By Amelia Dickson
After two years of planning, Olympia’s newest homeless shelter opened its doors for the first time Saturday night.
The Interfaith Works Overnight Emergency Shelter, in the basement of First Christian Church at 701 Franklin St. SE, caters to homeless, single adults. Unlike traditional first-come, first-serve shelters, Interfaith offers beds to people based on their level of need, such as ill or elderly people, program director Meg Martin said.
The agency has contacted and evaluated 135 people, examining factors such as physical health, age, mental health and the likelihood that they’ll be victimized if they’re living on the streets. People who were evaluated have been ranked on a list according to their vulnerability, Martin said. The most vulnerable people will get first dibs on the beds.
“A lot of times in the first-come, first-serve model, the beds are all taken before the most vulnerable people show up,” Martin said. “We’re trying to prevent that from happening.”
And while the shelter will eventually offer 42 beds — 20 for women and 22 for men — Interfaith will initially offer 30 beds. Martin said she anticipates some residents who won’t be suited to dormitory-style living — for example, people who have recently been through traumatizing experiences — and that they will be accommodated in a smaller room.
Although the shelter will have no sobriety requirements, all clients must sign an agreement that requires good behavior during their stay. The shelter prohibits drugs, littering, yelling, fighting and panhandling in the vicinity. No high-risk sex offenders will be allowed.
Support staff worker Dave Wade of Olympia gives the new laminate floors a final cleaning as he helps prepare for the opening night of the Interfaith Works Overnight Emergency Shelter in the basement of First Christian Church in downtown Olympia on Saturday.
Volunteer Mindy Chambers and Interfaith Works executive director Danny Kadden emerge from the Interfaith Works Overnight Emergency Shelter in the basement of First Christian Church in downtown Olympia on Saturday. The new shelter was set to open for the first time on Saturday evening.
Shelter manager Cassie Burke of Olympia cleans windows as she helps prepare for the opening night of the new Interfaith Works Overnight Emergency Shelter in the basement of the First Christian Church in downtown Olympia on Saturday. TONY OVERMAN — staff photographer
“They’ll need a place to spend time and relax that isn’t their bed,” Martin said.
Interfaith will also work with Behavioral Health Resources to provide treatment for mental illness. The SideWalk program will work with residents to move them toward permanent housing.
The shelter’s 10 employees and several volunteers spent Saturday giving the space its finishing touches: painting signs on the walls, disinfecting surfaces and setting up beds. During the past month, the church basement has undergone a complete transformation, Martin said. Crews replaced the flooring, widened doorways to accommodate wheelchairs and painted all the walls.
“We’ve done a lot of hard work to get here,” Martin said. “It’s really been a community-building experience for the employees and our volunteers.”
To a large extent, the project had relied on the generosity of the community, she explained. The Thurston County HOME Consortium provided $259,500 in funding, and the project received about $250,000 in private donations. About 75 people volunteered their time to set up the shelter.
“I’m just so grateful for everything everyone has contributed,” Martin said. “I can’t even think about it without wanting to cry.”