Written by Chuck Hindman, Alliance, Chair - To everyone’s shock and dismay, last Friday night two bursts of gunfire rang out about a block from the Walla Walla Sleeping Center. Fortunately, no one was hurt and a suspect was quickly identified by police. They also concluded that the event was not gang-related, random or a threat to the general public.
So with such an incident happening nearby, is the Sleeping Center still safe? In a word, yes. The shooter’s motive and other factors are unclear, but no one at the Center fired the shots. Nor did it involve conflict between residents at the Center. It was an act that could just as easily have happened before the Sleeping Center existed.
Physical violence and serious threats are not tolerated at the Center and weapons are banned. Since the Center was opened 15 months ago, there have been only two individuals trespassed for threatening behavior to one of the security guards. No other incidents nearly as serious have happened since then. The goal of the Center (and its clients) is simply to create a safe place to sleep at night. The Center has done this remarkably well, providing that environment for folks whose lives may be anything but stable.
There are times, in fact, that the Sleeping Center needs police response to 911 calls. Because the property is City-run and City-owned, officers are needed whenever a serious rule violation occurs. Sometimes clients, in the heat of an argument will call 911, too. People accustomed to "street rules" may need people with badges to convince them that City and Center rules must be followed. Again and again, peace officers tell volunteers: “Call us when you need us. That’s our job.” When they come, the response is professional, prompt, appropriate and greatly appreciated by the Center’s staff.
When you crowd together 40 stressed and vulnerable people, most of them from tough backgrounds, it inevitably involves some tension. In spite of the intermittent churn of low-level conflict, the Center remains a safe harbor for those who would otherwise be on the street. Most evenings, folks are calmly chatting among themselves, quietly relaxing in their huts or settling down for the night.
Even folks who complain about rules and limitations at the center are likely to have mixed feelings when the opportunity comes to relocate. They realize they may miss the sense of community, the security of the site and the care of volunteers who know them.
On most nights, as volunteers leave at 10pm and the night security arrives, their report includes an “all quiet.” That is because the most common feeling at the Center is peace.