Updated: Mar 11
Written by Chuck Hindman - Alliance President
A common argument against sheltering or helping homeless people in Walla Walla is that word has spread and people will come streaming in from places like Seattle.
Certainly Walla Walla is doing more for homeless people than many communities. Free lunch can be found every day of the week at local churches. The long-established Christian Aid Center recently opened a new center for homeless women and their children. YWCA has an excellent shelter and programs for victims of domestic violence. Oxford Houses take in those in recovery from addictions. The STAR project is successfully housing felons. The Sleeping Center is a cutting-edge, award-winning shelter. Is the Sleep Center therefore attracting “outsiders” looking for a better deal?
Essentially -- no. Of the people who stay at the Sleep Center 85% of them self-identify as from Walla Walla or neighboring counties. We often hear statements like:
“I knew her in grade school.”
“He’s my step half-brother.”
“I decided to come back where I grew up.”
“I hope my step-mom who lives here will help me.”
Other shelters in town may have different statistics. For instance, Christian Aid Center sometimes refers to “mission-hopping” as chronically homeless men max out the time limit at one mission, and then move on to another. The YWCA may shelter women who need to move out of their area for safety reasons, but they are also there when local women need that kind of help. The VA center is regional, so folks – some of them homeless - come from a wide area to receive treatment. But the Sleeping Center has not experienced an uptick in demand from outsiders because of its being recognized by other cities and the media.
We also know our limits. We are close to our maximum capacity, so we are not looking for greater demand. We would much rather share what we have learned to other communities in hopes they can apply some of our strategies to their unique situations. So far, we have been visited by Eugene, Issaquah, Moses Lake, Aberdeen, Pendleton, Hermiston and Kennewick. We have presented to the Association of Washington Cities and other statewide organizations.
Homeless folks do best where they have connections, just like the locals at the Sleep Center.