Neighbors shared their comments, concerns and criticism of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition’s proposed overnight emergency shelter on Morris Road near Coupeville during a meeting last Thursday.
The shelter has been steeped in controversy for months. At least 325 people have signed a petition against it.
It was a time for Executive Director Jonathan Kline to share more about the vision for the shelter and its proposed location. There were upwards of 50 people on a Zoom call with the coalition’s leadership.
Kline explained how the Whidbey Homeless Coalition has been working toward an emergency shelter of its own after having operated The Haven from a rotating list of three Oak Harbor churches in recent years.
Guests will be bused to the Morris Road shelter from Oak Harbor or other locations, he explained. They will be allowed two smoke breaks during the night but otherwise will stay inside until morning when they are bused back to where they were picked up.
A few people asked during the meeting about what would happen if a guest were to leave in the middle of the night.
Kline said it was rare for people to leave at the coalition’s other shelters, but if it were to happen, then staff would notify the sheriff’s office that the person had left.
Multiple people questioned why the shelter will be located in Central Whidbey instead of Oak Harbor.
Kline has addressed those concerns before and emphasized the fact that many of the services geared towards people experiencing homelessness are in Coupeville.
“The single point of entry to get into any housing program island-wide is in Coupeville,” Kline said during the meeting. “The hospital is in Coupeville, Sunrise Services is in Coupeville, housing authority is in the Coupeville, the mental health services for the homeless are based out of Coupeville, so there are a lot of folks coming into Coupeville. What they’re doing is they’re coming in, they’re receiving their services and then they’re going about their days.”
Kline said he did not anticipate a large increase in homeless people walking into town, but if there is, it would be because they are getting connected with programs.
“And I personally think that’s a great thing,” he said.
One of the recurring criticisms people shared over previous months was the feeling that they were not able to give their input on the proposal because there had not been a public meeting about it.
“It’s like, wow, this thing is already moving like a runaway train and we don’t have a say,” William Fritsch said during the meeting. “Again — the cause is great, I just wonder about this solution.”
Kline said that the group had not been required to do a public meeting in its work thus far. The organization did need to go through a zoning change process because Island County did not have regulations for a homeless shelter outside of city limits on the books. The coalition responded to more than 200 community questions and concerns as part of that process.
“This is the community meeting they’re accusing us of not having had,” he said during a tour of the building.
The former church still looks very similar to a church. It will need some remodeling, Kline said. The sanctuary will be turned into a bunk room with room for 30 people. The Haven usually has 16-20 guests, Kline said.
There are two small rooms behind the stage in the sanctuary that could be more private rooms for people who may be sick or just need a little more privacy.
A supply closet will be turned into a laundry room. The bathrooms will need some remodeling to add toilets and showers. Two smaller rooms outside of the sanctuary will be turned into offices.
Kline noted that the building is pretty well insulated against road noise as well as jet noise from nearby Outlying Field Coupeville, another concern shared during Thursday’s meeting.
“You can still hear them for sure, but it’s not crazy,” Kline said.
Outside, neighbors may notice some landscape work and construction of a larger pump house. The property is on septic and has a well, and it will need a larger pump house for the increase in use.
Kline also addressed concerns that the emergency shelter may become a permanent shelter or otherwise expand. He highlighted other organizations on the island that address issues such as food assistance, mental health, job training and others.
“We don’t see any reason to reinvent that wheel,” he said.