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Two cold-weather homeless shelters open in Wenatchee

WENATCHEE — Wenatchee Valley’s homeless population has two options for cold-weather shelters with a combined 28 beds this season.

The cold-weather shelters are up earlier than last season, which only had a single one that couldn’t open until Jan. 1 due to COVID-19 delays. Both described themselves as low-barrier and were funded by private individuals.

The People’s Foundation — currently in its third year of operating a cold weather shelter — has 15 beds for men and women at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Elliott Avenue (plus two additional beds for overnight staff members). It opened on Dec. 10 and will close on March 1 at the earliest.

“We’re staying busy,” said Gary Steele, who runs the foundation with his wife, Susan. “We’re mostly full each evening or close to it.”

In an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, the foundation has indoor tents. When outside of the tents, individuals are required to wear a mask. Although unvaccinated individuals won’t be turned away, Steele said his goal is to have close to 100% vaccination for those attending the shelter by the end of December. To help with this, the foundation helped eight of those using the shelter attend a Columbia Valley Community Health vaccine clinic on Dec. 22.

“I’m really struggling with this. I don’t have to like to require it,” he said. “It’s very high risk if they don’t get vaccinated, and it’s pretty high risk for us as well. We want to strongly encourage everybody to get the vaccine if possible.”

Steele said the foundation will pick people up from Columbia Station around 7 p.m. and drive them back to the shelter. Dinner isn’t provided, but snacks, juice water and occasionally pizza are. Lights are out from 9 p.m. until 6:30 a.m., and people are out the door by about 7 a.m.

Steele hasn’t had any children try to stay in the shelter yet, but he said he would work with the state Department of Social and Health Services to find better accommodations for them than a shelter. For any adult overflow, the foundation calls the Gospel House or Wenatchee Rescue Mission.

“We are working with each other and trying to bridge relationships,” Steel said. “It’s ideal if we can pull away with the van and there’s nobody there and we’ve made arrangements for everybody to get in (somewhere).”

After hearing about the need for additional cold-weather beds, Scott Johnson, executive director of the Wenatchee Rescue Mission, decided to open 13 beds for women at the mission’s headquarters at 1450 S. Wenatchee Ave.

In talking with women at a homeless camp next to the Salvation Army on South Columbia Street, Johnson said he was told a number of women were turning to prostitution in order to have a warm place to sleep at night because other shelters were full.

“I just thought, we have got to jump into action. I can’t let that happen — I can’t sleep knowing that,” Johnson said. “It’s a non-budgeted, non-city-funded thing. It’s literally just responding to the emergency.”

This is the first time Wenatchee Rescue Mission has hosted women at that location, which serves as a year-round men’s shelter. The women will have access to the facility’s existing resources, including meals and showers, and will be able to stay there during the day.

Johnson said one community member donated about $1,000 for the mission to buy cots for the women to sleep on, and Hooked On Toys offered a discount on the cots. However, he’s still looking for donations for blankets, pillows, sleeping bags and feminine hygiene products.

Johnson plans on opening the women’s beds on Dec. 23 and will keep them up “as long as it takes.”

“Obviously it won’t be forever,” he said. “But if we can go through the whole season and keep it funded, then we’ll be okay.”

Both the shelters are low barrier, meaning things like sobriety and church attendance aren’t requirements. The People’s Foundation accepts pets, while the Rescue Mission is working toward being able to do so.

‘I could feel their arms around me’
Spokane Valley retired nurse recalls 5 days trapped in car on Blewett Pass

SPOKANE — Lynnell McFarland had been trapped in her overturned car near Blewett Pass for nearly five days when she sent up a very specific prayer.

“I could feel my parents’ arms around me,” said McFarland, from a bed at Providence St. Joseph Care Center in Spokane, earlier this month. “My dad just passed six months ago. I could feel their arms around me, and God’s arms around all of us.

“I just said, ‘Dear God, I know I’m going to die someday, but please don’t let it be in this dark, deep ravine, where I’m never found.’ ”

About a half-hour later, McFarland guessed, workers from the state’s Department of Transportation spied her car from the roadway. The rescue made national headlines, and McFarland has spent the past several weeks recuperating in hopes she’d be at her Spokane Valley home for Christmas.

That’s a wish that was granted in large part due to the former registered nurse’s determination, said her daughter, Amanda McFarland.

“I’m stubborn. I don’t let anybody tell me what something’s going to be, I determine that myself,” said Amanda McFarland, who hopped in her own car and launched a social media search for her mother when she went missing last month.

