The non-profit Life Enrichment Options is working to bring one of its biggest projects in Issaquah to the Snoqualmie Valley. LEO has purchased a property in the historic downtown district of Snoqualmie and is planning to build a fourth location for its group housing project.
Fred Nystrom, executive director of LEO, explained that the non-profit group was created to help provide housing, education, recreation, and employment services for people with developmental disabilities. The homes are designed to be long-term independent living for adults with disabilities.
LEO has built three homes in Issaquah, each of which house five residents and a live-in care provider. The residents often have local or regional jobs or are looking for employment. The care provider helps run the house and provide for the needs of the residents. LEO’s plans to expand the housing opportunity to more people resulted in them looking outside of Issaquah.
“Over the years we’ve seen that housing is a significant problem,” Nystrom said. “We have about 5,000 adults with disabilities in King County, some living with aged parents who may be one medical emergency away from not being able to take care of their child, and then what happens? Our fear is that they’ll end up in the homeless population.”
LEO has been working to expand the housing program for the past 25 years, Nystrom said. Their first home was established in Issaquah in 2001 and since then they have built another two homes in the city.
Their newest home will be located on 384th Avenue in downtown Snoqualmie. LEO purchased the property in November, 2016 and has since rented out the small house on the property to low-income families. On Thursday, Feb. 8, contractors tore down an empty trailer to clear the land and prepare it for construction in the coming months.
One of the reasons LEO wanted to expand to the Snoqualmie Valley is the fact that many of the board members are Valley residents and they had identified the need for this type of housing program in the area, Nystrom said. The organization had originally been looking at a location in North Bend, but was unable to secure a sewer connection. The Snoqualmie property ended up having everything they needed.
“Snoqualmie Valley has an unmet need; we have a lot of parents out here raising children with disabilities. They generally have to come into Issaquah to get some services. They might have started with the wonderful Encompass, with early childhood education here, but once they get past the regular school system and move forward, we just don’t have enough services here,” he said.
The process of building the new home begins with raising funds. The money raised for the construction of LEO’s houses comes exclusively through donations. LEO does not pursue grants because such funding often stipulates who is accepted to be a resident, he said. Instead, the care provider selects the five residents after an interview process that focuses on how harmoniously the residents will be able to live together.
The care providers must meet several education and training requirements from the state and Department of Social and Health services and have more than 1,000 hours of experience before they can become officially licensed, Nystrom said.
LEO builds the home to meet its specified needs with space on the first floor for resident rooms and living space, while the care provider gets the second floor with his or her own amenities and living space.
“We select the care provider, then lease the home annually at a sub market rate, because we don’t have a mortgage to pay and when the home opens, it’s free and clear,” he said.
The care providers work with the Washington State Development Disabilities Administration to collect Medicaid reimbursement for the care they provide to the residents. Meanwhile, LEO pays for any maintenance or repairs the houses need.
“The way we have it structured, there is no additional cost to a family other than a bit of discretionary spending money they might want to give to their child,” he said. “All the room and board expenses are covered in the compensation that comes from the state.”
Evelyn Galasso, the care provider for one of the Issaquah houses, has been living in the house and working with the residents for five years. She explained that her time working and living with the residents has created bonds that feel like family.
“I really enjoy what I do, I do not consider it a job. Taking care of these residents, they become a part of my family,” she said. “Even though it’s a lot of work, it’s still very rewarding.”
Nystrom also said relationships with the neighbors are important parts of creating a good environment for the residents. LEO designs the houses to match the aesthetics and architecture of the neighborhood in order to fit in with the look of the area.
The houses are named after founders of the LEO non-profit or members who have had been very involved in the community. The first three houses were named after two founders Rose Finnegan and Ann Dennis, as well as board member Angela Dews. The Snoqualmie house is planned to be named for Nancy Whitaker, former president of Encompass and a member of the LEO board for more than 20 years.
Nystrom said this project became very successful in Issaquah and he is excited to expand to the Valley where LEO will be able to offer an independent living resource and possibly expand further in the future.
“I’d like to have three homes in the Valley over the next five years,” Nystrom said. “It’s a matter of how quickly can we raise the money, how quickly can we get support from families and friends of families.”
For now, LEO is waiting to hear back from the city of Snoqualmie after their conditional-use permit hearing in January before they apply for a building permit. Nystrom said the permit could take two to three months, and actual construction would take about six months.