Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County

Habitat Homebuyer, Shannon

An affordable place to live — no matter what the future holds

Shannon, our newest partner homebuyer, crashed a party while visiting her brother in Blaine a few years ago. Her brother’s neighbors were just about to move into their brand new home — the neighbors were Habitat for Humanity homebuyers and the party was a dedication. 

“I just happened to be there that day,” Shannon said, and she remembered thinking two things: “Wow, I can’t believe those people got a house for free,’ which is what I thought. And the other thing was that this large and diverse group of people were emanating a notable sense of family. Even I, a party crashing stranger, felt really welcomed. The vibe was just fantastic!” 

Shannon was in need of a safe, affordable place to live, but assumed  preference would go to helping families with children. (These are two misconceptions about Habitat: that we give homes away, and that we only serve families)

Thinking she wasn’t a right fit for the program, Shannon went on researching other options, navigating that uncertain sea many in need of affordable housing are forced to embark on. That path would eventually lead her back to Habitat. 

Through the age of 14, Shannon grew up in Custer, in the same property where her home will be built. Most of her life, however, was spent in Seattle, where she dedicated nearly 20 years to helping people experiencing homelessness access safe, affordable and permanent housing. As a mental health worker, services coordinator and clinical programs supervisor, Shannon held positions in emergency shelters and various clinical settings. This also included a psychiatric unit, and both drop in and overnight centers, where she provided mental health support and medication management. Helping others to overcome barriers to affordable safe housing was a constant theme in her professional life, in almost every setting. 

In those days, Shannon owned her own home, and was working towards a master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling from Seattle University, which she would go on to complete. 

If I just work at it and if I just try, there’s nothing I can’t do. I’ve done everything I’ve tried to do. I’ll find a way.”

Two months before finishing her master’s, however, “I woke up and I couldn’t see right,” Shannon said. “I was a full time student with an 800 hour clinical counseling practicum to complete, and still a full time mental health worker, so I was very busy. I went in to have my eyes looked at because everything looked like I was in a tunnel.”

After many exams, she was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS is a progressive, unpredictable disease that causes damage to the central nervous system, often leading to disability. To date, there is no cure for MS.

Within five years of the diagnosis, Shannon lost her house and her career, and went from having a life that revolved around helping others, to one of needing help.

She had remained close to her stepmother, Rose, after her father’s death (which happened a year before her diagnosis). Rose invited Shannon to stay with her, and, following through with her late husband’s wish, is giving Shannon a portion of the land to build a house. Shannon has to build this home on a very limited income — a task she felt was impossible.

Shannon considered either a mobile or a tiny home. She contemplated  what it would mean to climb up to a loft bed, or up stairs without the use of  her legs, or squeeze into a narrow door with a wheelchair. Some are so much kinder to others than they are to themselves, and recognizing that, Shannon  said, “If somebody else had told that story to me about crawling up the  steps with their arms, I would’ve been angry that we have somebody in our country, in our world speaking like that!”

It’s impossible to know how her illness will progress, so it is crucial for  Shannon not only to have an affordable place to live, but that it’d be fully  accessible. “I just kept thinking,” she said, “if I just work at it and if I just try, there’s nothing I can’t do…I’ve done everything that I’ve tried to do…I’ll find  a way.”

She learned that the USDA provides zero interest loans for low-income  people to build on developing rural areas, “It was a perfect match for me. I  spent 18 months applying for this loan…And it was a really, really  complicated process.” But even with the loan, Shannon was lost when it  came to converting that money into a house, so she called Habitat hoping  for some clarity. She learned quickly that she would be a good fit for our  program, and was encouraged to apply.

Shannon is now part of the Habitat program. “[Her home] will be fully  accessible.” said Chris vanStaalduinen, our Construction Manager, “Zero  entry, and all on one level, with the standard Habitat accessibility with  wider doors.” And on hearing of her plans to crawl up to a loft bed if she  happens to lose the use of her legs, “She’s very determined,” he said, “But  that won’t be necessary.”

We’re very excited to have Shannon in our program, and to build her a  place she can call home no matter what the future holds.

“Having a safe home that nobody can take away means everything to me,”  Shannon said, “I know I have so much more to offer my community if I am  just given the chance and a place where I can take care of myself at the  end of the day.” In telling her story, she hopes to encourage others to reach  out to see what’s available for them.

There are many ways to bring affordable housing to our community, and every hand makes a difference.

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