As colder weather nears, Catholic Community Services is opening the doors of the Reach Out men and women’s overnight shelters in South King County.
Open since October, these shelters provide warm meals and a safe place to rest for individuals experiencing homelessness. The program began in Federal Way in 2009, and has since grown to reach the cities of Auburn, Kent, Des Moines and Northeast Tacoma. Reach Out has also extended services to provide overnight shelters for women.
The shelter locations in various cities provide services for individuals for four-to-eight months during the fall and winter seasons. In Federal Way, the overnight shelters are equipped to provide services to 15 women and up to 30 men at the respective locations.
Approximately 30 churches and community organizations take turns providing meals for a week at a time for the Federal Way shelters.
“I believe the kindness and charity of those providing meals is very important to the recovery of many who are served at the shelters,” said Willa Gaines, who has volunteered with Reach Out since its inception in 2009.
At the shelters, individuals also have access to counseling and other resources to help overcome the barriers they face, such as debt, illness, disability, unemployment, mental illness or substance use.
“Shelters provide a sense of security and a sense of temporary home,” Gaines said, adding that then the men and women can begin to work on their issues, often with counselors who will now this year meet with individuals at each of the shelters.
Last year during the 2018-2019 season, Reach Out provided shelter to 188 individuals, assisted 29 people into housing, and provided more than 6,000 beds, nights and meals, said Whonakee King, Federal Way Day Center program manager, at the Nov. 7 benefit breakfast at Journey Church.
Attendees included former Speaker Frank Chopp, Sen. Claire Wilson, King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer, Federal Way City Council members, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, along with community leaders and Reach Out volunteers.
The event also include some impacted by the program services — such as Robert Jack, a commercial fisherman who is suffering from PTSD after a vessel accident in 2010 killed his best friend and the captain of the ship in front of him.
“I think about it every day to this day,” Jack told the crowd.
Crippled by survivor’s guilt, Jack was unable to work and as his bank account depleted, found himself on the streets. Upon getting involved with Reach Out over the past few years, the program has provided him with counseling, a place to stay and additional resources.
Recently this past July, he made two trips to Alaska. Once he returned, Catholic Community Services welcomed him back with open arms, he said.
Jack took their offer and has been living there, while working every day, for three months. Last Monday, Jack signed a one-year lease for a house of his own.
“If it wasn’t for this program, people like me wouldn’t have anywhere to go…,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to have that second chance in life.”
Reach Out has also saved families from their lowest points.
Mia moved to Seattle from California with her husband, Edward, in 2018 in hopes of getting a fresh start after Mia escaped an extreme case of domestic violence with her ex-husband.
After Edward’s jobs fell through, the couple found themselves living in their car as Mia worked to pay for car insurance and provide child support for her kids in California. These, along with other necessary payments, left the couple with “next to nothing.”
The two discovered the Federal Way Day Center and integrated the center’s services into their daily routines. As winter came, their car had broken down and Mia discovered she was pregnant, therefore the two enrolled in the Reach Out overnight shelters.
Reach Out allowed her to get a good night’s rest to face the day ahead, working throughout her entire pregnancy.
“Reach Out not only provided a place to rest and good food, but it provided consistency,” Mia noted.
Now, the two have a healthy baby boy, Edward is sober and in a treatment plan, and the family recently moved into housing of their own, with the help of Catholic Community Services.
Housing is the breakthrough from homelessness, said event speaker and former state Rep. Frank Chopp.
Chopp outlined several homeless housing options coming to the greater Seattle area through the Home and Hope Initiative.
“We need to talk about homeless, not insolation at a designated place somewhere else, but in the context of public health and public safety,” Chopp said.
The initiative acquires sites, namely surplus public and nonprofit areas, to bring people together to build housing and build community.
So far, the project has identified 25 major properties in King County that could hold thousands of housing units and cottage villages, both designed to appeal to community, he added.
“Which is why your Reach Out efforts are so important,” Chopp said. “It’s all about caring for people in desperate need — and saving lives.”