A new, year-round shelter could open at Snoqualmie’s American Legion post this March, greatly expanding services for people experiencing homelessness in the valley.
Last week, the proposal went before the Hearings Examiner, who is expected to reach a decision by Feb. 19. If approved, Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services hopes to have the shelter up and running by March 21 at 38625 SE River St. It will have space for 10 regular guests with overflow capacity for five more during harsh weather for the next three years.
And services may be in higher demand moving into 2021.
As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the finances and stability of families in King County, Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services Executive Director Jennifer Kirk said she’s seeing an influx of people and families losing housing. Eviction moratoriums have been in place for nearly a year in King County. While evictions are prohibited, back-rent will still be due, and many families are making the difficult choice to become homeless — unable to pay sometimes thousands of dollars in back-rent.
“Prior to the pandemic, there were so many people in our community and our county who were unstably housed,” Kirk said. “And we have definitely seen an exponential growth with people becoming unhoused.”
Since the pandemic began, Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services has also received more than $500,000 in federal funding from the CARES Act. Roughly half of that will be used to remodel the American Legion Post 79 in downtown Snoqualmie ahead of the 24/7 shelter opening up. The provider has been running a 24/7 emergency shelter since November, but the new shelter will extend that for the next three years.
It will also help fund a full-time navigation services manager. The nonprofit is also in the process of hiring a full-time housing case manager for the first time.
Guests at the shelter will have to pre-register. Except during emergency situations, the shelter will be for adults only with no gender restrictions. Sex offenders will be prohibited from using the new shelter, a practice that Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services already has at its cold weather shelter, which opened in December and will remain open until March 20.
In addition to the new shelter, the nonprofit has a motel voucher program, which can house up to 40 adults and children every night. These vouchers can be used anywhere in King County.
The proposed year-round shelter at the American Legion post comes after five years of the shelter service provider working with them to provide daytime services. Rocky Martinez, American Legion Post 79 commander, said the partnership is in line with their mission to help not only veterans experiencing homelessness, but the broader community.
“It’s something that has been needed for a while,” he said. “And I think that because of our relationship with (Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services) and when they approached us, it was something that we saw the need, we could help fill the need.”
The American Legion post’s membership approved using the building as a shelter. It will be remodeled, and after the three-year shelter term, the facilities will have new kitchen appliances, two ADA-compliant bathrooms with one shower, a laundry room and a new HVAC system.
“The veterans at the post have been really amazing to us,” Kirk said.
There was some community concern about a year-round shelter in the city, said Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson. However, he said the shelter’s staff worked with residents to try and alleviate concerns.
“I’m pleased that the staff with the (Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services) has been very responsive to our concerns, community concerns and neighborhood concerns,” Larson said.
To help address these, the door off Doone Avenue will only be used for staff, deliveries and ADA accessibility. Window film will also be placed on all south-facing windows. An outline of the plan from the shelter provider said many of the neighbors have offered support through donations or meals for shelter guests over the last five years.
The proposed year-round shelter is already benefiting those the shelter serves, Kirk said. Just knowing more stability was on the way helped ease some of the mental strain of experiencing homelessness.
“I fully expected that we would start to see a real calm come over our shelter, that we would be seeing a reduction in behavioral concerns, things like that,” Kirk said. “I was pleasantly surprised to see that shift happen immediately.”