By Nan Nan Liu
Northwest Asian Weekly
For many people, purchasing a home is the ultimate American dream. For the homeless, the dream of home ownership seems far out of reach. However, five First Place families were recently handed keys to their new homes.
Nhon’s House is a collaborative effort between Cobalt Mortgage, Thach Real Estate Group, and First Place Schools to build a townhouse community in Rainier Valley that offers permanent, low-rent housing for homeless families or families in transitional housing. It is a part of First Place’s Family Stabilization Program.
The difference between Nhon’s House and other transitional homes is that the houses are brand new. Traditionally, it is very difficult to attain permanent housing, let alone brand new homes for homeless families. But Nhon’s House aims to set an example for other communities to find a housing solution for those in need.
A special ribbon cutting took place on Friday, July 6. The families, all with school-aged children, were beyond ecstatic. Among them were Rebecca Church and her two sons and daughter.
“I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it,” said Church. “I’ve never had [my own house]. I just sat there and cried.”
Her children were also excited.
“I couldn’t speak,” said her eldest son. “I thought it was a dream.”
“We never had something like that,” added her daughter.
“It has three bedrooms, beautiful walls, hardwood floors, a lot of windows, all new kitchen appliances,” described Church of her new home. “It just feels so happy there.”
After unpacking, Church plans to celebrate with a barbecue. She couldn’t wait to break in her brand new kitchen appliances and cook a real meal, use the new washer and dryer, and decorate the walls with pictures. It is a dream come true for a family that was homeless and broken not too long ago.
A long road home
Several years ago, Church was doing well. Though she overcame abusive relationships, Church completed her bachelor’s degree, and took care of her children. But life took several wrong turns.
“I had two back surgeries, and my mom had brain cancer,” recalled Church.
At first, Church took prescription pain killers to ease her physical discomforts. But she found it hard to live without the pills that helped ease a lot of emotional pain, especially when drugs were so easy to obtain.
“I asked for pain killers, and the doctors just gave them to me. … I slowly slipped into something … it really went downhill … everything was slipping away,” recalled Church. “You just get so stupid. You only realize [it] after you are clear.”
Church, who was deep in drug addiction, was unable to hold on to a career, her possessions, and even her children. Her family finally intervened and took her kids. Church then checked herself into rehab.
Though Church was ill during detoxification and felt devastated over losing her children, she was determined to get better. Six months after a one-year live-in treatment program, Church was sober again. Six months later, she got her kids back. She then enrolled her children in First Place, a school especially designed for children in crisis.
The next year, Church inquired for transitional housing, and was placed in Central District. Though it was better than being homeless and away from her children, a run-down house in an impoverished neighborhood was hardly the ideal situation for Church to raise a family in.
“It was a blessing, but it was a baby step,” said Church. “The transitional house was 89 years old. We would see drug deals happen every day. I had to explain to my kids a lot more about drugs and gangs [than I would have liked].”
Church was on her way up, but still had a long way to go. Living in an environment full of negative influences hindered her efforts to climb out of poverty.
“I’ve been on welfare for seven to eight years. You just get so discouraged. I wanted to give up.”
And just then, a single phone call turned her entire life around.
“[In] April, I was approved [for Nhon’s House]. I found the address. I drove by, and I just started bawling. The anticipation was insane!”
Finally, Church was leaps – not steps – closer to owning the house of her dreams.
Dream gig with Thach Nguyen
“The townhouses took seven months to build,” said Thach Nguyen, CEO of Thach Real Estate Group.
Nguyen builds beautiful, modern homes all over Seattle. Each of the townhouses from Nhon’s House could have “easily sold for $250,000.” However, Nguyen took a gamble when First Place approached him about a low-income housing project for struggling families. He didn’t know whether his investments will ever be returned. Why did Nguyen make such a seemingly unwise business decision?
“I have been homeless,” said Nguyen, who lived in a shelter when his family immigrated to the United States in 1975.
With the humblest of beginnings, Nguyen dreamed of success at a young age. At 21, he started in the real estate business, one where many others have quit. But Nguyen learned the business quickly and worked tenaciously. At 27, he became a self-made millionaire. He went on to become one of the most successful real estate developers in Seattle. In addition to being the CEO of Thach Real Estate Group, Nguyen is also the owner of inspirational website Dream Big with Thach, where he helps others achieve their dreams. Nguyen is a board member of First Place Schools.
“I have been working with First Place for 15 years,” said Nyugen, “[my goal is to] end homelessness in Seattle.”
Nguyen, along with authorities at First Place, carefully selected residents for Nhon’s House from many candidates. Nguyen sought out people who wanted to help themselves.
“They have to want to get off the system,” said Nguyen.
Church was one of them. Recently, she was offered a marketing position at First Place. The job not only provided Church with a stable income, but also taught her essential skills.
She was happy to announce that she didn’t need welfare anymore.
Because of Church’s accomplishments in such a short amount of time, Nguyen knew that she was a great candidate for Nhon’s house.
Many of Church’s peers who are struggling see her as a role model. She often receives inquisitions on how she came out of homelessness, and she offers sound advice.
“If you fall down, just get back up, no matter how hard you think it is. Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle,” said Church. “Don’t just say it, do it.”
For Church, the best outcome from First Place and Nhon’s House is really the changes within her children.
“[When we were homeless,] they had anger issues. They didn’t trust me,” said Church. “They are different kids today.”
Nguyen is proud of his new resident, too. He has full faith that Church will take this opportunity and work hard to achieve her dream.
“As long as she has a dream, she has something to live for,” said Nguyen. “As long as she has an eye for owning a house, she has something to [work towards]. I can at least give her what a ‘house’ looks like.” (end)
Nan Nan Liu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.