Above: Meg Martin works in the new office of the Interfaith Emergency Overnight Shelter this past weekend. New beds are stacked in the foreground.
By Janine Unsoeldwww.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com
The Interfaith Works Emergency Shelter is set to open November 1 at First Christian Church in downtown Olympia with space and beds for 30 men and women.
City of Olympia Hearing Examiner Mark Scheibmeir presided at a public hearing held Monday night to decide on a conditional use permit proposal to use the church’s basement to expand the shelter capacity from 30 beds to 42 beds.
The basement had previously been used by the Family Support Center, which recently moved to the Smith Building, located on Olympia’s eastside. The current permit expires in January of 2015. The church had also been the location for Camp Quixote, the temporary homeless camp, that has since moved to Quixote Village.
City planner Steve Friddle represented the city and provided the staff report recommending that the shelter be permitted for 42 beds. Hearing Examiner Scheibmeir stated at the outset that he did a site visit, walked through the property and neighborhood, and disagreed with the city's interpretation of the code.
Friddle admitted that the Olympia municipal code regarding group homes, residential and commercial standards and uses was confusing, and that the city recommended the 42 bed shelter based on state fire and building codes.
Scheibmeir said that it's not his job to defend the city's land use policies, but he calculated the capacity of the space to allow 37 beds, and he did not make that calculation lightly, knowing its “draconian ramifications.”
The hearing examiner took Danny Kadden, executive director of Interfaith Works, and Meg Martin, Interfaith Shelter Program Manager, to task for not documenting the specifics of how the facility would be used. Both provided new information and details about the facility that had not previously been provided to the hearing examiner.
“I don't care about rules about pets, or where people store their belongings...but the hours of operation and the way a facility is used, and a number of other aspects of the plan are essential...Those are critical for me to know....What I would like is for the applicant to examine their plan relevant to the basic issues...and develop a clear understanding...of what will be expected.”
Several people offered testimony in support and against the permit.
Brenda Hatcher of First Christian Church spoke in support of the group's permit, saying it was a unanimous decision by the congregation to host the shelter, saying it feels strongly that human beings deserve a place to be. Speaking in support of Interfaith Works, she said the organization has a good record of doing what they promise.
“They've been partners with us for years and have an ongoing reputation for being compassionate...and provide for people,” she said.
Don Sloma, Thurston County's director of public health services, also spoke in support of the shelter's application, as did Theresa Slusher, the county's homeless services coordinator.
In 2013, the shelter received a conditional award of $400,000 by a multi-jurisdictional housing consortium based on Interfaith Works’ ability to work with the City of Olympia and local advocates to identify an acceptable site for the project and obtain required permits.
Theresa Sparber, a 63 year old who is homeless, also spoke in support of the shelter. She said she has a history of strokes, COPD, and heart attacks, and that maneuvering at night on slick streets has caused her to have multiple falls.
“I can't wait for the shelter to open, to rejuvenate my body, to get rest. Believe me, by 5 o'clock, we're ready to hit the sack. A friend of mine is 73 and she's in different bushes. There's so many of us displaced women who are lost out there and it's a place we never thought we'd be. (The shelter) is a great effort on everyone's part - it gives us hope,” said Sparber.
Jim Haley, President and CEO of Thurston First Bank spoke against the permit. He said the bank relocated to 600 Franklin Street, one block away from the proposed shelter as part of an effort to revitalize downtown. Citing multiple concerns, Haley said he didn't see anything about the shelter that benefits the neighborhood. He said he wasn't against the homeless, but “it's business that creates tax revenue so we can better help the homeless.”
The hearing lasted about two hours, and Scheibmeir held the record open until the end of the week for additional information to be submitted by the applicants and others who wish to submit materials. He said he hoped to make a decision within 10 days from the following Monday.
“I envision approving this (permit) but I'm not sure in what fashion....Two groups deserve certainty: the population who would benefit from its use, and those affected, such as businesses and residents...neither trumps the other, both deserve to be recognized....” said Scheibmeir.
Shelter Gets Ready To Open
The task of locating a shelter formerly known as The People’s House has proved difficult in terms of finding a suitable location.Staff and volunteers were working hard this past weekend to get the space at First Christian Church ready.
Meg Martin, Interfaith Works Emergency Shelter program director, took time to explain the goals for the space.
“Changing the emphasis to housing a pre-screened clientele will aim to the serve the most vulnerable adult homeless individuals over the age of 24 who are not generally violent offenders,” said Martin.Although a daytime warming and activity shelter is badly needed in the community, this shelter will not serve that purpose.
Using a lengthy questionnaire, street outreach workers assessed the needs and vulnerability of over 135 people in the last month. To fill the shelter beds, staff will attempt to locate 30 of those people who received the highest score in terms of vulnerability, and prioritize the beds for those who need it most.“With the (previous) first-come, first-served model, we would have filled up immediately. Women and those with severe mental illness wouldn’t have gotten in,” she said about the new intake strategy.
Martin explained that each person will have a bed designated for them unless they miss three consecutive evenings without telling staff a reason for their absence. Lockers will be available for their belongings, and pets are allowed in kennels next to their person. Martin says this has been allowed in the past with no problems.“We never want to have an empty bed...This effort has a much broader vision for placing people in permanent supportive housing. If we can expand, we’ll save a huge amount of community resources,” Martin said. Members of the homeless population tend to have more contact with police, and have a higher use of emergency room services than the general population.
Check in time at the shelter starts at 5:00 p.m. for women, and 7:00 p.m. for men. Everyone needs to be checked in by 9:00 p.m. and leave in the morning by 7 a.m. Guests will need to sign a personal conduct agreement and “good neighbor” policy form. If a guest’s behavior prevents their fulfilling the shelter agreements, they will be directed by staff to leave.According to the proposal submitted to the city in September, the shelter will not house Level 2 and 3 sex offenders. While staff will not automatically conduct criminal background checks, staff reserve the right to do so at any time on any guest staying at the shelter. The shelter will serve all genders and couples. The space is already sub-divided in a way that allows separate sleeping areas and bathroom access.
Two professional, trained staff will be on site at all times. Shelter staff will be supported by three or four trained volunteers during a portion of the evening hours.In addition, SideWalk, a homeless advocacy program, will work with guests on rapid-rehousing advocacy, and Behavioral Health Resources staff will be available for mental health support.
Full meals will not be provided, as those services are available at the Union Gospel Mission and Salvation Army.“We’re open to more partnerships – some are in the works, and some we’re still figuring out,” said Martin, who also said that more volunteers are needed.
It was that lack of clarity that concerned city Hearing Examiner Scheibmeir at Monday night's hearing.
Shelter Capacity Projections and Community Needs
Currently, the proposed 42 shelter beds at First Christian Church will be split - 22 for men and 20 for women. In addition, Sacred Heart Church in Lacey and St. Michael’s Church on Olympia’s eastside will operate a 12 bed shelter for men, as they have in previous years. This year, they will shelter the next 12 men on the Interfaith shelter’s screened list.
In her testimony, Theresa Slusher calculated a net gain of 10 beds for both men and women combined but it is also worth noting that the women are taking a net loss.
The shelter beds for women in the community are limited to Salvation Army and the Interfaith Shelter.
Bread and Roses, a non-profit inspired by the Catholic Worker movement and dedicated to serving the homeless, recently announced that they will no longer shelter homeless women.
For more information about the Interfaith Works Emergency Shelter, contact Meg Martin at email@example.com or www.iwshelter.org.
For more information about Interfaith Works, go to www.Interfaith-Works.org.
Above: Fresh beds at First Christian Church wait to be placed in rooms for men and women.