Whidbey Presbyterian Church donated $85,000 to the Whidbey Homeless Coalition on Aug. 22 to be put toward renovations on a church building that the coalition is converting to an overnight emergency shelter.
Rev. Greg Steible of Whidbey Presbyterian said the church was “blessed with a surprisingly large pot of money” from a generous bequest and invested much thought and prayer into how to best allocate the funds before ultimately deciding to make the donation.
The renovation project was a source of controversy earlier this year as community members expressed concerns over the location.
The location for the future shelter, a former Jehovah’s Witness church building on Morris Road near Coupeville, is in a largely residential area east of the town. In March, more than 300 community members signed a petition against the proposed shelter, saying the location was too far removed from other social services and too close to Coupeville homes; some community members worried the people utilizing the shelter would leave the building overnight.
The coalition runs the Haven, an emergency homeless shelter offered in Oak Harbor at various churches, moving every four or five months.
Whidbey Homeless Coalition Executive Director Jonathan Kline addressed these concerns on multiple occasions. Coupeville has the highest concentration of relevant social services for people experiencing homelessness on Whidbey Island, he said in a meeting on the topic in May.
He also said that he doesn’t anticipate people leaving the shelter unexpectedly will pose a significant problem since that rarely happens in the coalition’s other overnight shelters.
Steible said he considers the decision to support Whidbey Island’s most vulnerable residents a calling from God for which he and other church members are “humbled and grateful.”
“Homelessness is the failure of society to care for those (who) may need it most. We’re proud to partner with an organization like Whidbey Homeless Coalition,” he wrote in a statement to the News-Times. “Through the leadership of Executive Director Jonathan Kline and Board President Katie Watkins, they are doing the complex and difficult work of providing for our sisters and brothers who have no where else to turn. How could we not support that?”
Kline said the project is still in the early stages but updates will be forthcoming as permit requests and other paperwork start to go through.