Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Emergency Shelters for the Homeless Go Year Round

Emergency Shelters for the Homeless Go Year Round

by Janine Unsoeld

Advocates for the homeless are a devoted, seemingly tireless, loose connection of social service organizations, faith communities and people concerned about homeless issues.

Recently, many have eloquently spoken up, some for the first time, at Olympia city council meetings in response to ordinances that move homeless campers away from city hall property and criminalize sitting or lying on sidewalks.

Much of their work is behind-the-scenes for most of us, but very much on the front lines for those who need it most.

In a spot of good news in what is a daunting, ongoing issue for the community, these advocates, along with area congregations, have now made it possible for emergency shelters to be open year round. Funding to take this new step came from Thurston County and United Way.

The new shelter coordinator, Laurian Weissner, coordinates locations and their schedules. His part time paid position with Interfaith Works is currently funded for one year.

"Traditionally, the shelters for homeless men and women have operated seasonally during the cold weather months, ending in February for men, and ending in March for women," said Weissner, in an interview today.

Weissner says that in order for the shelters to be operational year round, current participating churches host twice a year. He has the women's shelters tentatively scheduled through the beginning of May and is appealing for two or three more congregations to "step-up" and help host the shelter.

Weissner urged that anyone needing emergency shelter should call (360) 515-5620. He also emphasized that people will not be denied shelter for theological reasons, meaning, they will not be required to participate in any religious ceremonies sponsored by the host church.

The women's shelter provides 18 beds for the homeless women, while the men's shelter provides 12 beds. Unused beds at the women's shelter are also available to families when the Family Shelter is full.

Local churches shelter homeless women in two week rotation cycles. St. Michael Parish on Olympia's eastside and Sacred Heart Parish in Lacey shelter homeless men. Coordination and screening to house the men and women is done through Sidewalk, Olympia's homeless advocacy and support center, and Interfaith Works.

The women's shelter is currently at The Lutheran Church of Good Shephard, on North Street in Olympia.

Partnership Organizations

The women's emergency overflow shelter provided 1,786 bed-nights of shelter in winter 2011-12, hosted on a rotating basis by 12 different congregations. The shelter is now officially called the "Women's Interfaith Shelter."

"Usage of the shelter in November 2012 was about double the volume of the previous year," said Danny Kadden, executive director of Interfaith Works, in an email to Little Hollywood yesterday.

"After 22 years of operating various types of winter-only shelters, we heard a growing chorus of our faith community members seeking ways to serve the year-round needs of unsheltered people. With funding in hand from the County and United Way, Interfaith Works will begin in Spring 2013 operating the faith-based shelters for both men and women every night of the year. This will require significantly more volunteers and participating churches and temples than ever before, but we are all determined to fill this gap in our shelter system," said Kadden.

There are few alternatives for women without Interfaith Works' shelter involvement. The Salvation Army has only 14 beds for single women and has limitations on the length of their stays. Bread and Roses can only serve 12 women at a time and sometimes has a waiting list.

The system is complicated for all who are involved. Apart from the Salvation Army and Interfaith Works' shelter, youth 22 years or younger are served by Community Youth Services. Families are served by the Family Support Center, and women fleeing domestic violence are served by Safeplace.

When and if Olympia's Smith building on 8th Avenue is operational, it will have family transitional housing on top, and a family shelter on the bottom. That's the long-range vision. Funding for it is significant.

Advocate Christie Kruger

Christie Kruger, a longtime, trained volunteer advocate for the homeless, urges more churches to become involved in hosting the homeless.

"Churches do not have to be a member of Interfaith Works to participate in the rotation, but they preferrably need to be on a bus line."

Kruger serves the homeless in multiple roles as an in-take coordinator at Sidewalk, conducting brief interviews with people who walk-in needing housing or referrals to other resources. She also assigns clients to other volunteers for longer term advocacy. Sidewalk advocates help clients fill out applications, apply for state and federal benefits and find housing.

"There's layers and layers of work, depending on their situation. It can be overwhelming." Kruger does suffer from burn-out from time to time, but it doesn't last long.

She's also an overnight host at the women's shelter operated by Interfaith Works. Volunteer hosts check in the shelter guests, spend the night at the church with them, and do laundry. Two hosts sleep over each night. One of the hosts needs to be a woman. Shelter hours are from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. with lights out at 10 p.m.

As if that's not enough, she also schedules volunteer hosts for Camp Quixote, the homeless "tent city" that rotates from church to church.

Kruger, who has an approachable, friendly style, spent several nights with the women when St. John's Episcopal Church hosted the women's shelter from November 30 to December 13.

"Reaching out to the poor is a basic tenant of almost every's in their ministry," says Kruger.

"One of the benefits of doing this type of work is breaking down stereotypes and stigmas. Participating congregations will find they create and enrich a sense of community in their hosts as well as for the guests who might otherwise be outcast or socially isolated."

