Seattle First Presbyterian Church Pastor Heidi Husted Armstrong talks about the congregation’s role in providing shelter space.
Seattle First Presbyterian Church Pastor Heidi Husted Armstrong talks about the congregation’s role in providing shelter space.
<
2
3
>

While organizers of a 24/7 homeless shelter at Seattle First Presbyterian Church had braced themselves for pushback, First Hill residents provided mostly words of support Monday night, as well as questions about how it will work.

“I’d like to say that poor people are not bad people,” said Alice Wesley, a resident of the Skyline at First Hill. “I know that because I used to be poor. I wasn’t bad then, and I’m not bad now.”

Wesley was one of several residents who came with signs of support, identifying themselves as part of the First Hill Y.I.M.B.Y (Yes In My Back Yard) Group. They also provided 22 letters of support for the 100-bed shelter, which is slated to open in the lower half of the church in August.

First Hill Plaza resident Helen Goehring said she thinks the low-barrier shelter, operated by Compass Housing Alliance, will make the neighborhood safer. She said she’s frightened for the people she sees sleeping on benches or talking to themselves on the street, adding it’s also scary for her.

Not scared away by the homeless population in First Hill are developers, said Suzanne Hittman, another Skyline at First Hill resident. She added they’re also not constructing affordable housing in their new, big buildings.

First Hill has Therapeutic Health Services, a major hospital that also provides mental health and substance abuse assistance, plus a program that helps people recently released from prison, Hittman said.

“The First Hill neighborhood is a welcoming neighborhood,” she said, “and we would like to bring this message to Laurelhurst, Magnolia, West Seattle…” and so on.

Seattle First Presbyterian began talks with Compass Housing about using its large space in the lower half of the church back in January, said Pastor Heidi Husted Armstrong.

“For us, as people of faith, it seemed like God was smack dab in the middle of this thing,” she said during the community discussion on May 22. “There are a lot of things that we can’t do here, but that we can do, and we are honored and humbled to be a part of this partnership.”

Compass Housing Alliance had already been planning for how to open an enhanced shelter when the city issued a Request for Proposals, said Janet Pope, Compass Housing executive director.

Using a $1.3 million grant from the city of Seattle, Compass will make capital improvements at the church, including adding showers and satisfying ADA and fire code requirements.

The lower half of the church has a restaurant-quality kitchen, separate wings that will allow for sheltering men and women, and a large room for seminars and trainings, said Walter Washington, Compass emergency services manager.

People in shelter won’t always be there, he said, as they have lives to lead.

“They do work, right? They have to go to counseling appointments. They’re up and very active. They’re working with case managers and housing advocates,” Washington said. “They’re out applying for jobs, right? Applying for apartments, sometimes getting turned down 10-15 times before they get one.”

Through this low-barrier shelter, people will have access to beds, food, aggressive case management, health care coordination that includes a full-time on-site nurse, and life-skills training.

The important thing to remember, Washington said, is that people are not coming in to stay long. Compass Housing’s goal is to quickly find them temporary housing when available, with the ultimate goal of connecting people with stable, long-term housing options.

“A lot of magic happens on intake,” Washington said, adding Compass has a goal of serving 150 people coming through the shelter each year, moving them out and into more permanent housing. “I think we can beat that. I think we can beat that, because we have a very, very aggressive and ambitious model.”

Last year the governing body of the Presbyterian Church ordered the ouster of pastors Jeff and Ellen Schultz at Seattle First Presbyterian following a Feb. 16 report that found they and other leaders had sought to separate from the denomination, and that the co-pastors had used church money for their own gains.

Jeff Schultz entered First Presbyterian Church, 1013 Eighth Ave., into a memorandum of option to joint venture agreement with bcIMC Realty, Inc in 2014, granting the Delaware corporation the exclusive right and option to form a joint venture with the church to redevelop the property.

It’s unknown for how long the property will remain as it is, but the 24/7 low-barrier shelter will continue to operate at First Presbyterian for as long as possible.

The city of Seattle’s partnership in the shelter is in support of Pathways Home — Mayor Ed Murray’s plan for dealing with the homeless state of emergency Seattle has been under since late 2015. Pope said the city has helped guide Compass and First Presbyterian through the process of setting up the enhanced shelter model. Seattle homelessness director George Scarola said this more “user-friendly” shelter model will be implemented by the city more and more.

“We often say that the city can’t do this alone,” Scarola said. “This is an example of how it should be done.”

The homelessness director said 95 percent of people living on the street that the city contacts do want conventional housing; that not everyone wants to “live rough.”

“It needs to be affordable,” he said, “and there is the trouble.”

Compass Housing will not be taking referrals from the public, said chief program officer Francesca Martin, as many residents had asked what to do if approached by a homeless person in need of help. Seattle has a Navigation Team that will be referring people to the shelter, but Compass can connect people with other services, she said.

While Compass and First Presbyterian continue to set up the shelter for a late-summer opening, the city is still facing delays in opening its first Navigation Center, modeled after a successful program in San Francisco.

Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who visited the San Francisco Navigation Center last May, said she strongly agrees with the model, and the idea that people first need to find stability before they can address their other problems, such as substance abuse or finding employment.

“Once people got stabilized, then they could make up their minds about what they’re going to do,” she said of the model she saw.

Doug Fraser, who is part of the safety committee for the Freeway Park Association, recounted how he’d been homeless five years ago. He said Compass provided him with the support he needed, which resulted in him being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That gave him a path to quit the drugs and alcohol he’d been using to manage his disease, he said, and find employment that allows him to support his family.

Fraser was among several residents who spoke in favor of the shelter Monday night, as well as offering to volunteer when it opens.