‘Miracle’ fundraiser helps Olympia family find housing despite barriers

·4 min read

Chris Allert and his three daughters moved from motels to hotels about every 12 days for nine months before they secured an apartment in Olympia.

His extraordinary solution was a GoFundMe campaign that raised $20,380 from 353 donations. On April 15, he used nearly all the funds to sign a prepaid one-year lease for a small two-bedroom apartment in west Olympia.

Allert, a 50-year-old Olympia resident, said he felt incredibly humbled when the donations started pouring in. On the day he moved in, he shared a video of his daughters singing, “We got a home!”

“I’m extremely grateful but also just in shock because it’s just so unexpected,” Allert said. “People just seem so hopeless about the (housing) situation. Everybody sees that.”

Though Allert felt thankful for his turn of events, his experience opened his eyes to the reality of the housing crisis. As he looked for support, he said he encountered many other families who still need help.

“People might see this and think, ‘Well, the solution is that people just need to be more charitable,’” Allert said. “We can’t raise $20,000 for every single family. It’s just crazy the rents are this high.”

Rent for Allert’s new apartment is $1,330 a month, he said. That’s much lower than the median rent of $1,773 for a two bedroom in Olympia, according to May data from Zumper. Just five years ago, the data show median rent for a similar apartment was $1,250.

Prior to moving from motels to hotels, Allert said he paid $300 rent for a room in a six-bedroom home in west Olympia.

By July 2021, he said his landlord pushed out the residents so he could sell the property. Allert said he received $2,500 in return for leaving.

For months, he said he relied on family loans and government assistance, including child support and stimulus checks. He also turned to the Family Support Center of South Sound for help, but he said he landed on a lengthy waiting list.

Chris Allert plays with his daughters (from left) Susanna, 3, Amira, 7, and Rachel Corrie, 4, at the Hands On Childrens Museum in Olympia on Friday, May 13. After living in hotel rooms and moving every couple of weeks, Allert received help getting an apartment through a Go Fund Me account.
Chris Allert plays with his daughters (from left) Susanna, 3, Amira, 7, and Rachel Corrie, 4, at the Hands On Childrens Museum in Olympia on Friday, May 13. After living in hotel rooms and moving every couple of weeks, Allert received help getting an apartment through a Go Fund Me account.

Since his 7-year-old daughter attends Lincoln Elementary School in Olympia, he said officials at the Olympia School District helped him pay for some motel and hotel stays. He said he only turned to GoFundMe when he felt he ran out of options.

Mary Schroeder, a mother and nurse practitioner, launched the GoFundMe on April 7 and it took off within a week. She called the success of the fundraiser a “miracle.”

“The community’s response to the GoFundMe was overwhelming,” Schroeder said. “Olympians truly care about their neighbors and want to help.”

They published updates online about Allert’s efforts to find an apartment, which initially proved difficult because he didn’t meet the traditional requirements.

Eventually, they found a private landlord who was willing to accept the GoFundMe donations in advance.

“We were on pins and needles,” Schroeder said. “It was very emotional. When they finally got in, it was so exciting. The girls were excited, and my kids were excited. It was a very happy day.”

Schroeder said she met Allert about two and half years ago at Lincoln. She described him as a savvy, community-minded person and devoted father.

“Even though this was a really hard time, he made it fun,” Schroeder said. “He did such a good job of making lemonade out of lemons for the girls.”

Allert said he and his daughters often take public transportation to the Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma and similar attractions as far as Seattle.

“We take advantage of every single program we can,” Allert said. “Any kind of thing for the kids to enjoy I’m always trying to get because it was an important part of my childhood.”

Allert and Schroeder said many donations came from people who recognized Allert from Lincoln Elementary School or who see him at places such as the children’s museum.

After settling into his new home, Allert said he’s hoping to find childcare for his two younger daughters, who are 3 and 4 years old. For now, he looks after them full-time on his own.

“I’m on these waiting lists that keep getting farther back in terms of when I’m actually going to get daycare,” Allert said. “I want to look for work and get off public assistance, but I can’t find anyone to watch my kids.”

Both Allert and Schroeder agreed much work still needs to be done to address systemic barriers to housing in the country. Allert, an alumnus of The Evergreen State College, said he didn’t always face housing insecurity, but when he did, he faced those barriers head on.

“You can lose your job, have kids someday with somebody that isn’t ready to be a parent, or have a health problem,” Allert said. “Anybody could really quickly end up in this situation of not having a place to live.”

Schroeder said she hopes this story can inspire people to help other families experiencing housing insecurity, either directly or by supporting organizations like the Family Support Center of South Sound.