"If the homeless don't get screened into a shelter, where can they sleep safely, or at all? That's what it comes down to...." says Kruger.

SideWalk will be having a volunteer training in January. Go to and click "volunteer" to sign up for training or find out more information. 

Sidewalk is currently looking for volunteers to serve as greeters, hospitality volunteers, volunteer support specialists, advocates, and intake specialists. Volunteers can give as much or as little as they are able, though most of Sidewalk's work is done during business hours, Monday- Thursday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

For more information, contact Emma Margraf, Community Outreach Manager at Sidewalk at (360) 515-5587 or

Interfaith Works has comprehensive information, including a calendar of events and activities, on their website at

Olympia City Council Moves Against Camping On City Property

Olympia City Council Moves Against Camping On City Property

by Janine Unsoeld

Homeless campers can stay put for now on the grounds of city hall and other city properties, such as the Olympia Center. Upon hearing the news during the city council meeting, many started bedding down for the night near the doors of city hall about 10:00 p.m.

On first reading, the Olympia City Council passed a proposed ordinance Tuesday night against camping on city property, which means there is time to put to work several ideas addressing homelessness issues before the ordinance will be heard again on January 8, 2013.

Councilmember Cooper voted no against the ordinance.

After thanking city manager Steve Hall for his efforts, Cooper said, "I do think there are other ways to do it. When I ran for this office, I promised my wife I would use my power for good...I have a feeling in my gut that this doesn't reflect the community's values...." Cooper endorsed a Homeless Bill of Rights proposed by homeless advocate Rob Richards at last week's council meeting.

If the ordinance passes on second reading, the ordinance would become effective on February 8, and the homeless will have to find other places to sleep.

After an impassioned public comment period dominated by numerous advocates for the homeless, and discussion by council members, the resistance to not pass the ordinance tonight on first and final reading signaled a compromise in hopes that several ideas to address homelessness issues will have a chance to be put in place.

One such idea is a youth shelter tentatively called Rosie's At Night. Operated by Community Youth Services (CYS), Rosie's is a place in downtown Olympia where youth 21 years and younger can hang out, get food, obtain supplies and gain access to other community resources. Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said he has been in conversation with CYS executive director Charles Shelan about it for three months and thinks the shelter could be activated around January 23.

Buxbaum also said that additional council monies could be allocated to Interfaith Works for use by homeless outreach organizations like the Emma Goldman Youth Homeless Outreach Project (EGYHOP), and Partners in Prevention Education.

Buxbaum also said the Union Gospel Mission is exploring their own enterprise to create a shelter. He also said that there is a conversation with the Salvation Army to address a change in guest in-take procedures. "We need to find out what's wrong with the system that there are empty beds."

Meg Martin, an EGYHOP outreach worker, in her public remarks addressed the fact that the Salvation Army has vacancies at their shelter despite people being on the street because the organization has barriers that "take away people's respect, dignity, and choices."

She said that while she kept homeless people warm last night, offering them hot coffee, she spoke with 22 people who filled out questionnaires about their needs. In response to unmanaged camping, she presented the council a detailed proposal for a low-barrier emergency overnight shelter for those who do not utilize current shelters.

Another portion of the ordinance addressed a change in the use of sidewalks. It passed on first and final reading and restricts laying down on sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and midnight. Again, Councilmember Cooper voted no, joined by Buxbaum, because it did not contain a sunset clause, which would allow it to expire in a year. The ordinance against busking was repealed.

This was the last city council meeting of the year. The next meeting will be Tuesday, January 8th. The proposed ordinance will be scheduled on the agenda under other business.

Land Use Committee Meeting

The minutes of the council's Land Use Committee meeting on Thursday, December 6 have still not been posted on line on the city's website or been made available to the public. The committee, chaired by Steve Langer, also includes councilmembers Julie Hankins and Jeannine Roe.

The December 6 meeting followed the contentious city council meeting of Tuesday, December 4. Councilmembers invited community members to come and provide input into what could be done about the many issues surrounding the proposed emergency ordinance to prohibit camping outside city hall and on city hall property. The meeting is said to have generated a great deal of input and a long list of creative ideas developed by homeless advocates. About 20 people were in attendance, including Meg Martin of EGYHOP, who proposed her outline for a low-barrier emergency overnight homeless shelter.

The meeting minutes, according to assistant city manager Jay Burney today, are said to still be in draft form and cannot be released until they have been approved by the committee. The committee cancelled its next scheduled meeting for Thursday, December 20. The meeting minutes are scheduled to be approved at their next meeting, January 24.

The meeting minutes could help other homeless advocates and community members not able to be in attendance stay informed and engaged in the current conversation. During tonight's council meeting, Jeannine Roe said the December 6th meeting was so good, she wished it could have been televised. However, it was not televised.

For more information about the proposed ordinance, go to and use the search button and use key words on this blog.