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Bellevue programs for homeless women one of a kind on Eastside
Helen Leuzzi turned down the heat in her office before sitting for a morning interview with The Reporter last week.
It was freezing outside, but the slight woman says toasty rooms make her think of homeless people stuck in the cold.
This is a person who dreams up ways to keep people off the streets.
Leuzzi, a Bellevue resident, became outreach chair for Bellevue's First Congregational Church in 2006. Since then, she has rolled out multiple new support programs for homeless women, a group that is under-served and among the most at-risk among people without housing.
Bellevue First Congregational is now home to the Eastside's only overnight women's shelter, as well as a transitional-housing program for women, a women's day center, and a long list of support services.
"Some people duplicate programs, but Helen saw a need and found a way to fill it," said Linda Roddis, outreach pastor at First Congregational. "She's a wonderful gift to the church."
The genesis of these programs is Angeline's Eastside Women's Center, a day shelter that Leuzzi founded in partnership with the YWCA in 2006.
A fundraising campaign by the Bellevue Rotary Club paid to renovate one of the community rooms at First Congregational so Angeline's would have a home.
The center is open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., which means it falls short of keeping women off the streets altogether.
That's why Luezzi created The Sophia Way, a program that provides free transitional housing, as well as an overnight shelter that operates five nights a week at First Congregational. Other Eastside churches host the shelter on weekends.
The Sophia Way, run jointly by five Eastside churches and the non-profit group Eastside Interfaith Social Concerns Council, opened its first apartment in May.
All told, program has provided transitional housing or shelter for over 50 women since it started one year ago.
The organization, which got much of its seed money from the Breakfast Rotary Club of Bellevue, also provides food, clothing, furniture, life-skills classes, bus tickets, counseling, and case management.
"We're able to see each person on their journey uniquely," Leuzzi said.
First Congregational Church also hosts a men's shelter on a revolving basis for Congregations for the Homeless.
Leuzzi says the location of First Congregational Church on NE Eighth St. and 108th Ave. NE is ideal for homeless programs because of its proximity to the Bellevue Transit Center.
"Geographically, I think of downtown Bellevue as a wedding cake, and our church is at the center of the top layer," she said.
Volunteers for the The Sophia Way and Angeline's help out in a variety of ways, many of which involve event planning and problem solving.
Courtney Kolb, a recent college graduate, spent a recent morning setting up roadside service for shelter users who own cars. After that, she went about finding foster care for pets so a woman who breeds cats for money would have a place to keep her kittens while staying at the shelter.
"It's been interesting to see all the nitty gritty that you have to do to get a program like this running," Kolb said.
Leuzzi says the best volunteer experiences tend to be moving parties for The Sophia Way.
"Getting an apartment is the first day of de-stressing and thinking outside the survival box for these women," she said. "It's a very touching moment."
The Sophia Way will raise funds to continue its mission at the Give a Home for the Holidays event, Dec. 9 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Harbor Club in Bellevue (777 108th Ave. NE).
To donate or reserve a spot, call 425-417-7575 or visit the event web site.