Volunteers reach out to help homeless with shelter, services in Federal Way

Esther Poirier, reverend of the Church of the Good Shepherd, in front of the church that is hosting a women’s shelter for the first time this winter. The shelter is part of the Reach Out program that provides homeless shelters and other services to men and women in South King County. - Carrie Rodriguez, Federal Way Mirror
Esther Poirier, reverend of the Church of the Good Shepherd, in front of the church that is hosting a women’s shelter for the first time this winter. The shelter is part of the Reach Out program that provides homeless shelters and other services to men and women in South King County.
— image credit: Carrie Rodriguez, Federal Way Mirror

Women feel so safe and comfortable at the Church of the Good Shepherd’s homeless shelter that one woman wears her pajamas while she eats at the dinner table.

“It’s so fulfilling to sit and chat with them while they eat,” said Mary Ann Traynor, who volunteers for the Reach Out program. “There’s a sense of home here.”

This is the first year the Episcopal church in Federal Way is hosting the women’s winter shelter, but it’s the third winter season that the shelter has operated, rotating from different churches that are part of Reach Out.

The organization has also operated a men’s winter shelter for six years, this winter at Calvary Lutheran in Federal Way.

With the temperatures significantly dropping this week and in light of the recent annual One Night Count, when volunteers counted 113 homeless people in Federal Way, Reach Out volunteers hope that people in need will contact the organization for help.

So far, the women’s shelter has hosted on average about nine women each night, said Esther Poirier, reverend of the Church of the Good Shepherd. However, there is room for 15 women.

Screening and registration for potential shelter residents is provided from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at New Hope Christian Fellowship, 31411 Sixth Ave. S., Federal Way.

Reach Out is a ministry that partners with 25 Federal Way churches of various faiths, service and civic organizations and community volunteers to provide shelter, daily meals and support services to help homeless men and women in South King County move toward self-sufficiency.

The program is operated during the winter months, November through March.

Nancy Jaenicke, Reach Out coordinator, was part of the group of concerned residents who helped to get the program running.

Eight years ago, volunteers counted the homeless in Federal Way during the annual One Night Count. Seeing people on the streets firsthand, the group of residents, including Jaenicke, spoke during a Federal Way City Council meeting about the need for shelters and other homeless services in the city.

“[Council members] Dini Duclos and Jeanne Burbidge came up to me and said, ‘We’ve got to make this work,” Jaenicke recalled of that Council meeting.

The city got involved and formed a steering committee and Reach Out was eventually formed in 2009 through the program Catholic Community Services of King County.

Jaenicke said the organization has grown, and Reach Out volunteers are currently working with the Federal Way Community Caregiving Network to try and get an all-day shelter operating in Federal Way.

At the Church of the Good Shepherd, women come in to the shelter for dinner, sleep on mats overnight in a room that is used as a preschool during the day, and leave after breakfast with a bagged lunch to take with them that volunteers provide. Organizations and other volunteers sign up to provide meals to residents of the shelter.

“I’ve been amazed at how smoothly it’s gone into place,” Poirier said. “People here at this church were wide open to having this happen.

She added that shelter residents come from all walks of life, some unemployed and others making a steady paycheck that is not enough to support their basic needs.

“There’s such a sense of how easily it could be one of us,” Poirier noted. “It’s not your stereotypical mentally ill woman on the street.”

The church community and volunteers also try to respond to the needs of the shelter residents as much as possible.

“If they need rental assistance, we find a way to hook them up with resources in our community that are available,” Poirier said.

She noted how a male client recently brought his dog to Calvary Lutheran and a volunteer took care of the dog so the man could stay at the shelter.

And there are the little comforts volunteers provide that make a big difference to residents. Each woman gets their own tote to keep her belongings in that the church stores for residents so they don’t have to haul their things around all day, said Traynor.

People also donate yarn to the church and volunteers make shawls, some of which are given to women in the homeless shelter.

“They can wrap up in a shawl and our prayers go with them,” Poirier said.


Join the organization for its annual Reach Out Rollermania from 6-9 p.m. on Monday, March 31 at Pattison’s West Skating Center, 34222 Pacific Highway S., Federal Way. All roller skating proceeds will benefit Reach Out. For more information, visit


Blankets, pillows and other personal belongings sit on top of totes in a storage room at the Church of the Good Shepherd. Carrie Rodriguez, The Mirror

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