Puyallup Tribe tackles homelessness with Flames of Recovery

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Flames of Recovery “house mother” Linda Dillon and Tribal Councilmember Sylvia Miller worked hard together on getting the house up and running. photo by Matt Nagle

In the midst of all the over-thinking and hand-wringing that comes with what do to about our city’s homeless population, the Puyallup Tribe has stepped up to take action with Flames of Recovery, a residential house turned homeless services center just off Portland Avenue.

Located at 1437 E. 31st St., Flames of Recovery opened on Oct. 11, just in time for the cold, wet weather that has moved in for the winter. The house is open to not just homeless Native Americans, but anyone living on the streets in need of a place to rest for a while, get warm and have a hot cooked meal – and these are just a few of the many services Flames of Recovery offers. There, visitors can browse racks of clean clothes for men, women and children; receive non-perishable food items, hygiene packages and first aid kits; do laundry and take a shower; and enjoy lots of soft couches and chairs to sit and stay awhile to just watch TV and relax. Flames of Recovery also offers Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings for anyone who wishes to engage in these programs.

Puyallup Tribal member Linda Dillon is “house mother” at Flames of Recovery and her mom, Theresa Villagomez, is head cook. Herself a recovering alcoholic and addict with four years of sobriety as of this month (Nov. 12), Dillon has been there when it comes to the struggles of being homeless. She knows that territory intimately, just as her homeless friends in her neighborhood she was feeding and caring for on a daily basis from her own home and car long before Flames of Recovery opened. She lives just up the block, and so she has already established a sense of trust among those whom she now welcomes to Flames of Recovery.

“They already know what the rules are from being at my house. They can’t come here high or drunk or be disruptive or anything. It’s common sense and respect – they know what they can and can’t do,” she said. “I was a homeless Native American in this community living in my car with absolutely nothing. I’m here for the people who are cold and hungry and need to eat and get warm. I’m here for the homeless community.”

For those who are suffering with addictions, they are not required to take part in the AA and NA meetings. Rather, Dillon required that all new clients complete a short questionnaire that asks about their goals, obstacles and expectations of the Flames of Recovery program. She then meets with them one-on-one to learn better how she can direct them to resources for things like housing, jobs, treatment and more.

“I just lead them in the direction where they need to go – give them a helping hand along the way,” as Dillon explained it.  She works closely with Puyallup tribal social and health services departments to cultivate relationships and receive assistance for the needs of her homeless clients, including mental health counseling information, education support services, domestic violence and elder care, to name just some.

Opening Flames of Recovery was a natural extension of the work the Puyallup Tribe has been doing for years to help our city’s homeless population, efforts led by Puyallup Tribal Councilmember Sylvia Miller who has been doing this work for a very long time. One of the most popular is the Tribe’s annual Christmastime giveaway for the poor and homeless that Miller, heads up near the Tacoma Dome. Enlisting the help of countless tribal members, hundreds of folks have come to depend on this holiday giveaway that Miller works on for practically the entire year in order to gather up enough winter clothes, blankets, toys for the little ones and more, with hot food served on site as well.

Miller has innovative ideas she plans to put into action for clients at Flames of Recovery. One is a neighborhood clean-up in which the homeless workers will be given nice gifts for helping out, such as backpacks filled with useful items like a raincoat, tent, hand-warmers and such. A clean-up operation would not only benefit those who live and work in the neighborhood, it would give the homeless volunteers a sense of pride. “It’s important for these guys to feel good about themselves too,” Miller said.

She also plans for mobile dental and vision services to visit Flames of Recovery at no charge to clients.

“Sylvia is one of the most appreciated people that I know but she’s not the type of person that does things for a pat on the back,” Dillon said. “She does them from the bottom of her heart. She doesn’t get a lot of recognition for a lot of the things she has done but she really deserves to.”

Miller and Dillon both agreed that there are far too many people to name individually in thanks for helping Flames of Recovery happen and for helping the Tribe make such an impact among the local homeless population over the years. Dillon said her sons and her brother have been a huge help, and Miller gave a shout-out to the Puyallup Tribal Council, Puyallup Tribal Cemetery crew, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Ed Troyer and all the volunteers past and present.

“I raise my hands to Linda for all she has done for our homeless friends and neighbors,” Miller said. “She has been doing this kind of work for such a long time, and she has put her heart and soul into making Flames of Recovery happen. We could not do it without her.”

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