Shelter opens doors year-round

OLYMPIA – An 18-bed women and family shelter which has previously only been open during the cold-weather months reopened Friday and will operate year-round. A network of churches will host the shelter on their properties, two weeks at a time.

The first church to host is the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 2200 East End St. N.W.

The shelter is a partnership between the Family Support Center, Interfaith Works and the congregations.

The Family Support Center will screen participants and Interfaith Works will supply bedding, while the churches provide shelter space and volunteer staff.

“It’s pretty much an all-volunteer effort,” said Phil Owen of the Family Support Center. Other participating churches: Temple Beth Hatfiloh, First United Methodist, Church of the Good Shepherd and United Churches.

Shelter is scheduled through at least Aug. 6, though Owen said “we still have a number of openings.”

He said the shelter will accept families, single parents with children, and single women, but not single men or couples without children. Two cribs are available.

Shelter guests need to be screened, and need to call a 24-hour hot line: 360-628-7343. No drugs or alcohol are allowed.

The need is obvious. The cold-weather shelter was at 94 percent capacity during the month of March, when it closed, Owen said. New shelter was found for all but about four of the occupants, Owen said.

But options are limited. Owen said 141 people were turned away from shelters in April. For women and children, options are mainly The Salvation Army, and Bread and Roses. Out of the Woods shelter on Division Street can take about three families at a time, Owen said.

It’s a labor of love for volunteers, who open the facility at 7 p.m. each night. It closes at 7 the next morning. A nearby bus line connects residents with services in downtown Olympia.

“Every night we have two hosts and they spend the night and they greet the people and show them the facilities,” said Jo Ann Mitchell Young, co-chairman of the shelter at the Unitarian church. She said her church teaches of the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings. “Social justice activity is a large part of what we do and who we are,” she said.

The church’s property was the first to play host to Camp Quixote, a once-controversial tent city of homeless people that is now successfully established and routinely praised. It, like this shelter, also rotates its location among different faith communities.

Volunteers also do laundry, provide snacks and socialize with guests “just to make them feel welcome,” she said.