An infamous Tacoma motel will soon become a shelter for homeless moms. Will it work?
Inside the rooms, the transformation is obvious. There are beds with matching comforter sets, and toothbrush holders, and small dinner tables with flowers. The bathroom floors are covered by plush mats, and the counters are freshly cleaned. There’s art on the walls, and children’s books on the shelves.
That’s the easy part. Monique Patterson knew it would be.
Now comes the more difficult task.
In March, the upstart nonprofit Patterson leads moved into Tacoma’s infamous Morgan Motel. Launched in 2018, Next Chapter works to provide short-term housing and support to homeless pregnant women and single mothers in Pierce County. In many ways, the three-year lease the agency recently signed at the property on Pacific Avenue near 72nd Street is a dream come true, Patterson said, allowing Next Chapter to significantly expand its operation and critical work.
It’s also a reclamation project, and Patterson — who co-founded Next Chapter and serves as its executive director — is well aware.
For years, the Morgan Motel attracted crime, drug use and prostitution — becoming the frequent target of busts and expensive meth cleanups. During that time, new owners have come and gone, with many making big promises of improvement only to see the pattern at the motel continue. While Next Chapter’s intention to end the property’s time as a motel makes this attempt different, building a better future at the once troubled property — for good — won’t happen overnight, Patterson acknowledged. If the nonprofit is going to succeed, it will require persistence, and an entire neighborhood working to reverse the fortune of one of the most troubled parcels in Tacoma, she said.
“This particular property has had so many chances. The difference now is we’re a nonprofit. We help mothers and children, so there’s a bright light at the end of this horrible tunnel,” Patterson said. “But just like families need help to change their life, we need help, too. We need support from the city. We need support from our neighbors. It’s going to have to be all hands on deck to help us change the stigma of what formerly was the Morgan motel. We can run our program, which has been very successful, but we can’t do it alone.”
Despite the challenges, it’s an endeavor Next Chapter is committed to leading, according to Kathryn Hedrick, who co-founded the nonprofit with Patterson. That’s why, last month, the nonprofit — which so far relies largely on fundraising efforts to scrape by — struck a deal to lease the property and plans to begin moving families in over the coming weeks.
Amber Moreno, who purchased the foreclosed Morgan Motel in late 2020, originally intending to turn it into affordable micro-housing units. When she encountered hurdles in her redevelopment quest — and expressed an interest in leasing the property — Hedrick quickly jumped at the opportunity, she said.
Hedrick’s conviction in Next Chapter’s work guided her, she said, as did her bullishness for what the addition of the old Morgan’s eight rooms could mean for women and children who desperately need the stability they can provide.
Since its creation, Next Chapter has served 65 pregnant women and single mothers, Hedrick said. A handful have received temporary housing through the agency, while others staying in local shelters have benefited from case management assistance, helping with everything from cleaning up credit scores and rental histories to establishing bank accounts and enrolling in college. The overarching goal of the program is self-sufficiency and, ultimately, independence, Hedrick said.
At the old Morgan, more than 30 beds will be available, giving Next Chapter the ability to house as many as 10 homeless mothers and their children at a time, Hedrick said. Over the course of a year, the old motel could help change the trajectory of 40 families.
Carol Sanchez knows just how much the help Next Chapter provides can mean.
After moving to Washington with her husband and small child in 2018, the 31-year-old said she soon found herself homeless and pregnant with a second child and few places to turn for help.
Sanchez said she was staying at another shelter when she was referred to Next Chapter. With the nonprofit’s guidance, she has earned her GED, registered a license for her housecleaning business and given birth to a healthy daughter.
When Next Chapter welcomes families to the old Morgan Motel in the coming weeks, Sanchez’s family will be one of them. Her goal, one day, is to purchase a home of her own.
“Being able to be in this program was like the light that I needed,” Sanchez said. “I’m forever grateful for (Patterson), because she’s changed my life so dramatically.”
According to Moreno, the chance to use her real estates investment for something beyond simple profit — and help women like Sanchez — was “the right thing to do.” While she won’t make as much money leasing the property to Next Chapter, she’s excited for the future.
So are Patterson and Hendrick, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy so far, which foreshadows the challenge ahead.
Since signing the lease last month, the agency has been faced with the kinds of issues that plagued the property for years, Hedrick said, including multiple break-ins. Meanwhile, working with the city to wade through seemingly ticky-tack regulations — like whether the room closest to Pacific Avenue can house a family or must be used as office space — has also created headaches.
To address security and safety concerns, Next Chapter has installed security cameras and has plans for a fence and hired security. The nonprofit has also reached out for help, Hedrick told The News Tribune, engaging with elected officials, nearby businesses, the local neighborhood council and Tacoma police community liaison officers.
Tacoma City Council member Chris Beale — who has spent years trying to help improve conditions at the old Morgan — said he’s confident local law enforcement, city staff and the District 5 constituents he represents will do everything possible to support Next Chapter, which he described as the kind of supportive housing model that the city “has been looking for for a long time.”
“Building a strong network, so … there’s something to fall back on when there’s problems, I think is a challenge for anything,” Beale said. “But I think particularly for this, and building those networks now is really, really important.”
Hedrick and Patterson are banking on it being enough and eager to get going.
On Tuesday, Patterson stood outside the old Morgan, which glowed light green in the sun. The fresh paint is a subtle signal that things have started to change at the property.
To erase any confusion, a far more direct sign has been placed near the road.
“THIS IS NOT A MOTEL,” the sign reads. “PLEASE RESPECT OUR PRIVACY.”
It’s a start.