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Housing First meets need with love

New tenants are welcomed to their apartments with individual welcome signs.-Photo courtesy of Tosin Arasi

SEATTLE, Wash. (Dec. 6, 2023)–When we opened Burbridge Place we celebrated the addition of 124 brand new homes for those who have long experienced homelessness. But Burbridge also exemplifies traits embedded in DESC’s DNA–a willingness to try new methods of creating housing and services–and the love that goes into that work.

Burbridge Place is a unique DESC housing project. Assembled on site from modular parts built off site, Burbridge also boasts a host of sustainability features.

Speaking at the grand opening, DESC Executive Director Daniel Malone highlighted DESC’s commitment to innovation and solving problems.

During the height of the pandemic, the Seattle Office of Housing asked DESC to consider a different design and manufacturing methods for a project, hoping to find better, faster and newer ways to create affordable housing.

“DESC already had a project in the works, it was fully designed and we were ready to proceed, when the city asked and DESC agreed to do a second project (Burbridge Place), in a different way,” Daniel said. “I think you’ll agree with me that it was a good decision for us to do.”

Each apartment has a window wall.-Photo courtesy of Tosin Arasi

The first shelter welcomed anyone, “regardless of what was going on with them. People could be under the influence of alcohol or other substances and be welcome to come in, and that was unheard of at the time, in 1979.”

DESC went on to apply that same philosophy to bringing people into housing, even when they had significant issues that should be addressed, “but the person wasn’t ready to address those issues,” he said.” We continued lowering barriers, giving far more people a chance at housing than would’ve had it otherwise.”

Burbridge Place has “wet room” bathrooms for greater accessibility and reduced flooding.-Photo courtesy of Tosin Arasi

DESC participates in research to evaluate our practices, to figure out what works and what should be expanded. We have capitalized on that research in lots of different ways, such as piloting new interventions for alcohol use disorder or other substance use disorder, even smoking, among the population we serve. The Clinic at Hobson Place and our Mobile Response Division are also examples of seeing gaps and building solutions.

“We have created a really spectacular integrated physical and behavioral health care clinic at Hobson Place that we do in partnership with Harborview Medical Center,” Daniel said. “We have created new and expanded behavioral health crisis response work in the community to help make up for some really significant challenges that system is facing.”

“The overdose reversal drug Naloxone is available throughout our programs, and all staff are trained to use it,” he said. “More recently, we’ve redoubled those efforts because of the Fentanyl crisis and overdoses, and we’re working on several different measures to address that crisis, creating a clinic specially designed for people coming out of fentanyl overdose.”

Residents have private courtyard.-Photo courtesy of Tosin Arasi

“We’ve focused on building and sustaining a workforce who can do this work, and who stay in doing this work because this is all about relationships, and it’s essential to have people do these jobs and do them well.”

DESC has installed green features such as water flow monitors that allow us to see unusual water use in an apartment.

“So doing this kind of building innovation made a lot of sense, just given our history as an organization.”

(Read all about the building’s sustainability features here.)

The building is named in memory of Joseph Burbridge.

“The other thing is about love. We’ve named this building after Joseph Burbridge. This is a man who exudes kindness and vulnerability, and we felt it apt to name this building after him,” Daniel said.

“Mayor Bruce Harrell is somebody who has talked about the homelessness crisis and how we have to respond to it with love, not just demanding that people get off the streets, and this is something that has resonated with me a great deal. This building really is an expression of that. The city has invested resources to create homes for 124 people who haven’t had those homes before, sometimes for their entire adult lives they haven’t had that kind of opportunity, and they’re going to have it here.

DESC Executive Director Daniel Malone talked about innovation and love.

“That love is going to be further expressed by the staff in this building, who are going to deliver on the community promise of loving people. They’re going to care for, watch out for, the people who move into this building. They’re going to do that work 24/7, around the clock. They’re the folks who are going to really put into action the day-to-day love that this is all about.”