Oak Harbor homeless shelter close to opening its doors

Christian Reformed Church offers its fellowship hall for three months

The Christian Reformed Church has stepped up to be the first location of The Haven, an overnight homeless shelter in Oak Harbor to be managed by the Whidbey Island Homeless Coalition.

Recently, its congregation overwhelmingly approved a measure to host the homeless shelter for 90 days, said Pastor Randy Beumer.

“It’s a following of our Lord, inviting in those who have no home and showing hospitality,” Beumer said. “He calls us to love our neighbor…There’s risks involved but that’s part of ministry.”

FAITH WILDER, president of the board of the Whidbey Island Homeless Coalition, said the organization has already purchased supplies to run the shelter. It’s hired a manager and it’s training volunteers.

The duties, in brief, she explained are “help them get settled, keep the coffee pot on, light outs at 10 p.m. and roust everyone up at 6 in the morning.”

Wilder estimates 30 to 50 people will use the shelter; it could open by April 1.

The church will use its fellowship hall where cots, bedding, food, hygienic and other supplies will be available to men, women and families 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

THE SLEEPING area and other provisions will be packed away in the morning and set up again at night. Those wanting to use the shelter must agree to a set of rules, including no alcohol or drug use, no weapons and lights out at 10 p.m.

Beumer said his congregation and neighbors were all consulted.

“We want to respect and honor our neighbors,” Beumer said. “It was a bit of a process. Some were a little bit concerned people would come here overnight. But they won’t be hanging during the day. We are committed to 90 days and we’ll see how that goes.”

The Haven is the result of months of community meetings in Oak Harbor led by the Homeless Coalition after residents expressed concern for the rising number of people living on the streets. It will be a year-round emergency overnight shelter but its location may vary for the first year as a permanent sight is sought.

SERVICE organizations and faith groups are being sought as volunteers. Ideally, every group would help out in two-week blocks twice a year to provide about four volunteers every night.

Survival is one of the main missions of The Haven. While it may be the first step toward more secure housing for some, helping people get through the night is paramount.

“An overnight shelter is not intended to solve all the problems,” said George Saul, who headed the Oak Harbor committee working on making The Haven a reality.

“It’s a warm, safe, dry shelter for those in need. It’s offering a helping hand, a warm bed and bathroom and linkage to important community services.”

It’s estimated several hundred people survive on the streets, sleep in their cars, live in tents in the woods or are doubled up with other families on Whidbey Island.

THE HOMELESS coalition already manages a warming center at United Methodist Church in Langley where residents from North Whidbey seek refuge. It’s used only when the temperature dips below 35 degrees, which it has for more than 40 nights this winter.

Police have been called on three occasions, not for violence or drugs but behavioral issues, said Tracey Channing, who coordinates volunteers for the warming center.

Beumer said county and city law enforcement have agreed to work together to respond to any problems while the shelter is hosted by the church, located just outside the city limits of Oak Harbor at 1411 Wieldraayer Road near Swantown Road.

Spin Cafe, located downtown at 658 SE Bayshore Drive, will serve as a check-in center for The Haven, Wilder said. People will then be shuttled by vans to the church.

OTHER CHURCHES have expressed interest in hosting The Haven for 90 days but some were reluctant to be the first, Wilder said.

“There’s a lot of fear surrounding this. That’s understandable,” Wilder said. “There is sort of a leap of faith people have to take.”

“It took almost a year to go through the process and get people comfortable with the idea in Langley,” she added.

A $24,700 grant toward the operating funds of the Oak Harbor homeless shelter is expected to be approved by Island County. Another $10,000 has been raised in private donations.

Merging day support services with an overnight shelter into one center has also been discussed.

“It is our dream in Oak Harbor to have an accessible and safe and welcoming center that addresses all of the numerous needs a person in transition would need,” Wilder said.

Oak Harbor will join Mount Vernon, Burlington, Anacortes, Bellingham and Everett in having an overnight shelter.