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Boil the water and check out UGM’s shelter numbers for Lake City

While I’m plotting which stores to hit on my general route home that might still be stocked with water — read here about the water main break in South Seattle and if you live in one of the affected areas, don’t drink from the tap – I’ll relay to you the stats from Union Gospel Mission’s first month of running a shelter at the old Fire Station 39 in Lake City.

I visited the old Fire Station 39 for a dinner with the crew very soon after I joined City Council and it was clearly a tired building in need of replacement. Building the new FS 39 down the street meant the old FS 39 could be put out to pasture. In the long-term this means selling the property or signing a long-term lease with a developer who will build new housing. In the short-term, the building has had an interesting second life as a controversial stopping point for the encampment known as Nickelsville (they packed up last year) and, now, as a winter shelter for men and women.

Union Gospel Mission stepped forward last year with a proposal to run a winter shelter for men and women with connections to medical care, employment, permanent housing, treatment and other help people need to leave the streets. Union Gospel does this with no compensation from the City. December was the first month of operation and here are the stats so far:

  • Provided 1,248 shelter nights in December (33 men, 8 women average per night)
  • Served 3,526 meals during the month of December (hot breakfast, sack lunches and hot dinner)
  • Placed 4 women (3 that had children) into transitional housing.
  • Placed 2 men into long-term addiction recovery programs.
  • Connected 2 men to employment (staff helped them search and apply for job online with CPU station for guests)
  • Medical screening weekly from Seattle University Nursing Students and Addiction Recovery Intakes and Counseling provided weekly.
  • Morning Watch coordinator engaged homeless people sleeping on the streets 63 times (some repeat customers) to invite back to the shelter for breakfast and services.
  • Reported decrease in calls from community over public intoxication and loitering since the shelter opened.
  • Reported decrease in people sleeping in front of businesses since the shelter opened.
  • Reported decrease in homeless people trying to gain unauthorized access to nearby a apartment complex and overall loitering.
  • Weekly meetings with the community advisory group to hear feedback on the impact of the shelter on area residents and businesses, and to collaborate on solutions

The winter shelter proposal has not started out popular with many residents or businesses in Lake City. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and I met last year with representatives of the business district who had specific, valid concerns about safety and crime, and about a shelter becoming a magnet for “out of area” homeless. At the end of the day, though, the fact remains that Lake City has people living on the street and in vehicles (my assignment area for the One Night Count in 2008 was Lake City). We should get them safely inside and connected to services moving them toward a permanent home via a shelter operated with community accountability. Opening a new homeless shelter is an important, humane thing to do, but it’s no one’s idea of a great achievement because of what it signals – too many people in need. That said, congratulations to the Union Gospel Mission for a job well done.

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