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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New housing for the homeless to open at Donna Hanson Haven

For the past six years, Debbie McHaffie has been living at Hope House, a small women’s shelter in downtown Spokane.

Struggles with drug addiction caused her to become homeless, and, as of this past week, she was three weeks into a recovery program. But McHaffie just found out she’s about to get a big push to help her turn her life around.

In early December, she’ll move into a brand-new apartment at Donna Hanson Haven, the latest high-rise building for formerly homeless people built by Catholic Charities Spokane.

McHaffie struggled to describe what the apartment means to her. She’s a grandmother, and it will be the first time in her life she’s had her own space.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” she said.

Crews are still putting the finishing touches on the four-story building, but Catholic Charities staff gathered with community members and diocese leaders to dedicate and bless the new building Friday. It’s the fourth permanent supportive housing building Catholic Charities has completed in recent years, and sits on Second Avenue facing Father Bach Haven, the organization’s first project.

The 51-unit building is named for former Catholic Charities CEO Donna Hanson, who died after a long battle with cancer in 2005. When she took the helm of the group in 1978, most Catholic Charities chapters around the country were run by priests. As a lay woman running the show, she stood out.

Her husband and children sat in the front row Friday as Mayor David Condon spoke about how Hanson inspired him as a child.

“The person of Christ couldn’t have been more emulated than through Donna,” Condon said. He said his mother attended Mass every day for 40 years with Hanson, and remembered looking up to her example of strong leadership. As a boy, he even wrote a paper arguing women should be allowed into the Catholic priesthood.

“Why I wrote that is because I saw Donna,” he said.

Rob McCann, CEO of Spokane’s Catholic Charities, said the building is a rejection of the idea that chronic homelessness is too big a problem for a city like Spokane to solve. He’s an evangelist for the idea that building enough apartments for people like McHaffie can solve the problem.

“We’re not going to give up. This community is too good for that,” he said.

Sometimes, McCann said, he hears objections that if Spokane builds the best homeless services in the region, homeless people will flock to the city. He said that concern was misplaced, since most people staying in Catholic Charities shelters are from the 70-mile radius around Spokane.

“Even if that was true, I’d say and Donna Hanson would say, ‘So what? They’re human beings and they deserve basic dignity,’ ” he said, drawing applause.

Residents get either a studio or one-bedroom apartment furnished with a bed, chest of drawers and other basic furniture and pantry items. The building will have on-site chemical dependency and mental health treatments that residents can sign up for, as well as round-the-clock staffing. There’s a large community room for gatherings, and the ground floor is full of large windows to let in sunlight.

Residents move in Dec. 4 and will pay 30 percent of their income in rent. For some, that could be as little as a few dollars a month. Once they have a unit, they can stay for life.

The design is similar to past Catholic Charities apartments, but each project changes a little as staff learn what works well. As he blessed the building, Bishop William Skylstad prayed it would be “a dwelling place of love infusing far and wide.”

McCann said the design kept Hanson’s criteria for housing in mind.

“There’s only one measure that ever counted to Donna Hanson: Would I put my mother in this apartment?” he said.