Written by Chuck Hindman, Alliance Chair --
Similar to the Alliance for the Homeless, Revival of Grays Harbor was founded to “provide shelter, safety and access to services for homeless people” in the Aberdeen-Hoquiam area. Last winter, they operated a Cold Winter Shelter at a local church when temperatures dipped below 35 degrees. It was challenging to have as many as fifty homeless people in one big room, but they made real progress as the coastal community’s only low-barrier shelter. They even fed as many at eighty people through their meals program.
Unfortunately, the shelter and meals program abruptly shut down last February, just before a nasty winter storm hit the area. The board members of the church succumbed to unfounded rumors of needles and rubbish left nearby, as well as personal threats. It is a complicated story. The closure was devastating for Revival volunteers, their clients and the pastor of the church.
However, Revival is not giving up, nor is homelessness going away. They are working toward their own site with approval to open a new shelter. When an Aberdeen police officer advised “you should visit Walla Walla and see what they are doing,” the group contacted the Alliance and headed east. As I graduated from high school and the community college in Aberdeen, I was eager to welcome them after their six-hour drive.
Upon visiting Walla Walla’s sleeping center, Revival leaders quickly started taking notes. The Conestoga huts fit their needs, the rules and operating procedures made sense, and the story of the Alliance’s need for perseverance resonated with their experiences. They will be working to connect their city and county officials with Walla Walla’s leaders for the sharing of effective strategies.
Each community is unique in its struggles and resources. Aberdeen is a struggling timber town, while Walla Walla is more prosperous wheat town. And both are working to increase tourism. Grays Harbor County population is just over 70,000 and Walla Walla County is just over 50,000. Aberdeen has a day center and cheaper rent, but Walla Walla has the Sleeping Center. Aberdeen is coping with about 120 people in an unmanaged tent encampment along its river banks, while Walla Walla’s Sleeping Center has essentially eliminated such encampments.
Most important of all, both communities have dedicated volunteers working to reduce homelessness.
When we share the journey and learn from each other, great things can happen.