?
Currently, we employ five case managers, including a lead case manager, more than doubling staff in the past two years. Case managers must complete 60 hours of specialized training to help them help clients to succeed. We take great pride in our case managers having compassion and passion for supporting women. They build strong relationships with clients. One of our clients, Janis, calls her case manager “wonder woman.” You can watch her video here.

What are you doing to improve staff retention?
One of our focus areas has been to increase salaries – we pay more than similar organizations in the community. Fortunately, last year because of the CARES Act, we could provide hazard pay to staff working directly in shelters. The average salary for our shelter employees is $18/hour, and we know that does not get you very far, especially if you have a family. Hazard pay was critical as our shelter staff faced decisions about their safety, that of their family, and in some cases the struggle to find childcare, the loss of a partner’s employment, and so many other stressors related to the unknowns of the pandemic.

We encourage education and training for the professional development of all our employees. Shelter staff need to complete 40 hours of training every year to improve their skills. We believe the more prepared they are to do their jobs, the longer they will stay. We also offer educational stipends if they want to go back to school.

We are trying to build camaraderie to make The Sophia Way a fun and joyful workplace. That is important, especially now, as our workforce is more dispersed and cannot meet in-person.

Do you keep in touch with or track women once they have left the shelter? How many of them get back on their feet and are able to be independent?
It depends on the women if they choose to stay in touch with The Sophia Way. We are in contact with women who stay at our transitional houses (Holly House and Nicky’s Place) or are housed through Section 8 vouchers and RAP, as case managers stay connected and continue to support them.

Women know that they can come to our Day Center to have a meal or do their laundry if they need. Case managers care deeply and build great relationships with women. Sometimes, women come back to the shelters, and we are there to help them. We love to tell the story of Roslyn, who found her home after staying with us three times; she still stays in touch with us.

Is there a centralized database that tracks individuals when they arrive at a shelter in King County?
Each person who enters shelter is asked to complete an intake, gathering demographic and important data to be entered into HMIS (Homeless Management Information System). This information is needed when applying for funding from local, state or federal government, as funding is often based on meeting specific deliverables.

It is up to the individual whether she chooses to provide information. As a low-barrier shelter, women may utilize our facilities and services regardless.

What is the bed capacity at The Sophia Way?
We have two shelters now – Helen’s Place, deemed our emergency shelter that opened in Kirkland in August 2020. Planned with 48 beds and 80 women able to utilize the day center, we can, currently, only serve 40 women safely. Because we do not have the space for proper social distancing, the day center located at Helen’s Place is not open for walk-ins. However, drop-ins are welcome at Sophia’s Place Day Center.

Our other shelter, Sophia’s Place provides shelter for 21 women, who must qualify and apply for a space. Women are able to stay for up to six months while connecting regularly with a case manager who helps them attain their personal goals.

Is there a waitlist, and how long is it? What happens to those on the waitlist?
Unfortunately, we do have to turn away a few women each day who want shelter for the night. We are able to offer immediate care such as a shower and a hot meal. Then our staff does their best to locate resources–calling other shelters in the area to find them a place to sleep.

During the recent winter blast, we put mats on the floor, and when we ran out of space, we connected clients to other shelters and even had hotel vouchers so that everyone who came to our door had a warm, safe place to sleep.

Do the shelters work with undocumented women?
Anyone that identifies as a woman, whether documented or undocumented, is welcomed at the shelters. If they have language barriers, we try to find people who speak their language or translation services (sometimes even Google translate) to communicate with them effectively.

Will you apply for a PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loan?
Because of the money we received from the CARES Act last year, we did not have a decrease in income, and therefore we do not qualify for the second round. We received a $260,000 PPP loan last year, which covered almost two months of salaries, which is huge!

Moreover, our community came through overwhelmingly. They filled our Donation Center (almost 3000 sq. ft. of space) with items needed at the shelters. As soon as we put out an ask, they gave – masks, cleaning supplies, adult diapers…and much more! I am amazed at the generosity of this community!

Do we still have respite hotel rooms? How long are the motel stays?
We do not currently utilize hotels. From April to August last year all shelter programs relocated to the Red Lion. If it is necessary to quarantine or isolate someone, King County has places available. Women have been incredible in being mindful and wearing a mask. It is harder for them because the only time they can take off their masks is when they sleep or when they are eating.

Can you talk about how you are funded and your major buckets of funding?
In 2019, our government funding was 38%. Because of money received from the CARES Act and from the government to meet the increases of staying open 24/7, our government funding reached 51%. We receive 23% of support from individuals, 17% from foundations and organizations, and also receive support from the faith community

What is your relationship with New Bethlehem Place?
The Kirkland Place for Families and Women is a joint initiative of The Sophia Way and New Bethlehem Place (NBP), a program of Catholic Community Services (CCS). Our shelter, Helen’s Place is located on the second floor with NBP’s shelter for families located on the first floor. Both organizations raised money collectively and individually for the capital campaign. The land was gifted to CCS by the city, and we have prepaid our rent for the next thirty years.

Has TSW thought about expanding its housing programs, potentially with the new Health through Housing proposal from King County?
We would love to expand our housing options. We are excited about King County Regional Homelessness Authority. We will continue to work with all partners to ensure the support for The Sophia Way.

What is the number one way community members can help TSW?
Please continue to provide your love and support in all the ways you do! The community has been willing to jump in and make things happen – providing nutritious food, stocking shelves, and of course, making financial gifts. EVERY gift whether it is $5 a month or $5,000 a year makes an impact and for this we are truly grateful.

Please join us at our annual fundraiser Sheltering from the Storm – invite ten of your friends who may not know about The Sophia Way to sit at your virtual table and learn about our mission. Please share our vision of a community in which all women have a place to call home.