Federal Way's homeless find shelter from the storms

As temperatures dipped and snow flurried, churches and the police department offered emergency shelter for Federal Way's homeless.

Several local churches began a rotation to take in the homeless soon after temperatures dropped below freezing Dec. 15. Additionally, the police department offered to foot the bill for those homeless to say in a motel if the churches did not have enough room. The spur-of-the-moment emergency shelter system provided a warm place to stay and food for more than a dozen people these past weeks. It also brought to light the need to have a more organized way to meet the homeless population's needs during critical situations.

"This is a bit disjointed because we threw it together last minute," said Roy Andresen, South Sound Dream Center co-founder.

The effort to establish emergency shelters for the homeless during inclement weather started small and continues to rapidly grow. Leaders from Nine Lakes Baptist Church, New Hope Christian Fellowship and Christ the King Bible Fellowship offered their churches' space for the homeless last week. They sheltered men, women and one family for several nights as snow and ice storms hit region-wide. Anywhere between eight men and women on Dec. 16, to 20 people Dec. 20, took advantage of the emergency shelters. Because the shelters were established due to the threat the cold and snow issued, nobody was turned away.

With help from the Greater Federal Way Emergency Operations Center, other churches, volunteers and those donating food and blankets, the churches were able to quickly and temporarily house those who needed a warm place to stay. Volunteers stayed overnight with the homeless. Approximately 120 blankets and food were donated. A city vehicle was used to transport people to the shelters and police referred those they found on the streets to the emergency shelters. Everything came together well, but the efforts were coordinated day by day and left all involved scurrying to figure out what services and spaces were next available for use.

"I don't want to feel like I'm scrambling," said Thomas Reardon, Chaplain for International Fellowship of Chaplains. "We need to step up and know who's ready to go."

As temperatures increased and the holidays inched closer, representatives from the city, emergency operations center, churches, police, citizens and fire district met Dec. 23 to begin establishing a plan for future emergency shelters.

The group worked to finalize a schedule of spaces available to offer a place to sleep and food for the homeless through Jan. 4. Beginning Jan. 5, Reach Out, a long-term rotating shelter for homeless men in which screening will take place before the men are admitted, is expected to open. New Hope offered to open its doors during the next week anytime, if needed, given a two-hour notice. Grace Church and Steel Lake Presbyterian Church leaders dedicated themselves to talking with their congregations and possibly offering their spaces as well. Though there is still much to figure out, several of the area's churches will now be working together to create an emergency sheltering plan.

"If we could not do the ‘ad hoc from the hip’ thing in the future, that would be great," said Andre Sims, with Christ the King Bible Fellowship.

Discussion points included how to decide when the need for an emergency shelter has arisen, where folks can go to stay overnight and how to keep the homeless population educated about the resources offered to them. The group plans to work with the city and fire district to ensure each church willing to open its space to the homeless during emergencies, such as inclement weather, meets safety standards.

Ray Gross, Emergency Management Coordinator with Federal Way, offered to put anyone interested in future sheltering in touch with the American Red Cross. The agency can inspect a space and approve it for use, he said. The city will also have to do an inspection, but it will not be any more comprehensive than that done by the Red Cross, he said.


Check it out:

Organizations interested in becoming involved in the emergency sheltering operations may contact Thomas Reardon at (253) 344-7318. Those interested in becoming certified to offer shelter through the Red Cross should contact Ray Gross at (253) 835-2712.

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