With a statewide Silver Alert in effect, Amanda McFarland then publicly pleaded with people nearby to check where her mom’s phone last pinged off a curve on the Blewett Pass between Ellensburg and Leavenworth.

Lynnell McFarland, 68, went off the road Nov. 18 after striking a patch of black ice, she said.

Mother and daughter were traveling back to Spokane Valley from a memorial service for Lynnell McFarland’s aunt when their car broke down near Ellensburg. After the pair stayed with one of McFarland’s high school friends overnight, Amanda McFarland caught a bus home to care for her dogs while Lynnell McFarland waited for the car. She left in the evening.

Lynnell McFarland said she thinks she got turned around trying to find the highway in the dark and snow.

“I knew I was going downhill, when it happened,” she said. “And I thought I went straight down, but what actually happened was my car went head over heels.”

Provided photo/Chelan County Fire District 1  

Chelan County rescue crews carry Lynnell McFarland to safety Nov. 22 after she was reportedly trapped in her car for several days on Blewett Pass Highway 97.

The Mitsubishi lodged between two trees, which prevented the car from tumbling farther to a cliff about 40 feet away, McFarland said. But it also likely prevented people in the area from seeing the car and seeking help.

The day after the crash, she noticed police lights flashing above her.

“He stopped, with his lights going, but he didn’t get out of the car and look,” she said.

Later, she said, she was able to see some hunters up in a tree that also couldn’t see the car or hear her cries for help.

The crash shattered glass inside the car, and McFarland said she’d struck the dashboard. The impact left her with a compound fracture in her arm and another fracture in her knee.

“When I leaned back to cut my seat belt is when I saw my bones,” McFarland said from her home this week.

She was able to cut herself free from her seat belt and because of the angle fell to the back of the car, where she made a shelter with clothes and plastic bags left in the car.

She had no food, and the only water was rain that she licked from the plastic bags.

“I had winter boots on the front floorboard. My phone was on the front floorboard,” she said. “I had water bottles on the front floorboard. I couldn’t reach any of them.”

The phone kept ringing with calls from Amanda McFarland and others, trying to find the car in the mountainous and heavily forested area of Highway 97. Lynnell McFarland said she was aware time was passing and knew people would be looking for her.

“I got really tired of it. I got tired of my legs being straight up,” she said. “But I just maintained myself, you know?”

The Department of Transportation workers who found the car rappelled down, and one of the first things Lynnell McFarland asked for was a handful of snow to help quench her thirst. But rescuers worried she might have abdominal injuries.

Amanda McFarland met a transportation department worker during her own search along the guardrail-less shoulders of Highway 97. The man had lost his own father in a car crash and offered headlamps and batteries to aid the search.

As Lynnell McFarland spoke about the moments being carried up the hill to a waiting ambulance, her daughter began to tear up.

“I couldn’t see her, but I yelled at her, Amanda, it’s OK,” Lynnell McFarland said. “I’m going to be fine. You don’t have to cry anymore.”

Once she arrived at a hospital in Wenatchee, McFarland said she downed three pitchers of ice water.

“It took three attempts in the ambulance to get an IV in because my veins were so flat,” she said.

“Did you want pizza, or like ...?” her daughter asked.

“No, I just wanted ice water,” her mother responded.

Three surgeries followed, including one that put pins in her arm that are still visible at the knuckles. The retired nurse, who worked with mothers experiencing postpartum depression at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, said she’s spending her days walking and getting on a stationary bike to help repair her damaged knee.

Mother and daughter spent Christmas Day together at the apartment, just as Lynnell McFarland had hoped. But she dismissed any suggestion that it was her own grit that saved her life.

“Finding me was a miracle,” she said. “I wouldn’t call it stubbornness. Determination.”

Chelan County Community Development director announces resignation
Provided photo 

Jim Brown

Chelan County Community Development director

WENATCHEE — Jim Brown, Chelan County’s Community Development director, submitted his resignation on Monday, citing a “worsening relationship with one commissioner” as the chief reason for his departure.

“This relationship clearly cannot be fixed,” Brown said in his resignation letter. “It is getting in the way of my effectiveness, and is now also affecting staff. It is clear that I no longer have the confidence of the full board and I believe it is time for my departure to pursue excellence elsewhere. So, for the sake of the department I will step away and remove that conflict.”

The Chelan County board of commissioners is made up of three elected officials: Kevin Overbay, Bob Bugert and Tiffany Gering, who began her term as a commissioner in 2020.

