Snow covered trees in Federal Way during the snowstorm in February. Photo courtesy of Shelley Pauls

Snow covered trees in Federal Way during the snowstorm in February. Photo courtesy of Shelley Pauls

Federal Way set to open overnight homeless shelter during severe weather

Church of the Nazarene or Family Life Community Church will be first to open doors when temperatures dip to 32 degrees for 24 consecutive hours.

With temperatures dipping into the 30s overnight, the city of Federal Way is set to activate a severe weather overnight shelter for the homeless should the need arise.

City staff is still fine-tuning details of the city’s severe weather shelter plan, including having the three participating churches sign a memorandum of understanding that will outline the particular plans at each site.

“But the bottom line is that it’s ready to go,” said Tyler Hemstreet, the city’s communications coordinator.

Church of the Nazarene, Family Life Community Church and Brooklake Church have partnered with the city to provide shelter to the homeless when temperatures dip to 32 degrees or below for at least 24 consecutive hours.

Sarah Bridgeford, the city’s Human Services manager, told the Mirror either the Church of the Nazarene, at 1525 SW Dash Point Road, or Family Life Community Church, at 1925 S. 341st Place, will be the first to open their doors when the city activates the shelter. Both churches will offer shelter on a rotating basis.

The city is still considering Brooklake Church, however, the church at 629 S. 356th St. has a robust school program that presents certain challenges, Bridgeford said. Their childcare program opens at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays.

As city staff looks at the ideal location, they need to consider if “we are closing the shelter at 5 [in the morning] and people are going out into the coldest temperatures,” Bridgeford said. “With the school on site and people arriving at 6, we would want to have the shelter closed and cleaned up by that time.”

Brooklake Church “is all in, but I think they would be more of a back-up location,” Bridgeford said.

“Our church partners at the table right now are wonderful,” she said, noting the city continues to look for additional sites that they may add to the shelter rotation.

The city is considering a couple of non-church facilities, however, they are still negotiating with those facilities, so Bridgeford could not comment further on what those facilities are.

The need for an overnight homeless shelter was prompted during last February’s pounding snowstorm that triggered a state of emergency in western Washington.

The Federal Way Community Center was opened as a warming center during the storm in the daytime, but homeless people were sent back onto the street during the frigid nights. In response to the snowstorm and the city’s need for overnight homeless sheltering, Mayor Jim Ferrell convened over 30 local nonprofits and churches in March to brainstorm ideas for providing shelter to the homeless during severe weather.

“It takes a lot of coordination to make this happen,” Bridgeford said of the city’s severe weather shelter plan that came out of the brainstorming meetings.

Holidays are particularly challenging trying to get access to the facilities, she noted.

“People are out of town, you have to have someone at the building to allow people in,” she said.

And unexpected issues arise.

For example, the city’s main contact at one of its partner churches had car trouble during the Thanksgiving holiday, which would have prevented that church from opening its doors had the city needed that facility last week.

“There are a lot of factors that can impact things,” Bridgeford said. “If the power was to go out, if something happens with the fire alarm and smoke detector system — any number of things could go wrong to preclude a facility from opening up. It’s really nice to already have multiple partners working with the city.”

While the churches have not yet signed memorandums of understanding with the city, that does not present a barrier to the city’s shelter plan, she noted. Catholic Community Services, who will staff the overnight shelter, also has an agreement with the city that they will soon sign.

Bridgeford said the city continues to track weather on a regular basis and can see when cold fronts come in a week in advance. The mayor will activate the overnight shelter when temperatures fall at or below 32 degrees for at least 24 consecutive hours, or when new snow accumulation exceeds 3 inches in depth, and at least one other severe weather shelter in King County has been activated.

“Our preference is to make a decision in the morning,” Bridgeford said on the time of day the city would activate the overnight shelter.

Once the mayor activates the shelter, the city will notify partners, including Crisis Connections (2-1-1), Federal Way Public Schools and local churches.

Bridgeford urged anyone interested in tracking the activation of various overnight shelters throughout King County, including Federal Way, to visit Crisis Connections’ website at www.crisisconnections.org/king-county-2-1-1. The city will also post an activation notice on its website.

In the coming weeks, city staff will be doing a more coordinated volunteer effort, as volunteers are needed during the day hours to close down the shelter in the morning, help the churches to provide meals and assist Catholic Community Services with shelter clean-up. While some people have donated blankets, the city still needs various supplies to stock the church sites, including granola bars, cups of noodles, sanitary products and more.

“Things are coming together and we’re ready to go,” Bridgeford said.

How to help

To help with donations, volunteerism or other support for the severe weather shelters, please contact Bridgeford at Sarah.Bridgeford@cityoffederalway.com or 253-835-2651.

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