Article added: 12-07-2021
It all started on the corner of Church and Third Street when an individual donated a two-story apartment building to create Bonner Homeless Transitions (BHT) in 1991. The only problem was, due to city ordinance, the building had to be moved from its Church and Third location to a new location on Florence and Michigan. Luckily, an anonymous benefactor donated the funds needed to move the building, which they did by night, all in the name of their mission to help combat homelessness—a mantra that continues to fuel their desire to expand their operations and tackle new challenges through friendraising and fundraising.
“Many local organizations, businesses, groups and individuals donated their time, talent and materials to renovate the building,” said BHT Board President, Mary Jo Ambrosiani. “And in the fall of 1994, the downstairs apartments became available to homeless two-parent families.”
A program called “Adopt A Room” renovated the upstairs at Blue Haven in the spring of 1995. BHT mounted plaques above those rooms to commemorate those who volunteered their time to renovate them. “Those plaques are a thank you to the community,” Ambrosiani said. “They are also a reminder to those people living in the apartments that the rooms were renovated for them by specific members of our community.”
BHT currently hosts families in 10 apartments at their Blue Haven complex in Sandpoint. This facility consists of two adjacent residences, one owned and one leased, with a capacity to house up to 14 adults and 18 children, including single parents and families. The children attend schools in the Lake Pend Oreille School District. BHT also owns and operates property and homes out of Trestle Creek for low-income families.
The Trestle Creek facility in Hope, Idaho, provides four single-family homes and a fifth residence with four units for single tenants known as The Holland House. Tenants in the Holland House each have their own bedroom and bathroom and share a comfortable, spacious common area and kitchen. All their Trestle Creek homes were funded by grants through Idaho Housing and Finance Association, and were built by the combined efforts of AmeriCorps and Young Community Builders. The 5-acre parcel of land was provided by a donation for use as transitional housing.
“There is no time limit on how long they can stay there,” Ambrosiani said. “We have arranged with Bonner Community Housing Agency (BCHA) to manage the property for us.”
BHT provides housing to the people who are homeless. The only required eligibility to live in one of BHT’s homes is that one must be homeless.
“Within 30 days of moving into one of our apartments, they have to have a job or some sort of income to stay with us,” Ambrosiani said. “We have programs, classes and other things that our clients have to do. They must sit down with our program manager and develop a budget, perhaps take some nutrition classes, cooking classes, learn more about parenting skills, and things like that.”
BHT partners with several community resources for medical, food, counseling and GED classes to support their clients enough to help them get back on their feet.
“We work with vocational rehab, the Sandpoint Resource Center, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church and Health and Welfare,” Ambrosiani said. “Those are just a few of the resources that we work with.”
For several years, BHT received funding from Housing and Urban Development to run their program and pay their salaries. Recently, HUD has changed their mind about how they plan to curb homelessness, veering away from the transitional housing model.
“About five years ago, they decided that they didn’t want to support transitional housing anymore, which is what we provide,” Ambrosiani said. “Instead, they wanted to do what they call ‘rapid rehousing,’ which is where people get a home, but they are not provided any resources that help them with some of the issues or baggage they bring with them. So now we operate on donations from the community, fundraising, and writing and receiving grants.”
BHT’s annual fundraiser, sponsored by Idaho Housing and Finance Association (Boise), called Avenues for Hope, is designed to garner donations from people within the state of Idaho, in the community and beyond. This event will resume this December 9 to December 31 (more information about the event will be released early this month). BHT also started a fundraiser in 2019 called Little Black Dress.
“Little Black Dress was a fundraiser we had in November where, like other fundraisers, you have a meal and silent and loud auction items that are donated and community members bid on them,” Ambrosiani said. “We are looking to do it again in 2022, but it just kind of depends on what the CDC says we can do relative to the COVID situation on the number of attendees and other factors involved. We’ll get that back on track as soon as we return to normal or whatever ‘normal’ is.”
Bonner Homeless Transitions manages their program with four employees (two program managers, a repair and maintenance person, and an accountant), with seven board members, a weekly volunteer who handles donations, and a long list of volunteers for special events and other projects. For the future of BHT, they are facing three big challenges, as well as looking for new members to add to their board, along with some upcoming projects that include new builds for expansion.
“The first challenge being that we would like to change the negative connotations of the word ‘homeless,’” Ambrosiani said. “Many of the clients we serve have become homeless due to unforeseen circumstances that are beyond their control. After being with us for a period of two years, they become productive self-sustaining members of the community.”
BHT clients can stay with BHT for up to two years. This poses a challenge to those who “graduate” from their transitional housing into finding a more permanent living situation—the truth being that there isn’t enough affordable housing in the area for those moving on from BHT.
“Funding is the third challenge we face,” Ambrosiani said. “With the loss of federal funding, we rely on donations, fundraising, grants, and the generosity of our community to fund our programs.”
The funds raised by BHT go directly to improving their clients’ lives. This includes purchasing much-needed appliances, flooring, carpeting and, more recently, a new roof for their annex facility.
“Financial help is always appreciated,” Ambrosiani said. “We receive no county, state or federal funding. We are also looking to expand our Board of Directors, so those interested can contact us for information and any questions they may have.”
BHT is always welcoming volunteers, especially when it comes to fundraising and other projects. While COVID-19 has made it more difficult for traditional fundraising, overall maintenance for housing is always needed.
“Volunteers would be most helpful for lawn maintenance, painting, minor repairs and other small projects,” Ambrosiani shared. “We also welcome any ideas for fundraising from the public and welcome their involvement with the fundraiser.”
One of the more important aspects of BHT is that they are not a “shelter.” BHT is specifically a transitional program that helps their clients by teaching them how to be self-sufficient.
“Clients can stay with us up to 24 months, if needed,” Ambrosiani said. “Our clients have to be working within 30 days of entrance, and they all pay a nominal program fee according to the size of the apartment. Clients have to attend case management meetings, take part in random drug and alcohol testing, and work on all the issues that brought them to Blue Haven. Annually, we provide approximately 10,000 bed nights, with 65 percent of those bed nights belonging to children.”
To contact Bonner Homeless Transitions about fundraising, volunteering, or to find out more information, visit their website at BonnerHomelessTransitions.org, or visit their Facebook page at Facebook.com/ BonnerHomelessTransitions.