More than 20,000 people are estimated to be homeless in the Pacific Northwest, according to 2021 figures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Seniors, mothers, fathers and children are all among them—struggling to find safe shelter.

The story is nothing new, and in 2008 it was Annett Bovent’s—a single mother living with her children in an older RV at a Walla Walla, Wash., RV park.

“I was homeless three times in 12 years as a single parent with three children,” said Bovent. “The third time I was living in an RV. My dream was to become a homeowner—I just didn’t know how or when.”

Then a friend connected her with First Story, an Oregon-based 501(c) 3 that focuses not on social services or temporary housing, but on homeownership—one of the most powerful routes out of generational poverty in America today. Bovent applied and, to her surprise, was accepted into the program.

“Homeownership doesn’t have to be out of reach for community members,” said Claire Duncan, executive director of First Story. “Our work is about providing an asset that allows families to grow into a truly new chapter of their lives—even for folks who have recently experienced homelessness.”

First Story is focused on homeownership education, long-term loans with zero-percent financing, and providing families with the tools they need to succeed at homeownership for the long-haul. And the formula works: this year First Story is celebrating its 100th homeowner across Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

For some the new chapter of homeownership is a financial stability they have never before experienced. For others it’s having a consistent roof over their children’s heads so the kids can focus on graduating from high school and going on to college. For Bovent, it was all of those things plus a path to create her own nonprofit that assists others out of homelessness.

Upon moving into her First Story home, Bovent was gifted with everything she needed to get a household up and running: towels, a mop, broom and cleaning supplies.

Out of that experience she founded Hope Heals, a Walla Walla-area nonprofit that offers support for people transitioning from houselessness into more-permanent housing. Since 2013, her organization has helped more than 8,000 people.

“I’ve counted each one of them,” she said. From her experience, transitioning from houselessness requires hope. Hope leads to healing, and that’s the gift Bovent received from First Story.

That’s one of the reasons why, Duncan said, homeownership and affordable housing access is so important to building thriving and inclusive communities across the Pacific Northwest.

“We find that once families have the security of a place to live—a home of their own—they then have the capacity and desire to help others,” said Duncan. “Homeownership is a key that unlocks that future, and we are determined to continue to be that ray of hope that truly transforms families and communities.”

About First Story

First Story addresses the affordable housing crisis in the Pacific Northwest with an integrated approach that gives individuals a hand up to homeownership while encouraging inclusivity. First Story collaborates with builder Hayden Homes and in-kind partners to construct or fully refurbish homes in existing communities, which are then sold to individuals and families through First Story’s loan program. Loans are provided at zero-down, zero-percent interest for 30 years. This unique approach provides move-in ready homes to qualified applicants who are at or below 80 percent of area median income. For more than 20 years, the organization has also supported other local nonprofits through its giving grant program. To date 700 charities who provide shelter, food and advocacy services to families in crisis have received more than $1.8 million from First Story. The organization is based in Bend, Ore., and serves Oregon, Washington and Idaho.