Written by Chuck Hindman, Alliance Chair
Hearing that a shelter for homeless people will be located nearby will almost certainly trigger fears on the part of neighbors.
It really doesn’t matter how smoothly and safely the Walla Walla Sleep Center may have run at another location, the worried “what ifs” are easy to come by. Even if neighbors are not personally afraid of working with homeless folks in other settings, they worry about property values and the safety of those who are vulnerable.
So, it’s not surprising that residents a couple of blocks from the new Sleep Center’s planned relocation site reacted negatively. They are understandably concerned about how this new “neighbor” would affect them.
Obviously, the Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless is also quite concerned about its neighbors. Although we had little input on where the center would be located, the Alliance is convinced that the planned location is the least impactful location available. The City has arranged a land swap and allowing a shelter within an industrial zone.
With the new location set and the City obligated to relocate the current Sleep Center by April 30, we are now asking ourselves how best to address our new neighbors’ concerns. Here are our best ideas so far:
Other than one residence, the nearest residences are not visible from the planned location. We want to keep it that way and keep Sleep Center guests “in their lane.” City staff will be working with residents on ways to help the western-most part of Rees Avenue operating like a private lane. We will keep watch and remind our clients that they don’t belong anywhere near residences in the area. If anyone is seen in that area that doesn’t belong there, City and County authorities will respond appropriately. With a City staff person as one of the nearby owners, the conduit of communication is already in place.
The City attorney is drafting a “no sit / no lie” ordinance similar to the one that has been so effective at the current site. That ordinance virtually eliminated folks from congregating outside the fence where volunteers and night security had little authority to enforce rules. People hanging around during the day, essentially stopped as well.
Finally, we want to point out the positives of the Sleep Center being in that area. Some good things come from having many eyes watching for anything that might be a threat to the neighborhood. As an example, at the current site, the Sleep Center’s night security guard reported unusual activity at a nearby storage facility; it resulted in the arrest and conviction of two individuals (neither Sleep Center residents) in the process of stealing guns from one of the units. What is currently an unlit, deserted section of road, will have lighting and security cameras monitoring the Sleep Center and nearby streets. If something is a problem, we typically learn about it so we can notify the appropriate people who can respond with authority.
And as our track record of enforcing rules has grown, so has the number of people wanting to stay at the Sleep Center where they are safe. No one is more invested in a safe place to sleep at night than most of those who would otherwise be on the street.