Help for Oak Harbor’s homeless got a big boost Tuesday when Island County commissioners approved two contracts aimed at providing emergency shelter and other support services.
Whidbey Homeless Coalition was awarded $121,960 for operating its shelter and housing programs in South Whidbey and for expanding its reach to the north end of the island.
The first overnight shelter in Oak Harbor, known as the Haven, opens the evening of Thursday, April 13, said Faith Wilder, president of the Homeless Coalition board of directors.
“We’re very excited. It’s finally happening,” she said.
For the first 90 days, the Haven will be staged at the Christian Reformed Church, 1411 Wieldraayer Road, near Swantown Road. It will be open every night, but people must leave the property every morning.
Until a permanent site is found for the Haven, the plan is to operate the shelter out of church fellowship halls on a rotating basis using a two-person paid staff and a legion of volunteers.
Spin Cafe, located downtown at 658 SE Bayshore Drive, will serve as a Haven check-in center, Wilder said. People will then be shuttled by vans to the church, and then returned to downtown in the morning.
“We want them to be signed up by 6 p.m. and transported by 7 p.m.,” she said. “And then in the morning, everybody will be out by 8 a.m.”
Wilder estimates 30 to 50 people will use the shelter. Men and women will sleep in separate areas and families may be able to stay in small groups.
Snacks will be served and a continental breakfast provided. People using the shelter must agree to follow a list of rules: No drugs, no alcohol, no tobacco, no weapons, no violence and lights out by 10 p.m.
Past estimates put Island County’s population of homeless or those on the edge of losing shelter in the range of 200 to 400 people — most of them in the Oak Harbor area. Updated numbers are expected to be released in April.
After months of “community conversations” and searching for suitable space, Wilder said the coalition is ready with an array of cots, bedding, hygiene supplies and, most importantly, big-hearted people.
Members of the Christian Reformed Church and Rotary Club of Oak Harbor (Friday group) stepped up to be the first round of volunteers, she said. Weekend training sessions will teach them what to expect.
Pastor Randy Beumer said the congregation overwhelmingly approved a measure in late February to be the first church to host the shelter.
“It’s a following of our Lord, inviting in those who have no home and showing hospitality,” he said.
County and city law enforcement have agreed to work together to respond to any problems, Beumer said.
The Homeless Coalition already manages a warming center at United Methodist Church in Langley, where many residents from North Whidbey traveled to escape this winter’s relentless cold. Used only when the temperature dips below 35 degrees, it was opened 44 nights.
The coalition is contracted to run the Langley warming center from Nov. 1 to March 30. But year round, it accommodates individuals and families needing transitional housing at its House of Hope, also in Langley.
The bulk of the county funds are used to operate House of Hope, Wilder said. People can stay up to three months; some clients receive some initial rental assistance.
“We’re giving them help to get on the on-ramp to their own housing,” Wilder said.
At its meeting, the county also approved $32,843 for Spin Cafe to continue its support services for eligible Island County residents.
The money for the homeless programs comes from recording fees and surcharges on some real estate-related documents that the state has deemed as a source of funds for homelessness programs.