Letter: Warehousing the homeless is not the answer


We are writing this letter to attempt to clarify the facts supporting the opposition to the proposed homeless shelter on Morris Road.

A total of 498 residents of Whidbey Island, living between Deception Pass and Clinton have signed the petition opposing the above proposed location for the homeless shelter. This group of concerned citizens is in agreement that we should strive to provide compassionate assistance to the homeless population in Island County, but that a well-thought out and comprehensive plan, to include sexual predator checks, drug / alcohol rehabilitation, psychiatric services, and job training / placement assistance needs to be integral part of any successful solution to providing assistance to the homeless on Whidbey. Just warehousing the homeless is not a comprehensive or meaningful solution.

The proposed site does not meet Island County Planning guidelines for homeless shelters in that:

1. Parcel size is less than the minimum of 2.5 acres required;

2. Site is not 0.5 miles or less from an urban growth zone;

3. The county’s definition of an emergency night to night shelter precludes long term sequential night stays for individual clients, while the Whidbey Homeless Coalition states that their average length of stay is 60-90 days; and

4. Multiple building code and other violations have been overlooked by Island County Planning, as noted by Mr. Reid Shockey, (a planning expert with some 40 years of experience), in his letter to Island County Planning, supplementing Mr. Kyle Green’s appeal letter.

Further, the Island County Commissioners facilitated a $415K grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce, and in fact it was the county that directly deposited these funds into escrow for the purchase of the former Jehovah’s Witness Church (the proposed site), and not the Homeless Coalition, with title subsequently being held in the name of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition — apparently with no strings attached (see 1/26/21 Commissioner’s meeting minutes). The “purchase” was consummated approximately 1 year prior to the planning department’s review and approval of the Type II application.

In addition, Island County, through the direct actions of the Commissioners, has supported the Whidbey Homeless Coalition with a grant for the 2021-2022 year of $208K for homeless services, as documented in the minutes of their 7/22, 24, 25/20 and meetings.

The residents of Island County deserve and expect more transparency on the part of the Island County Commissioners. Certainly they deserve and expect a well thought-out and comprehensive plan to this serious issue. Instead, what they are getting are County Commissioners who seem content to just throw money at a problem and out source the care of the homeless, so it becomes “someone else’s problem,”with little or accountability to homeless who are in need of services or the neighboring property owners and businesses or taxpayers who ultimately pay for it all.

The residents of Island County would support a homeless shelter to be located in an area near an urban growth zone, (Coupeville does not meet that definition), where services are located, and which does not require busing 13 miles twice daily. The current site is in a semi-remote rural area that is basically a stone’s throw from the OLF landing strip and within the aircraft noise zone, where the roar of the EA-18G Growler jets exceeds 75db. Hardly a safe place of rest and comfort for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Wherever the final site is chosen, well-reasoned “conditions of use“ should be adopted, such as have been enacted in the City of Bellevue for the establishment of homeless shelters, (also referred to in Mr. Shockey’s letter), in order to protect the welfare and rights of the homeless, as well as local residents and businesses — who ultimately pay for it all.

Michael and Judy Thorpe