Pierce County nonprofit Homestead Community will open JJ House, a housing center for local at-risk youth, on Jan. 25.
The JJ House grand opening will be from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday. Events include a ribbon-cutting, tours, refreshments, and a silent auction to raise additional funds.
This is the first of many homes that Homestead Community hopes to open in the near future, helping youth and children who are homeless or leaving the foster care system.
“Our mission is a loving, stable home for every child, every youth,” said Sue Braaten, Homestead Community founder and president. “Eventually we would love to have just as many homes as we could. If we get the money we’ll do it. The need is so great with so many kids who are homeless and more than 1,500 children in foster care in Pierce County. We could really use all the help we can get.”
JJ House consists of various common areas and five apodments, which can each accommodate one kid. Five girls are currently set to move in sometime in February.
Residents must be between 18 and 24, qualify via The REACH Center (resources for education and career help) of Tacoma’s Housing 4 Success program, and be enrolled in a school or trade school program.
Those who qualify will pay a subsidized rent to live in the house, meaning they will pay whatever portion they can. They also will be assigned a personal case manager who will walk them through the process of living as a tenant and help them get on their feet.
Braaten started Homestead Community in 2008 and has been working with children in foster care for more than 20 years. She said she’s seen firsthand the impacts on children who have been through multiple moves, the separation of siblings, and other traumatic events. There’s also a total shortage of foster homes, especially in Pierce County, she said.
“With so many kids suffering from all of these problems or being moved to other states and counties out of Pierce County, I just remember thinking, I’ve got to do something,” Braaten said. “So Homestead Community was founded, and we realized we needed to get started and we were able to purchase this home in Tacoma.”
The Hilltop-area home was purchased thanks in part to benefactors Joe and Judy Kraus, from whom JJ House gets its namesake.
The space required some extra elbow grease, as it was in desperate need of painting and furnishing. The painting and furniture – from beds, to tables, to chairs, to the refrigerator and dishwasher – was all provided by ATG Stores and their team of volunteers.
“We are so thankful. They did everything. Now the space has lovely furnishings and now we really can give these kids a place to be proud of,” Braaten said.
“If we can help these kids have stable homes, along with mentoring programs and opportunities, their chances are much improved for a happy and successful life,” Braaten said.
Braaten said her dream for these kids is that they will have a safe, happy, and comfortable place to call home. Her goals for Homestead Community are to stabilize children in foster care and work to help solve the youth homeless crisis in the community.
“I want the Homestead Community to make a positive change in the lives of these kids, and I hope it will eventually create broader change as we hope it will be a model for others to use in their own communities.”
Additionally, Braaten hopes that Homestead Community will make a positive impact on the greater Tacoma community and beyond as it continues to grow. Since JJ House was completed in just over three months, she said she thinks the completion of at least two more homes in the next year is a strong possibility.
“I feel so excited that something’s finally happening, and really what it’s all about is helping these kiddos,” she said. “This has been a dream and a vision of mine for the last 15 years, and throughout starting a nonprofit, and now actually having something happen and knowing we can help five kids and get this up and running successfully, then that means we can know that we can get another house and do the same thing and repeat.”
Braaten shows no signs of slowing down as long as youth in our community remain at-risk.
“All of us want hope, and to know that we have a future and that someone is helping us with that hope. With these kids, I just know that it will change their life and then in turn hopefully generations to come,” she said.