The Hand Up Project


In 2012 Robert Smiley was seriously working the Alcoholics Anonymous Program for the first time. He had spent most of his life drinking, drugging, violent, in and out of prison, and at times homeless. He had tried AA and getting sober before, but sobriety was fleeting. This time, he was just tired. Tired of hustling for his next high, tired of being separated from his wife, tired of everything. He started attending smaller AA meetings, where people talked about how they were using the AA steps, getting through their days, sometimes getting tripped up, but always getting back to the steps under the guidance of their sponsors.

Dr. Bob (Robert Holbrook Smith), a founder of AA, had this “prescription” for alcoholics: “trust God, clean house, and help others.” This time, Robert took the saying to heart. He started helping everyone he could, and this began his journey in learning how to best help people who were homeless and/or struggling with addiction. In the beginning of this journey he would meet people struggling with addiction and take them to the ER, but discovered they would get released, untreated, after he left. Robert tried calling detox facilities, but found out that he couldn’t get the people admitted for a week or two. He became discouraged, because he could tell that the people he was trying to help really wanted to change, but he could not find the pathway to help them.

Robert started talking with service providers, county and city officials, and anyone who could help him figure out how to help people struggling with homelessness and addiction. What he discovered was that for the first 15 to 25 days, there is a lack of funding for services, and it often takes longer than that for people to get through the application processes for help. When he helped people acquire the funding for housing, he then found that the housing that was available was often horribly crowded, had security issues, and wasn’t always clean and sober. This put the people he was trying to help right back into the life they were trying to escape.

Robert searched for a house that he could use for the people he was helping to get off the streets. In July, 2013, he found his first house in which he housed six residents, and initially was the house manager. He learned a lot during this period and started to develop what would become the housing program of The Hand Up Project.

Robert went to local businesses and asked for clothing and food donations for his housing program. He started to receive more then he needed, so he organized outreach events providing food, clothing, and help to homeless encampments in Snohomish County. At these events, he had a barbeque and invited existing organizations providing services to people struggling with homelessness and addiction, such as Catholic Community Services, Veteran’s Affairs, 211, etc. Robert and his volunteers went into the homeless encampments in the woods with clothing and food, and talked about the services that were available. If the help needed wasn’t there at the event, The Hand Up Project would arrange a day and time to come back and drive the person to the agency or appointment that could provide the assistance they needed.

The Hand Up Project started to have success stories. The housing residents were clean and sober, employed, and moving into their own homes. People were providing support to each other and giving back to the community. They were helping others which built their self-esteem, kept them accountable, and removed their desire to relapse. The outreach events were connecting the homeless with critical services and helping people rebuild their lives.

The Hand Up Project currently runs six clean and sober houses, which house a total of 51 people. The organization does not solely serve people struggling with addiction. It is willing to be a resource facilitator for any person struggling with homelessness, as long as the person is clean and sober.

The Hand Up Project has developed an effective way of helping people rebuild their lives, but there is a great need for more outreach and housing assistance throughout Snohomish County. Please consider joining us in making a difference in people’s lives by supporting the work of The Hand Up Project.