Emergency shelters: City establishes registry and rules

For the city’s homeless, finding a warm place to stay the night when an unexpected cold snap arrives can be difficult.

Because of this sparsity of shelter, Federal Way recently addressed the issue by establishing protocols for emergency shelter locations in what it termed “severe cold weather occurrences.”

The new protocols will create a registry of shelters for people to use — a list that hadn’t existed previously.

Bryant Enge, the city’s administrative services director, said there needs to be a balance between providing shelter and making sure those shelters are compliant with codes and regulations.

“During extreme cold weather conditions that pose dangerous health concerns for those people exposed, temporary shelters are needed to provide refuge,” Enge said at the city council’s Dec. 6 meeting. “It is important that adequate safeguards and procedures are put in place, to protect not only the people being sheltered, but also to protect the actual facility.”

Enge said the city and South King Fire and Rescue collaborated on the protocols, to ease the burden on local churches that provide temporary shelter in extreme weather events. One of the biggest issues that the churches ran into, especially in terms of having people stay overnight, was the lack of adequate fire sprinkler systems. For most local churches, the cost of adding or improving any fire suppression systems would be significant.

From the city’s perspective, it’s hands were tied in trying to help financially offset those costs. The city cannot use federal funding from block grants, for example, to improve churches, Enge said.

“So that limited our options in terms of what we could do,” he said. “What we did was develop these guidelines that protect the individuals when they’re at the shelter facilities. We wanted to make sure the worship houses would respond to crises without sacrificing public safety.”

Enge said the city will require temporary shelters to have a fire escape plan with two exits available. The shelters must have operable fire alarms, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, and finally, shelters must ensure volunteers will be available throughout the night.

Outside of this protocol, Enge said the city will develop a more formal program in conjunction with Catholic Community Services (CCS) in the near future. CCS has previously worked with Kent in establishing a program, and is currently piloting a program in Renton.

“We’re in a discussion with them, in terms of a bringing a similar program here to Federal Way,” Enge said.

Read more about the protocols here.


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