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Hand Up Project helps addicts get help and off the streets

One of several trailers Hand Up Project uses to temporarily house people who need help getting clean and off the streets in Snohomish County. (Hand Up Project)

For the past five years, the Hand Up Project has been helping people living on the streets and dealing with addiction get their lives back on track.

The nonprofit is run by Robert Smiley, a recovering addict who has several trailers and a six sober homes, some with as many as 36 beds. The Hand Up Project does daily outreach, going into wooded areas in Snohomish County where encampments have been set up and other spots with large numbers of homeless people. The outreach teams ask them what they need and offer them everything from a meal or a ride to the doctor to a pack of cigarettes or a place to live — if they’re ready to kick the drugs.

One of the keys to their success is the fact that those who’ve been through drug addiction and homelessness, and who have been helped by the program are the ones doing the daily outreach. That’s what finally helped Chris get help, when a Hand Up outreach team found his sleeping on a pallet over a year ago behind the Home Depot in Everett.

“I started talking to a couple of his program members and I was like look if I am not off the streets tonight, it’s over,” Chris said. “I cussed them out. When they brought Robert over to me and he’s like I can put you in a house, I can do this, I can do that, I was like no you can’t, nobody is going to do that for a struggling addict.”

But they did and Chris, who had managed to stay clean for two weeks after getting out of lockup and was hours away from using again, moved in to a room at one of the Hand Up project’s sober homes.

13 months later…

“I just had my first overnight with my daughter last night – she is two and a half – who I lost because of my addiction through CPS,” Chris explained. “Looks like in nine months my case will be completely closed and my daughter will be at home with me because of Robert and him wanting to give me a hand up.”

Chris had to do the work, which includes having a job, staying clean, and being part of that outreach team to try to help others do the same. This past weekend, Chris moved into a place of his own, where he plans to focus on rebuilding his relationships with his kids.

“My other daughter, who I had lost to CPS due to my addiction, said I heard you were clean, I want to see you,” Chris said. “I hadn’t seen her in six years because I was constantly in and out of jail and high.”

Hand Up Project exception

Now, while the Hand Up project usually just helps those with addiction issues, they do make exceptions. Such was the case last year when they came across Angelica, Joey, and their two sons, Jesse and Joshua. The family had come here from Colorado, looking to work because the minimum wage was higher. They lived in a motel with another family also trying to get ahead. They shared a car and watched each other’s kids so they could work, but one day that other family took off with everything, including the car.

It was just before Christmas and Angelica and Joey had enough money for about a week at the motel, but the day work they had been getting through an agency had dried up because of the holidays. The family was headed to the streets and terrified.

“I’m not sure there is a word that describes it,” Joey said. “Terrified,” Angelica added, “absolutely terrified. I mean I grew up just north of Denver, Colorado and there’s craziness there as well, but here it’s a whole different level and we didn’t know what was going to happen to us or our kids if we had to be on the streets.”

But in what they call a miracle, Lindsey Arrington with Hope Soldiers — a group that works closely with the Hand Up Project — was serving food to the homeless near the motel. Even though they were afraid to ask for help for fear CPS may get involved and take the boys, Angelica and Joey decided to approach Arrington.

“I almost didn’t talk to her,” Joey said, “the fear almost … we almost walked away and said we’re just going to figure it out, but something in my head told me just go talk to this woman.”

“I mean it was just a terrible situation,” Angelica added, “but we reached out not knowing what was going to happen. We just took a chance and I’m glad we did.”

Despite Angelica and Joey not having any drug issues, the Hand Up program gave them a free place to stay in one of their Everett trailers and six months later, after working hard and saving their all their money, the pair was able to buy a car and, this past weekend, the family moved into a two bedroom condo in Kenmore.

Angelica and Joey are focused on moving forward.

“There’s no point to go backwards when we (have) seen how scared and how hard it was,” Joey said, “I mean that’s the motivation we needed to move forward. You know, Robert and Lindsey helping us, that was the hand up we needed.”

The Hand Up Project has helped hundreds of people get clean over the past several years, but they always need help with a variety of donations. They are a 501(c)(3), so everything is tax deductible. You can find out more about the group and how to help at www.thehandupproject.org.

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