Ending Homelessness Requires Creative Partnerships; Here’s a Truly Inspiring Example!

By Mike Yoder, Executive Director

On January 1 of this year a monumental shift was launched in Pierce County to address the crisis of homelessness. It’s obvious that homelessness has become a crisis here, underscored by the recent announcement that the number of homelessness people in our County officially increased by 37% in the past year.

But behind the tragedy of that increase is some good news: Associated Ministries has entered into a partnership with Pierce County to help design and implement a completely new homelessness coordinated entry system, based on the “housing first” approach. Once fully realized, coordinated entry will be an integral part of the new homeless crisis response system designed to end chronic homelessness in Pierce County within the next 5 to 10 years!

Mark Jiang (R) and Shelly Hu (C) with their son.

Mark Jiang (L) and Shelly Hu (C) with their son, Longfei.

An important key to enabling this new effort achieve its incredible goal of ending chronic

homelessness will be creative new partnerships with faith communities, service agencies, businesses, housing providers, and individuals.

An especially inspiring example of a creative partnership is the story of Shelly Hu and Mark Jiang, married real estate agents from Bellevue, WA. In March 2014 they bought a commercial property on Fife Street in Tacoma from the bank; their initial idea was to use the building as a senior care home. The building had been abandoned for several years and was in bad condition. They put almost all the money they had towards renovating it.

Eventually, after considerable research, the couple concluded that finalizing all their plans for the building would require more funding than they had, so they put it back on the market to sell it.

In November 2015, when they were showing the building to a potential client, Mark saw an older couple who had built a tent next to their building; he soon realized they were living there. Mark approached them and found out that the couple was homeless… and that there were at least three groups of homeless seniors in the area. He was shocked.

Back home, Mark talked to Shelly about what he found, and they had a long discussion about what to do. Their own personal journey weighed heavily on their hearts.

Back in 1993 Mark was a teacher in China when he made the decision to study abroad, moving to Canada, leaving his wife and son behind. Arriving with only $500 in his pocket, life was very hard. The family was finally reunited in 1995, but there were still many difficulties to overcome: language, jobs, education, and so much more. Fortunately Shelly and Mark met many people who befriended them and helped them through the difficult times.

One day Mark went to thank their friend Margaret, a kind senior lady who helped them when they first came to Canada. She told Mark: “You do not need to thank us. If you can, we hope you can help other people in the way you were helped!” Mark and Shelly always remembered her words, and since that time they have tried to help others through various charities and by organizing social activities.

In recalling their own journey, Mark and Shelly knew they needed to help the vulnerable seniors they met in Tacoma; they knew they could put their building to use in doing so, rather than selling it. So they started searching websites to try to figure out how to make it all work. Eventually they came across Associated Ministries and excitedly realized AM was doing exactly what they wanted to do!

Mark visited the AM office, met the team, discussed his idea, and took them to see the building. Since those initial meetings AM has helped plan, organize and cooperate in many ways to move this project forward, including teaming Mark and Shelly up with the ideal property management company. BCI Properties helped to further renovate the building to meet codes and obtain the permits needed to get the building into operation. Says Mark: “Without Associated Ministries’ help, their tremendous input and contribution, we could never have achieved all that we have today with this project. Thank you!”

Shelly shares: “We have been able to build our business and have a house, cars, jobs, and a good income. Our life has come a long way since we first moved to North America. But we know that there are still so many people who are not as fortunate as we are, who don’t have a home, or enough money for food and clothing to support themselves or their children. We realized that this is a good time for us to help those who need it. It’s time for us to contribute, work together with all people to make better neighborhoods, better societies, and a better country! This is how we knew we could help, by providing affordable housing for low income seniors so they can improve their quality of life.”

Not many of us would be able to buy a care home and renovate it to provide permanent housing for 50 vulnerable seniors, but we believe most would do something just as significant if we could. That’s the heart of the people who are called to be a part of Associated Ministries: making sacrificial investments to help achieve the vision of ending chronic homelessness in our community. Thanks for your part in making that dream a reality!

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