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Federal Way's lone homeless shelter expects busy winter

Federal Way's lone homeless shelter will start its third winter season sheltering men Nov. 1 at Steel Lake Presbyterian Church.

Reach Out was launched in 2008. A group of Federal Way volunteers realized the city lacked a place to house its homeless overnight, especially during the frigid months. For the past two years, more than 12 churches have hosted and fed the city's homeless men. In-kind donations, totaling more than $140,000, and more than 250 volunteers keep the shelter going. With this winter predicted to be an abnormally wet and cold one, Reach Out volunteers are expecting a busy season, volunteer coordinator Nancy Jaenicke said.

How it works

Reach Out, a mobile shelter, operates from November through March. Worship centers along bus lines take turns hosting the men overnight. This season, Steel Lake Presbyterian Church, 1829 S. 308th St., will host from Nov. 1 to Dec. 26, and again from Feb. 28 to April 3. Calvary Lutheran Church, 2415 S. 320th St., will host the men from Dec. 27 to Feb. 27.

The homeless men are screened and allowed to sleep at the host church under supervision by Reach Out personnel. They return to the streets in the morning, but are welcome back to Reach Out at night. They are given advanced notice when the shelter will move locations. Reach Out personnel transport the men's belongings, which they may keep at the host church during daytime hours, between locations.

It takes more than the host churches to keep the operation going. Each night support organizations comprised of volunteers make and serve the men dinner, followed by breakfast the next morning and a lunch to go. Professional case management is extended to the men while they are at the shelter.

In the past two winters, Reach Out has helped several men escape the streets and get their lives back on track. The first winter, 12 of the men were assisted in finding housing and seven received job training or internships. In Reach Out's second season, 18 men found a form of stable housing and three received job training or internships, according to Reach Out data.

One man, Jim, who preferred his last name remain anonymous, was forced to seek refuge at Reach Out in its first season when his family experienced economic hardship.

"I have to say that I was grateful for having a safe, warm place to sleep and nutritious food to eat," Jim said in a testimony given to Reach Out personnel.

New management, same approach

Reach Out underwent managerial changes this past spring, but does not expect a noticeable difference in how the shelter will operate this winter, Jaenicke said. The shelter was initially sponsored by Federal Way's non-profit Multi-Service Center; it is now a Catholic Community Services program.

CCS has experience in the sheltering arena. It manages homeless shelters in Kent and Renton, among others. CCS will perform screening, overnight supervision and case management of the men served by Federal Way's Reach Out. The shelter will continue to serve the local homeless population.

"CCS is very determined to keep this a local presence," Jaenicke said.

Clear need

Federal Way's most recent annual homeless count, performed from 2 to 5 a.m. Jan. 29, indicated the city's homeless population has increased the past two consecutive years. Volunteers counted 181 homeless persons during the count. Volunteers in Auburn, Renton and Kent counted at least 97 fewer homeless individuals in their respective cities than those counted in Federal Way, according to a Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness summary of the event.

Last year, 116 homeless individuals were counted in Federal Way. In 2008, 92 were located. In 2007, 106 homeless men, women and children were found in Federal Way.

The local homeless count is coordinated by the Multi-Service Center and is part of a greater effort put forth by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. The coalition is interested in gauging the effectiveness of funds and programs associated with the county's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Learn more

To learn more or volunteer with Reach Out contact Nancy Jaenicke at nancyjaenicke@earthlink.net or (253) 927-5548.

Get involved

Reach Out will host a fundraiser from 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 6 at Calvary Lutheran Church, 2415 S. 320th St. Federal Way resident Megan Johnson, founder of Megan's Mission — a nonprofit that provides blankets and hats to the homeless — will share her experiences. Richard LeMieux, the formerly homeless author of "Breakfast at Sally's," a book that chronicles his two years living on the streets of Bremerton, will also share stories about his experiences being homeless. Proceeds from the event will go to benefit Reach Out. Those unable to attend the event may make a tax-deductible contribution by mailing checks to: Reach Out, P.O. Box 24613, Federal Way, WA 98093-1613. To donate online, visit www.ccsww.org/reachout and click on the "Support This Program: Donate" button.

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