When Governor Inslee gave his “Stay Home; Stay Safe” order, state leaders wisely took notice of those who had no home. Knowing that this group was especially vulnerable and could potentially be major spreaders of the coronavirus, funds were given to expand the services of shelters. Christian Aid Center, YWCA’s shelter for victims of domestic violence, the LOFT shelter for youth, and the WW Sleep Center were given extra funding for supplies, lunches, and staff.
As a result, the Sleep Center has been open 24/7 for the past six months, rather than the normal 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. arrangement. Additional staff have been on duty during the day, and lunches have been brought in from Providence St. Mary’s food service six days per week. Most clients have been just fine with the new arrangement, having three meals provided each day and no longer needing to head to town by 9 in the morning.
For the Alliance, 24/7 management has brought additional challenges and opportunities. Jan Foster, who used to come in from 6 to 10 each evening, now comes in at 4. Nikki Saunders has been hired as a full-time peer support specialist along with LeAnne Fackler. Hiring Executive Director Tim Sullivan has added to the staff presence as well.
The additional time to work with those clients needing help has certainly been welcome. Since most services are available only during the day, LeAnne and Nikki have stayed busy. More clients have found housing, some are working, and others are doing better at making it to needed appointments.
At this point, the center is expected to stay open 24/7 through December 31 instead of the originally planned September 30. Shelters have been frugal with money, so they are working together on ways to make unused funds last as long as possible. The Alliance has also been frugal with its own spending, accumulating a small reserve. We do our best with the resources we have.
Perhaps the greatest news is that, so far, none of the shelters have had someone test positive for COVID-19. Weekly zoom meetings with shelter providers, Providence Population Health Team, Blue Mountain Action Council, and the county health department continue to coordinate efforts. The danger is still there anytime about 50 clients and staff spend so much time in close proximity. Especially as Walla Walla county becomes more of a hot spot, giving homeless folks a place to stay 24/7 helps keep the entire community safe.