Displaced family gets extreme home makeover


Special to the Review

A story that began with an October eviction ended last weekend with a homecoming.

It took six weeks and scores of volunteers, but a family whose north Bainbridge home was declared unsafe for habitation moved back in to a clean, safe, and remodeled house.

“It’s such a relief,” said the home­owner, a long-time Bainbridge woman, whose name is being withheld by the Review as the family receives ongoing assistance from social service agencies. “It’s so good to be back home. It really feels like a new house – it’s familiar but brand new at the same time.”

It started when Bainbridge Police received an informational report from Child Protective Services regarding the care of a minor living at the residence. A visit to the home astonished officers, as “the family had not thrown anything away in probably the last 50 years,” Officer Steve Cain said.

Conditions were extremely unsanitary. The house was so full of debris that only narrow pathways were left, making mobility especially difficult for one of the residents, who requires a walker or wheelchair. The Kitsap County Health District red-tagged the house, and the family – including a 12-year-old girl, her mother and grandmother – were moved to a friend’s house.

The story might have ended there. With no agency stepping forward to give support and without the ability to bring their house up to code on their own, the family might simply have lost their home.

“I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen,” said the homeowner. “So many things needed to be fixed. There was a moment of total fear. But almost immediately, people started coming forward and offering to help. It was so fast that there wasn’t even time to be afraid.”

Word had gotten out because police decided to let local residents and organizations know about the situation.

A few phone calls later, “we just got a ton of people to come forward and volunteer their time and services,” Cain said. “It was nuts how it all came together. I shouldn’t have been surprised – I know that Bainbridge is a community that cares – but I was still surprised.”

In early November, some 60 volunteers “descended en masse” to start the clean-up. They included individuals, church groups, businesses, city officials and teachers.

Bainbridge Landscaping and Topsoil provided a backhoe to clear the front yard. Dean and Heather Church of Bainbridge Disposal donated hauling services and a waste container – which was filled in under an hour.

“It was just like a snowball. It became this huge project that I don’t think any of us saw coming,” said Dean Church, whose company sent more garbage totes to the site as needed. “But when I found out the amount of people involved, all the churches and everybody, there was no way we could charge them a cent.”

By the end of the day more than 15 tons of trash had been removed from the house.

“We literally stripped the thing to the bare walls,” Cain said. “Everything had to go.”

Cleaning out the trash was only the beginning. In the weeks that followed, volunteers replaced electrical wiring, plumbing ducts, windows, cabinets, and walls. Flooring was stripped and refinished, new lighting was installed, the kitchen redone and the walls painted.

“I heard some people saying that it was like Extreme Makeover: Bainbridge Edition,” Cain said.

Among the many groups that stepped in to help, the family’s church, Rolling Bay Presbyterian, stood out, adopting the house as a mission project.

Dan Nordmark, who as a member of the church’s mission committee has been involved with a number of housing projects, wasn’t surprised by the level of community involvement.

“I would expect that almost any situation here on Bainbridge would call out the local support,” he said.

Nordmark, his wife Pat, and a crew of about 10 worked at the house from morning to night for weeks.

The displaced family members were involved throughout, “helping sort out what to save, what to keep, helping us choose things, saying, ‘that’s a nice color,’” said Nordmark.

“They really took our needs into account,” especially those of the disabled grandmother, the homeowner said. “It’s wonderful now that she can go all through the house with her walker or wheelchair, and nothing impedes her.”

Teachers from several schools arranged for donations of furniture and household goods.

“It was a great surprise how much the city and the outside community stepped in,” Nordmark said. “The city officials, whose job it is to throw the family out of the unsafe situation, you don’t often think of them coming back in and helping fix it up.”

In the meantime, the family received assistance, including counseling, “so that they can move back in and not have this happen again,” said Cain. “They’re working on overcoming issues.”

“This family didn’t even know where to start with the mess they had, so they just let it get worse,” Nordmark said. “It was a situation of a bit of hopelessness. But now you see all kinds of hope. And the family has a real sense of having the community behind them.”

In the final days of the project, the displaced family was asked to stay away from the house so the final results could be a surprise.

Last Sunday, move-in day, “was like on the TV program when the bus pulls away and the people start crying,” the homeowner said. “I just couldn’t believe it. It was so beautiful. They did so many things that we couldn’t afford to do or have the expertise to do. And my daughter was so excited because she has the cutest room. It’s such a teenager room – all pinks and purples. They really went all out.”

“It all just really touches your heart,” she said. “I’ve lived on Bainbridge practically all my life. I went to school here, and came back to raise my daughter. I’m just so grateful to live in this community.”

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