Nearly 70 members of local nonprofits and churches met with city officials on March 27 to discuss the need for homeless sheltering in the event of another severe weather emergency.
The city’s need for a concrete homeless sheltering response in the case of inclement weather became apparent during February’s snowstorm that ravaged western Washington.
At the time, Federal Way did not have a system in place to get people off the street overnight during such dangerous conditions.
The Federal Way Community Center was opened as a warming center during the storm, but was only in operation during daylight hours and closed at 5 p.m., sending people back onto the street during the colder nights.
The storm itself, which was dubbed “snowmaggedon,” brought over 14 inches of snow to the area, marking it the snowiest recorded February for this region. The storm was so severe residents were snowed in in some areas and people swarmed to supermarkets to stock up on necessities.
In response to the snowstorm and the city’s need for overnight homeless sheltering, Mayor Jim Ferrell convened the organizations to brainstorm ideas for providing shelter to the homeless during severe weather.
Several church organizations and nonprofits present offered to open their doors during such an event.
Pastor Dan Larson with Family Life Community Church is excited to partner with the city to help the homeless community.
“Lot of good questions, lot of positive feedback,” Larson said of the event. “It sounds like the city and the mayor’s office want to coordinate more.”
Ferrell said he was “very gratified” to see so the large event turnout.
Deputy Mayor Susan Honda also appreciated how many community members showed up in support for the homeless population.
“Each group brings a unique perspective of the homeless issue to the table,” she said. “Learning what other churches are doing in Federal Way helps the faith-based organizations and the city know if there are services that we are not providing and let’s us fill those needs.”
The city will have a plan in place by August, well before the colder months so the city and the volunteer organizations can be ready for potential shelter needs, he said.
Ferrell added he does not foresee the city participating in building a shelter any time soon.
Instead, he views the city’s role to be one of support and resources for other organizations who will be hosting homeless people or those in need of future severe weather instances.
Councilmember Dini DuClos appreciated so many churches stepping up to help during future bad weather events.
Ferrell stressed that when this program is in place it will be only for severe weather when life safety is in jeopardy, approximately 12 to 15 nights per year.
The mayor also said he will be the one who makes the decision whether or not the volunteer organizations need to open their doors.
“It needs to be something beyond cold weather or precipitation, when life safety becomes an issue,” he said.
As part of the city’s efforts, city employees will be placed at whichever shelter opens during any severe weather instances to help provide resources and support such as cots, blankets and pillows, he said. The city will select organizations who volunteer to open their doors to those in need on a rotating basis.
The city has also provided $40,000 for FUSION’s Econo Lodge renovations to help combat the homeless issue.