Coalition eyes former church near Coupeville for new shelter

The Whidbey Homeless Coalition is looking into the possibility of turning a building in Central Whidbey into an emergency shelter for people without homes.

Jonathan Kline, the executive director of the coalition, said among the options the group is considering is repurposing a vacant Jehovah’s Witness church outside of Coupeville as a permanent site for an emergency night-to-night shelter for up to 30 people.

The coalition received a grant from the state Department of Commerce that will allow the members to explore options.

The plan is far from certain. Kline said the group is asking the county planning department for an interpretation of the zoning code to determine whether a temporary homeless shelter in the area would conform to the county code, which is unclear about such facilities.

Also, the county will look into whether the use is conforming within a noise zone and accident potential zone related to the Navy’s nearby Outlying Field Coupeville.

The building the group is considering isn’t far from Ryan’s House for Youth, a facility that offers shelter and other support for young people. The coalition has many of the same issues that Ryan’s House representatives faced when a former hotel was transformed into a shelter.

The coalition runs the Haven, an emergency homeless shelter offered in Oak Harbor at various churches. Kline said the shelter has to move every four or five months. Moreover, coalition staff and volunteers have to set up the shelter each night and break it down every morning.

“Having a permanent facility would help us be a lot more efficient and effective with our time and resources,” he said.

Under the current policy, people seeking shelter register at a site in downtown Oak Harbor and then they are transported to the Haven. Kline said the coalition’s current plans wouldn’t change this procedure, which controls when people arrive at the facility.

Kline said the Haven hasn’t had complaints from neighbors or any crime problem. After people arrive at the facility, they are offered a light snack and a couple of smoke breaks outside. In the morning, they are offered a light breakfast and then are transported back to the Oak Harbor site.

The county is currently gathering community comments about the proposed project.

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