WENATCHEE — Shawn Arington’s home is a box. Not the ticky-tacky type of “Little Boxes” that Pete Seeger and Malvina Reynolds sang to ridicule conformist society in the 1960s. No, Arington isn’t that fortunate. His home, at least for the next few nights, is a cardboard box, the kind used to ship an appliance or piece of furniture.
Arington’s stay on the cold streets of Wenatchee is a project to illustrate the region’s continuing homeless problem and to raise donations needed to open the Gospel House homeless shelter at 810 S. Wenatchee Ave. The shelter, for up to 85 men, women and children, won’t solve homelessness, but it will be a big step in keeping people from sleeping in alleys, jungles or in their cars.
Another box camper is Bart Tilly, a member of Lighthouse Christian Ministries’ board of directors. Lighthouse Ministries is building the Gospel House. The organization also operates a soup kitchen, two other shelters, a transitional home and a pre-school in the valley.
Arington, 33, isn’t really homeless today. But he knows full well what it’s like. He rambled from couch to couch, doorstep to doorstep around Yakima for most of 15 years. Sleeping outside was very different from a vacation camping trip. He’d hang out in libraries and Laundromats when they were open to stay warm. There were times he had a car to sleep in, but never for long because he’d sell it to buy drugs.
All that is behind Arington now. He says he’s found the Lord, sobered up, quit drugs, moved into a real house and become a responsible parent to his 12-year-old daughter. He’s a pastor and the director of the Lighthouse Mission soup kitchen in Wenatchee and manager of the Disciple House, an East Wenatchee transitional home for men. Others aren’t so lucky.
“It breaks my heart when I see men, women and children huddled up at the Lighthouse not knowing where they’ll spend the night,” he said.
The Gospel House is Lighthouse Christian Ministries’ newest addition. Arington set up camp in his box in front of the 8,000-square-foot building that will house the shelter Wednesday night. He’ll be available to answer questions about the project and lead tours Friday and Saturday. Work on the building has been ongoing for nearly a year. Most of the labor and materials have been donated by local businesses, trade unions, groups and individuals.
Donations are still needed, however, to purchase bunk beds, mattresses and bedding before the shelter can open, said Bob Rogers, Lighthouse Ministries director and founder. At about $500 each, total costs add up to more than $25,000.
“There’s a huge homeless population who aren’t being served,” Rogers said. “The reason why is that they can’t comply.”
Rogers said there are other shelters that are only half full, but there are still hundreds of people who can’t, or won’t, stay there because they have alcohol or addiction problems, or simply don’t want to comply with certain rules and regulations. Many homeless people have mental problems or are military veterans who have a difficult time being inside, he said. Homelessness is something new and unexpected to others, due to a downturn in the economy and foreclosure. Most other shelters won’t take entire families.
The Gospel House will offer night-to-night emergency beds where men, women and children can get out of the cold and sleep until they can find a more permanent living situation. Men and women and children will be on separate floors. People who are unruly or obviously intoxicated won’t be admitted, Rogers said.
The City of Wenatchee distributed $800,000 worth of grants for Chelan and Douglas counties last month to reduce homelessness, but turned down requests totaling about $150,000 from Lighthouse Ministries, choosing to put the money into programs that put homeless people in more permanent rather than emergency or transitional housing.
Arington said his own homelessness was largely due to drug addiction caused by a sense of unworthiness.
“Every time I’d have something I’d sabotage it. I got into drugs and it became a habitual lifestyle. My dad was a pastor, but I didn’t feel worthy of him. I felt a lot of shame,” he said. He began his recovery three years ago after stopping in at the Lighthouse. He works there now and helps a lot of people going through what he did. It sometimes takes baby steps to transition people out of homelessness, he said, adding that the Gospel House is part of the solution.
“I want people to know about our homeless population,” he said. “The numbers that come out in surveys are shocking, but they don’t come close to the real numbers.”
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151