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Homeless Search For Alternatives As Winter Shelter Prepares To Close

"We know there’s more need than we have the resources to meet,” says Redmond's human services manager.

It's been a long winter for 29-year-old Kellye Brown.

In January, when the rush of the holiday shopping season slowed, her workload at Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts was cut to as little as 12 hours some weeks. Brown, who was already struggling financially, soon realized she would not be able to make rent on her Bellevue apartment.

“Even if I could have paid the rent, I wouldn’t have had any food to eat (or) been able to pay for heat,” she said.

Since mid-January, Brown has lived out of her car and slept at the Eastside Winter Shelter, a collaborative program that is housed at the . But come Sunday morning, when the shelter closes for the season, Brown will once again be looking for a place to sleep.

“At this point, I’m back in my car,” she said. “I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

The Eastside Winter Shelter opened at the Redmond location for the first time in mid-January.

It has operated in Bellevue on a weather-contingent basis since 2008. Currently funded by the cities of Redmond, Bellevue, Issaquah and Kirkland, the shelter typically opened whenever the temperature dipped below freezing.

This year, predictions of an especially harsh winter prompted shelter organizers to keep their doors open every night from Dec. 29 to Feb. 19, said David Johns Bowling, shelter director for Congregations for the Homeless, a nonprofit group that operates the shelter on behalf of the four cities that fund it.

The added days of operation also caused the shelter to move from its usual location at the Crossroads Community Center in Bellevue, Bowling said.

“(The shelter) really impacts programming at the community centers, so there was an agreement that Bellevue would take it through (Jan. 15), and then Redmond would take it through the next stage,” he said.

But Bowling knows the extra days are not enough for people who will still need shelter come Sunday evening.

“Our funding runs out Sunday morning,” he said. “The weather forecast has snow predicted for next week, and we don’t have any funding. That concerns me greatly."

Colleen Kelly, human services manager for the city of Redmond, said the shelter closure is more about a long-term lack of permanent space than a short-term need for additional funding. The idea of permanently setting up a shelter in a public space that has several other uses during the day is “prohibitively complicated,” she said.

A taskforce that is already planning for next winter’s shelter will look at the possibility of housing the program at a church or other private location, Kelly said.

“This is part of the challenging reality of what we’re up against. We know there’s more need than we have the resources to meet,” she said. “We’re up against that wall.”

Redmond, Issaquah and Kirkland each contributed $5,000 for the shelter this year, Kelly said, and Bellevue contributed $13,500.

This winter, the shelter has served an average of 50 men and women each night and 200 individuals in total, Bowling said. The shelter’s population has increased slightly since last winter, but Bowling suspects much of the growth is due to the fact that the facility is now open every night.

“When we went every night, our numbers grew,” he said. “I think having it open every night has really just given some consistency that the clients have found really helpful.”

Robert Odom, 41, has been staying at the Eastside Winter Shelter every night it’s been open in Redmond. He said he also spent about a week at Crossroads when the program was located there.

Odom said he and his wife had to move out of their apartment when he lost his job last summer. Odom’s wife, who suffers from a personality disorder, is now living in a group home in Seattle while Odom works as a day laborer and panhandles to pay for her expenses.

“It’s better that one of us is homeless rather than both of us,” he said.

But tough economic times have made work extremely difficult for Odom to come by. In January, Odom said he was able to work only 10 days and resorted to panhandling in order to make ends meet.

“It looks like I’m probably going to have to do the same thing this month,” he said.

Odom, who continues to look for a permanent job, said he has no plans for where he will sleep after the shelter closes Sunday.

Congregations for the Homeless is affiliated with two other shelters on the Eastside — a men’s shelter that moves between churches and a women’s shelter in Bellevue called Sophia Way. But Bowling said those two shelters can be much more difficult to get into, and the men’s shelter has room for only about five of the men who have been staying at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse.

Seattle also operates several shelters, but Bowling said they are not an option for everyone.

“There’s some people that are very connected to the Eastside and are terrified of leaving the area,” he said. “I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

 Where to turn for help:

  • Congregations for the Homeless: 425-749-8369
  • Sophia Way: 425-463-6285
  • Domestic violence help line: 425-746-1940
  • Alcohol/drug helpline: 206-722-3700
  • Hopelink: 425-869-6000
  • Hopelink Food Bank (Redmond): 425-882-0241
  • Crisis line: 206-461-3222

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