Organizations step up to house, staff homeless day shelter in Federal Way

As plans come together for a potential new day shelter in Federal Way, some community partners have stepped up to house and staff the shelter.

As plans come together for a potential new day shelter in Federal Way, some community partners have stepped up to house and staff the shelter.

The biggest initial challenge will be finding a building.

Greg Sigrist, a clinical manager for housing services at Valley Cities in Federal Way, said the organization’s lease at its current location will soon expire.

Valley Cities CEO Ken Taylor “has been very serious” about finding a building in Federal Way to purchase and has committed to finding a space big enough to house both Valley Cities and the day shelter, Sigrist said.

“So that puts right there a lot of services [together] — mental health, substance abuse, we have a very strong veterans’ program,” Sigrist said. “So it’s going to be an outstanding partnership. This is going to be a very good thing for Federal Way. I was really pleased to hear that Ken Taylor has made this commitment.”

In addition, Catholic Community Services, which runs the Reach Out organization in Federal Way, has expressed interest in staffing the shelter, said Rev. Dr. James Kabal-Komoto, minister of Saltwater Church in Des Moines and a member of Sound Alliance.

Sound Alliance — a faith, labor, education and community nonprofit in King and Pierce counties — and other local organizations, including Reach Out, have been speaking about a homeless day shelter in Federal Way for years.

But the organizations gathered momentum for a day shelter when they hosted an assembly last November, when approximately 250 people convened at St. Vincent de Paul Parish to speak out about the need for a shelter.

During the event, Mayor Jim Ferrell also announced his commitment to work with the group and help them find an appropriate site.

The day shelter will provide a place for homeless and low-income people to bathe, wash their laundry and connect with other human services providers.

Sound Alliance estimates the proposed day shelter would cost approximately $174,000 per year to operate, not including lease expenses or start-up costs. Initial plans for the shelter call for two bathrooms for men, two for women, four showers, a kitchen, an open area with space for computers, a laundry area with three washing machines and four dryers and offices where staff can provide case management.

Jackie Blair, a member of the Federal Way Community Caregiving Network who coordinates meals at the Church of the Good Shepherd on Saturdays, frequently works with those in need.

“They need to have a place where they can take showers — there’s no place in our area where they can take showers and quite often I can smell the campfires on them, as well as other things,” Blair said. “There’s no place where they can wash their clothes for a decent rate because even if you go to the laundromat, it costs a lot of money to use those machines.”

Blair said in the past year, the Caregiving Network has twice offered laundry services to homeless and low-income people. The organization paid for their laundry services at a Dash Point laundromat and provided detergent and other cleaning supplies.

“There’s been a few homeless people that bring their sleeping bags in, but most of the people who come in come in with mountains of clothing that need to be washed that they haven’t been able to wash for the last six months because they can’t afford it,” Blair said. “The people that need something like this find it’s easier to go out and get used clean clothing some place than to wash what they have.”

Kabal-Komoto said it’s crucial that people have access to these types of services that will help them find and maintain a job, get help for underlying issues, such as mental health services and to feel a sense of dignity.

“There’s so much shame,” he noted. “There’s some wonderful services out there but some individuals won’t take advantage of those because they feel ashamed about how they look or smell.”

Balancing process and urgency

Despite some progress, several homeless advocates believe the process of establishing a day shelter in Federal Way is still struggling in a mire of bureaucracy.

Ferrell said a day shelter can’t happen overnight.

“There’s a brick and mortar phase but I think we’re in a very preliminary process,” Ferrell said during a phone interview. “It’s important to be talking about operations but I think we’re putting the cart before the horse. We need informational pieces.”

Ferrell said the city is already pursuing state funding for the project and will continue to seek “as many partners as it will take.”

But as far as city funding, “ultimately, this is a work in progress,” he said.

Any city funding for the day shelter “needs to get run through the Human Services Commission. We have dedicated volunteers to make sure we go through this process. I don’t think it’s appropriate to bypass the Human Services Commission — that is something I need them to weigh in on.”

He also said the shelter is not just a one-time expenditure and he wants to ensure the Human Services Commission weighs this need with other human services needs in the city.

“I’ve met with [Sound Alliance] several times,” Ferrell noted. “I asked did you apply for human services funding, they made the decision not to seek that funding at that time. I remain concerned about bypassing that entire process.”

Ferrell added the city already does a “tremendous amount” for those in need in Federal Way.

Chief of Staff Brian Wilson presented the city’s data for human services per capita spending during the March 3 council meeting to highlight the city’s continued commitment to funding these services.

In 2014, the city spent nearly $765,000 on human services, including over $97,000 of community development block grants. The city’s expense per capita was $8.48 per citizen. This year, the city spent over $1 million on human services, including $221,000 to keep the Public Health Clinic open. That equals $11.14 per citizen.

During the meeting, council members addressed their concerns regarding the city’s process to help the group establish a day shelter.

Councilwoman Kelly Maloney asked Wilson whether the city has explored how homeless people access services and barriers from going from one area to another for services.

Wilson said the city has a lot of data available and that will be part of the analysis as the city moves forward. However, he said, “We want to make sure that we don’t have analysis paralysis, that we really want to get to some action stage.”

Wilson said the city seeks to enhance the human services that are available here “but also recognizes that we’re dealing with a regional issue and looking for solutions in that regard as well.”

Ferrell emphasized that while words are not enough, this discussion is also about process.

“When talking about a public project, we need to ensure the process is in place,” he said during an interview.

Councilman Martin Moore asked whether the city has any plans to establish benchmarks for the shelter project.

“I do not have a timeline established,” Wilson said. “This is going to be an iterative process and the identification of partners and timing is going to be critical to how to meet those services. I would anticipate having some interim type services that we work towards, that we have a permanent solution that we’re working towards and assessing the partnerships …”

Sound Alliance members and some council members have also expressed concern about the city’s desire to address the homeless issue on a regional scale.

“I would also like a definition of the region,” said Councilwoman Susan Honda. “Are we talking Pierce County and King County because Federal Way is so close to Pierce — there’s a really great day shelter in Tacoma — but I do believe our homeless population might have an issue with traveling back and forth because it is pretty expensive to get on a bus … So I’m not sure the homeless population can travel back and forth to different day shelters in the region but I would like to know what region we are looking at.”

Wilson said there has to be a coordination and an integration of services for the homeless population.

Oftentimes, the organizations that have a reach within the region have the best capability to provide efficient and effective services and achieve economies of scale to be able to provide those services, Wilson said.

But some Sound Alliance members said while they are supportive of the city identifying regional means of funding, the day shelter should be located in Federal Way — period.

“If regional means working with other cities to encourage them to start their own shelters, we’re behind that and we will be active partners to that and supportive of that,” Kabal-Komoto said. “If regional means identifying additional sources of funding through the county and state, then we will be strong supporters of that. But regional can’t mean not in my backyard.”

Homeless advocates also question the city’s sense of urgency to establish a day shelter in Federal Way.

Lynn Ormsby, a Sound Alliance board member, said the city doesn’t need to do another study to assess the homeless issue.

Blair agreed.

“We can’t wait for a regional study on this — we’ve done a regional study. We know what’s needed. We’ve got our budgets put together,” Blair said. “I’d like to have this done before I die.”