Homeless, others urge city to develop day shelter in Federal Way

Rick Nicholson has a morning routine. He scavenges through garbage cans in front of stores and businesses to find food and something to keep himself warm.

Rick Nicholson has a morning routine.

He scavenges through garbage cans in front of stores and businesses to find food and something to keep himself warm. He then walks through the woods for hours as he contemplates where he should go to find his next meal, wishing he could take a warm shower.

Nicholson has been homeless in Federal Way for eight years.

“When I go to the mall when I’m wet and cold, I’m really embarrassed because people look at me strangely,” Nicholson said. “There’s no place to hide in the mall, so us homeless usually go to the library because people are reading and don’t notice us as much. There, I can throw my wet coat off and throw my socks on the heater.”

Nicholson said he wishes there was a place for homeless to go during the day.

“Winter is the hardest time of the year to be homeless in Federal Way,” he said. “The reservoirs are frozen over and there’s no place to get water to take a shower or clean your clothes outside.”

Federal Way’s Reach Out organization and Sound Alliance teamed up together to solve this issue for homeless people like Nicholson. Sound Alliance is a diverse faith, labor, education and community non-profit institution in King and Pierce Counties. Reach Out provides seasonal shelter, food and case management services to homeless men and women in South King County. The two organizations hosted an assembly at St. Vincent de Paul Parish on Tuesday — just before freezing temperatures arrived overnight — when a few spokespeople discussed their desire to build a day shelter for homeless.

“Our goal was to encourage Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell to commit to work with the Alliance and its allies to find an appropriate site, secure capital funding and secure operation funding to develop a day shelter in Federal Way that provides showers, laundry, public space and a connection point with service providers,” said Peter Hasegawa. “I believe a strong community showing at our event demonstrated support for this project.”

Approximately 250 people attended.

Ferrell gave his answer during the event.

“The answer is yes and we’re going to look for a number of partners,” he later told the Mirror during an interview.

He noted the city’s commitment to forging partnerships, including their recent one with King County to help keep the Public Health Center open that serves nearly 14,000 low-income women and children.

“Homelessness can really create this cycle of hopelessness and what we want to do is help people find a way out and help restore people’s dignity and help people find a measure of self-sufficiency, so anything we can do to help we will,” Ferrell said, adding he was touched by the event.

Others spoke about the reality of homelessness in the community.

“Poverty has moved to the suburbs. There are now more poor people living in suburban King County than in Seattle, and the numbers in South King County are especially troubling,” said Rev. James Kubal-Komoto, minister of Saltwater Church in Des Moines. “But the homeless are mostly hidden in Federal Way. I suspect most people in Federal Way have no idea how many homeless men, women and children go without shelter in our community, at night and during the day,” he said.

The number of homeless counted in a single night in Federal Way in 2010 increased 56 percent from the previous year. The late-January survey called One Night Count tallied 181 people with no homes, spending the night in vehicles, parks and other outdoor locations. Three of these were minors, according to statistics from FUSION (Friends United to Shelter the Indigent, Oppressed and Needy) a Federal Way nonprofit organization aiding homeless people.

Federal Way has the largest number of unsheltered homeless after Seattle’s nearly 2,000, according to FUSION.

The organization claims two trends are largely responsible for a rise in homelessness over the past 20 years, a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty.

Families with children are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, accounting for almost 41 percent of the nation’s homeless. The most common causes of homelessness for families include a lack of or reduced incomes, medical and family emergencies and domestic violence.

Nancy Jaenicki, a leader with Reach Out, said she believes building a shelter is not a solution to end homelessness, but it is a step in the right direction.

“These are just the most basic of human needs,” she said. “Somehow we need to all come together to make sure that our less fortunate brothers and sisters in our area have these basic services provided. It’s the human thing to do and the caring thing to do.”

Jackie Blair has been involved in serving and organizing community suppers for about 10 years through the Federal Way Community Caregiving Network.

“These are good people and I want them to have an opportunity to be refreshed so they can hold their heads up like anybody else,” she said.