Steves donating Trinity Place housing complex for homeless women, kids to YWCA

Rick Steves at a summer barbecue with Trinity Place residents. (Photo courtesy Rick Steves and Trinity Place).

Edmonds-based European travel expert Rick Steves dropped in on the Edmonds Rotary Noon Club’s meeting last week to make a surprise announcement: He is donating the Trinity Place transitional housing complex, which he has owned and operated in partnership with the Rotary and the YWCA since 2005, to the YWCA.

“It was just shocked silence for a moment,” said Rotary President Doug Lofstrom, “but then the room burst into applause, cheering and a standing ovation.”

As noted in a May 2013 story by our sister website My Edmonds News, Steves said his motivation to create Trinity Place was “self-interest.” “I don’t want to be filthy rich in a desperately poor world. I want to walk the street safely, leave the car unlocked, see people take their kids to school and have them play sports without fear of gangs.” Saying it’s in the best interest of citizens to take care of all residents, Steves noted not doing so would be “pennywise and pound foolish.”

“People say we have an economic crisis,” said Steves, “but it’s a crisis of distribution, not societal wealth.” Tired of hearing people say homeless mothers should “work harder,” he decided to help our “most innocent victims,” by finding a place for them to call home.

It began with his 1990 purchase of a dilapidated duplex adjacent to Trinity Lutheran Church, and offering the use of it to Pathways for Women, a local non-profit that works with the YWCA to house local homeless moms and their kids. In subsequent years, the three adjacent duplexes came up for sale, and Steves dutifully purchased these and added them to the project.

But by 2002 the old buildings had deteriorated to where they could no longer be maintained.

“I’d hoped to demolish them and build a new 16-unit building on that site,” Steves said. “But the devil is in the details, and it soon became clear that the costs of planning, permitting and construction were higher than we’d anticipated.”

In response, Steves searched for and ultimately found a 24-unit building just down the road in central Lynnwood. “It was a no-brainer,” Steves said. “We could get the building and the land for what it would have cost to build a new 16-unit structure on the existing site, where we didn’t even own the land!”

After purchasing the building in April 2005, Steves partnered with Pathways and the YWCA to help manage the facility, and the Noon Rotary Club to renovate the units and provide ongoing support. By Thanksgiving of that year, Trinity Place was ready, and the first group of single mothers and their children moved in just in time to celebrate the holiday.

Edmonds Rotary Noon Club member Beth Westenhaver-Kealy, left, assists Bill Toskey with the distribution of 26 school backpacks to children living at Trinity Place in August 2015. (Photo courtesy Carol Kinney)

“This has been an ongoing commitment for our Rotary club,” Lofstrom said. “We’ve helped secure grant money for needed upgrades to railings, lighting, children’s play areas, security systems and more. We’ve also donated prodigious amounts of labor for general maintenance, and even organized barbecues and kid birthday parties for the residents. Over the years Trinity Place has become a signature effort of this club.”

“This could never have happened without the hours and hours of work put in by Rotary members,” Steves added. “Their partnership has been absolutely critical to the success of Trinity Place.”

While his original plan was to will Trinity Place to the YWCA, Steves decided the time was right to make it an outright donation. “Organizations function best with stability,” he said. “In these unstable times you never know what’s going to happen. By gifting this now, the YWCA gains the certainly that comes with ownership, and is in a better position to plan for their future.”

But for Steves, there’s a personal side too.

“I think wills are boring and a little too cautious,” he said with a laugh. “And besides, for me it’s simply more helpful and rewarding to do it now. The joy and satisfaction I get from helping house desperate mothers and kids, and cushioning them from the austerity that the Trump administration could bring to this community far outstrips any monetary return I might have gained from holding onto it. What will bring more joy — that’s the critical Litmus test.”

— By Larry Vogel

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