Homeless in the Valley are invisible no more

January 2, 2013

By Michele Mihalovich

By Michele Mihalovich
Joey, who has been living in the woods along the Snoqualmie River for 30 years, enjoys a hot lasagna dinner at North Bend’s first homeless shelter, which opened Dec. 23.

For 30 years, Joey has slept in a tent in the damp woods along the Snoqualmie River, battling bears that wanted his food and black mold that threatened to eat holes in his tent.

But on Dec. 27, Joey, was warm and dry and all smiles.

He and about 10 other homeless ate hot lasagna cooked by volunteers before turning in for the night at North Bend’s first homeless shelter.

“This place is a blessing right now to quite a few of us,” Joey said, referring to the cold, wet and snowy weather that has moved into the Snoqualmie Valley.

Paula Matthysse, one of about 30 dedicated volunteers who helped organize the temporary shelter, sat in the corner of North Bend Community Church where the shelter is being hosted and took in the scene.

Some of the homeless sat in the kitchen eating their meals and chatting with volunteers. Others had already laid down on mats spread out on the church floor.

“If someone had told me back at that first meeting that I’d be sitting here, spending the night at a homeless shelter created by the community, I would have told them they were crazy,” she said.

Matthysse showed up Nov. 6 at that first community meeting with a friend.

“I wanted to get away from all the election coverage and I thought it was great that the community was starting to have a conversation about the homeless in this area,” she said.

“But to think I’d be here – today – I think God put the right people at the right place at the right time that day,” Matthysse said.

 

Getting started

The Snoqualmie Valley Winter Shelter opened its doors Dec. 23, not even two months after that first meeting.

The core group of volunteers comes from a mixed bag of communities: church members, veterans groups and the River Outreach. Some have day jobs as real estate agents, and a handful, such as Matthysse, have experience working with the homeless.

But they banded together, meeting nearly every week, trying to save the lives of the vulnerable population of homeless people who sleep in tents or cars throughout the Valley.

Matthysse knew she had to come up with a shelter proposal before she could approach funding agencies for money, and the group agreed they needed a no-frills overnight shelter for about 40 people. They hoped it would provide one hot meal a day and stay open at least until March 7.

Once that was in place, the money started rolling in.

United Way donated $5,000 toward the shelter. Congregations for the Homeless in Bellevue committed $14,000 in staff, training and operations costs. NBCC offered up its church to host the shelter.

Members of the Cascade Covenant Church in North Bend pooled their money to purchase 40 mats.

When organizers learned that the mats wouldn’t be available in time for the opening, a Seattle shelter and the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital loaned mats to the shelter.

The hospital is also making medical and mental health care staff available when needed.

As people donated blankets, a Blanket Brigade was created to launder them. Organizers created an advisory group to handle some of the day-to-day decisions. They then created a website, Facebook page and an online sign up sheet to organize bringing in meals and breakfast.

 

Neighborhood concerns

In order to secure a temporary use permit from the city of North Bend, organizers held two public meetings with neighbors to address any concerns about the church hosting a shelter.

The neighbors were a bit nervous, raising a laundry list of concerns: What are you going to do about people who are drunk or on drugs? Will you let sex offenders stay here? Kids will be walking to school just as the homeless are leaving the shelter in the morning. Is that even safe?

“Those are all valid concerns, and we understand those concerns,” said Matthysse. “But these people are already living in your community. There are families sleeping in cars. The assumption that the homeless are criminals, or jobless and just loitering isn’t an accurate view. I invite you to come to the shelter when it opens and share a meal with these people. Listen to their stories.”

One man who showed up at the Dec. 15 public meeting said he remembered the same kinds of concerns from neighbors when Two Rivers School, an alternative high school, was trying to open.

“The thought then was that this neighborhood was going to turn into a lawless, dangerous place,” he said. “That did not happen. This is another opportunity to show our kids that we’ll jump through hurdles to help others no matter how uncomfortable it makes people. I fully support this.”

After listening to the community’s fears about the types of people who might be staying at the shelter, volunteer Mary Cordova, spoke up.

“These are veterans, kids and moms,” she said. “Not all homeless are drug users and criminals. But all of these people need to be loved on. They need to be safe and they need to know there is hope.”

Brent, a homeless man who was also staying at the shelter Dec. 27, understood the neighbor’s fear — but he had a request.

“This is unchartered territory for us, as well as the people who live near here and the people who got the shelter started. We’re all just trying to figure it out,” he said.

“But one of the worst things people can do is profile the homeless,” Brent said. “You just never know who is standing beside you, or what that person has gone through in life. Before you make a judgment, you should really get to know them. Because you if don’t, that’s not only a disservice to the person next to you, it’s a disservice to yourself.”

 

Michele Mihalovich: 392-6434, ext. 246, or editor@snovalleystar.com.

 

  • How to help
  •  To donate, mail a check to Congregations for the Homeless (write SVWS in the memo line on your check), 2650 148th Ave. S.E., No. 202, Bellevue WA 98007
  • Volunteer by contacting snovalleywintershelter@gmail.com.
  • Sign up to bring food at www.takethemameal.com/meals.php?t=ILAY4803.
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