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Economy hampers effort to help city’s homeless

The trying economy has affected efforts to assist Federal Way’s homeless.

A group of church-going volunteers has worked since February toward opening a rotating homeless shelter for single men ready to transition from the street to a steady job and residence.

By 2009, the group hopes to raise $160,000 to open and operate the year-round shelter, called Reach Out. While there is no shortage of volunteers or churches willing to donate their space for overnight use, there is a shortage of money available to offer the mobile shelter.

“We’re actually having a really rough time right now,” Reach Out spokeswoman Amy Parodi said. “Health and human services are being hit hard.”

Reach Out will utilize two churches at a time to offer shelter and food each month. One organization will allow the homeless men to sleep there overnight. Another will provide food, floor mattresses and necessities nightly for the men.

During the day, the church will become a faith-based place of worship, and the men will be expected to find employment. Their belongings will be loaded into a trailer and unloaded upon their return to the shelter during the evening.

Kent’s Catholic Community Services, an advocacy group, will provide overnight surveillance of the men and assist them in reintroducing themselves into society and finding a job. They will also screen the participants to ensure they are not felons and do not have violent tendencies.

“It’s bigger than putting a roof over their heads,” Parodi said.

Once the month has passed, the men and the trailer of belongings will relocate to another church. Maps to the location are provided and the host church must be on a bus line. A minimum of 12 churches are needed to make the shelter work for a full year.

In cities such as Kent and Renton, the program has been in place for nearly two years. The idea has not yet taken off here. To date, Calvary Lutheran Church and LifeWay Church have offered to host and service the homeless through February. Funding to last that long is available.

Approximately $13,000 is needed per month to operate the shelter, Parodi said. Catholic Community Services personnel are paid for their expertise and presence at the shelters. Churches are not paid to be hosts. Reach Out will have the capability of serving 25 to 30 men. It currently has available $10,000 and is expecting a $25,000 grant from the City of Federal Way, Parodi said.

Reach Out’s future beyond February is uncertain. Several organizations have shown an interest in the shelter, but hesitate to put money into a community start-up, partly due to economic reasons, Parodi said.

“We’re hearing ‘Once you get up and going, let us know,’” she said.

Despite having only enough money to operate the shelter from mid-November through February, the group plans to offer what it can and hopes cash flow will increase as more people hear about the service — and more homeless utilize it, Parodi said.

The Kent and Renton shelters, which are called HOME and ARISE, respectively, also got a slow start when they opened. They too, struggled to find funding, but are now doing well, Parodi said.

“We’re operating on the hope that’s what happens here as well,” she said.

The group does not plan to call it quits if it doesn’t get the money, Parodi said. It finds solace in knowing, at the very least, Reach Out will serve the homeless community during the coldest months of this year, Parodi said.

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Check it out:

To donate to Reach Out, contact Ron Moe at ron@reachout-fw.com or (206) 953-5681.

Or mail checks to: Reach Out/care of H.O.M.E., P.O. Box 6474 Kent, WA 98064.

To volunteer with Reach Out, contact A.J. Vaughns at aj@reachout-fw.com or (253) 431-7851.

LifeWay Church will host a blanket drive in support of Reach Out from Oct. 26 through Nov. 9. Blankets can be donated at the church office, 5015 S.W. Dash Point Road.

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