The recent announcement of SHARE’s indoor homeless shelter coming to the Gift of Grace Church in Wallingford has left many in the local community with unanswered questions, even after the notification meeting SHARE held last Sunday. As Wallyhood reported earlier, the main areas of concern for meeting attendees centered around the insufficient notification process by the both the church and SHARE to the community, concern over the screening process for shelter residents, the impact to the preschool, and uncertainty regarding ongoing communications with and inclusion of the Wallingford community in the current and potentially long-term presence of the shelter.
Since then, many local residents and citizens from nearby neighborhoods, have voiced other questions and concerns. Although not an exhaustive list, here are some examples of what folks are looking for additional clarity on:
- What are the zoning requirements and restrictions for housing an indoor homeless shelter in the neighborhood? Perhaps not a direct answer to that specific question, but on a related note, you can refer to the passage of bill ESHS 1956 that passed in March 2010 authorizing religious organizations to host temporary encampments for homeless persons on property owned or controlled by a religious organization.
- There seems to be confusion after Pastor Fecher’s comments at yesterday’s meeting as to whether the shelter hours will overlap with those of Huckleberry Forest Preschool including but not limited to open houses, parents nights, etc. The preschool operates from 8:55am to 1:30pm Monday through Friday. It is not clear whether the other preschool events are on a set calendar or pre-arranged with the church (in their role as landlord) on a case by case basis. It states in the agreed upon rules of conduct between the church and SHARE that “shelter opening and closing hours will not deviate from those scheduled for the shelter. Presently, the shelter will open at 7pm and close at 7am. Operating hours are subject to change to meet the needs of the host.” The host, as referenced in the rules of conduct, is the church. One concern is that providing notice of changes to operating hours for the shelter may be difficult to execute in the field given that SHARE residents are homeless.
- What liability does the church bear regarding the activities of a tenant? What responsibility will the church take given its role as host, in matters such as providing additional oversight for the shelter and its residents, keeping statistics on resident turnover, being responsive to incident reports, working with the appropriate organizations and authorities as necessary, and partnering with the Wallingford community, etc.
- There seems to be a question as to whether SHARE runs background checks as part of the screening process at one of their two tent city sites. If that is accurate, then the question was posed as to why SHARE couldn’t incorporate background checks as part of the screening process at the Gift of Grace location.
Many community members have also made suggestions on how to move things forward given that the shelter will open its doors this Wednesday, September 15th. Among the many ideas, here is a sample:
- Would Gift of Grace be willing to update its agreement with SHARE to require background checks as part of the screening process based on community feedback?
- Some have suggested that the rent that is paid to the church by its tenants be used to find an alternate less controversial location for the shelter–one that is separate from a school or daycare. It has been reported that this proposal was made to the church, but that a response has not yet been given.
- Would church and community members be open to contributing to a church sponsored fund (as described above) or a general fund to find an alternate less controversial location for the shelter? You may be interested in reading this letter from a church elder at the Maple Leaf Lutheran Church who has started a similar fund as their ministry struggles to decide whether to bring a SHARE tent city site to their neighborhood in November. He has pledged $100 to start a fund, posing the possibility that other churches and communities could help participate in finding a less controversial site. Perhaps the two Lutheran churches and the Wallingford and Maple Leaf communities could connect and combine their efforts in helping with the homeless issue, as well as directly assisting SHARE residents.
- Would SHARE be willing to maintain statistics regarding the residents at the Gift of Grace location, including metrics on turnover ratios, and share them with the church, preschool, and Wallingford community?
- Suggestions have been made that community concerns and questions should be taken up with and addressed directly to other Seattle agencies and organizations such as the Seattle City Council, the Mayor’s office, the Planning and Land Use office, and the Wallingford Community Council.
Although there is a wide range of opinion on the matter, and differences in thought about how the situation could and should be handled, one thing is clear: the Wallingford community as a whole, deeply cares about the welfare of all its citizens (both homeless and those fortunate enough to have homes), and has shown that civic participation in the democratic process is not just a relic of the past, but indeed thriving in our city. This may be overlooked at times as we discuss–sometimes very passionately–our varying pespectives on this issue; but at the heart of the matter, Wallingford is a community that cares.