Brown did not name the “one commissioner” in his resignation letter, but he did close his letter by stating his gratitude to Bugert and Overbay, as well as retired commissioner Doug England, for their support.

Jim Brown resignation letter

He is taking a new position with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, according to a Chelan County news release. Brown previously worked as the regional director for Fish and Wildlife in Ephrata for seven years and was with the agency for more than 20 years before taking the county post in April 2020.

He replaced Dave Kuhl who had served as director since late-2018, and at the time, the county was looking to reorganize the department.

Brown said last week’s public hearing and split decision to keep Ryan Kelso as a planning commissioner was not part of the reason for his departure.

“I can accept that the process ‘was what it was,’” Brown said in his resignation letter. “It wasn’t then, and still is not now, personal.”

Brown, along with other Community Development staff, brought allegations to the commissioners at a public hearing two weeks ago concerning alleged misuse of the planning commission position by Kelso.

County commissioners kept Kelso on the planning commission with a split vote on Dec. 20.

Brown also cited that his work in Community Development was more contentious than any other work he had done previously due to a “few chronic and loud complainers ... constantly ‘slamming’ us in public.”

“Their outsized voice seems to reflect continued dysfunction, when there are clear facts to the contrary,” Brown said in his resignation letter. “This criticism is at an intensity I have never before witnessed.”

Brown also said in his resignation letter that he could not have done all he did without his staff.

“I accomplished a major restructuring of the entire department, created an entirely new STR (short-term rental) division, and assisted with the creation of a new Code Enforcement Division within the Sheriff’s office,” Brown said in his resignation letter. “Dedicated staff here made this a reality. It was not just me.”

Bob Bugert

Chelan County commissioner

Commissioner Bob Bugert thanked Brown on Monday for his work at the department.

“Jim’s resignation is very unfortunate,” Bugert said in a county news release. “Under his leadership, the county has made great progress in restructuring the department. This past year, there have been challenges that have led to a difficult work environment for Jim and his staff. I am hoping the building community partners with us in our continuing work toward building a healthy planning department.”

Brown said in an email to The Wenatchee World that “problems out of his control” will need to be addressed before the county sees any durable stability in the Community Development department.

Brown’s last day as director is set for Jan. 31, 2022. Commissioners have not determined a process for replacing Brown but are expected to discuss this next week when in session.

Medical providers shift focus on COVID-19 tests following holiday influx

WENATCHEE — Cascade Medical fielded about 600 phone calls Monday, most of them from people looking for COVID-19 tests.

Cascade Medical only offers about 80 COVID-19 tests a week, prompting the Leavenworth hospital’s spokesperson, Clint Strand, to post on Facebook asking people to consider other alternatives.

The influx of calls has several health officials now focusing their testing resources toward symptomatic COVID-19 people.

Confluence Health, the major medical provider in North Central Washington, said in a news release that it had also received a large influx of calls concerning COVID-19 tests.

Several Confluence Health testing sites have shortened their hours of operation due to staffing shortages and the cold weather, according to the news release.

At the moment, Confluence Health’s capacity is at about 65% of its testing capacity prior to the holiday, said Katherine Grove, Confluence Health spokesperson.

Glenn Adams, Confluence Health chief operating officer, said in the news release that tests need to be reserved for people with COVID-like symptoms due to limited resources.

“It is important to remember that testing is a tool, and that a negative test today doesn’t ensure you will not develop COVID-like symptoms tomorrow,” said Adams in the news release. “Please practice extra caution for the next four weeks as we anticipate we will see an omicron surge during this time.”

Starting Wednesday, all COVID-19 tests will be made by appointment ahead of time by calling (509) 663-8711.

At its Wenatchee drive-thru testing site on Emerson Street, Confluence Health administers about 300 COVID-19 tests a day.

Dr. Jason Lake, Confluence Health chief medical officer, also said that he anticipated an omicron surge to occur following the holidays.

“The best way you can prepare for this surge is to get your booster shot and continue to wear a mask when you are with people outside of your home,” said Lake in an news release.

Testing demand at Columbia Valley Community Health, on the other hand, has remained somewhat steady with about 45 COVID-19 tests administered at its Wenatchee Express Care clinics, according to Erin Spencer, CVCH executive assistant.

As of Tuesday, Cascade Medical is still booked this week in regards to COVID-19 tests, Strand said in an interview with The Wenatchee World. People can book for COVID-19 tests next week.