WENATCHEE — Wenatchee’s only cold weather shelter opened Jan. 1, and word traveled fast. Space was nearly full on Wednesday, with evening temperatures dropping just below freezing.
“I thought I was going to have to stay out in the cold last night, “ said Andrew Thomas, who was staying at the shelter. “It is a blessing to have this … I’m truly grateful.”
Thomas said he is not used to being homeless and that he “just had a bad situation happen today.”
Wenatchee’s cold weather shelter opened a month later than the first shelter to open last winter. The delay took place over finding a space that could safely accommodate people during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.
This year, the cold-weather shelter is in the Gospel House, 810 S. Wenatchee Ave.
Noe Mendoza, from Wenatchee, said this winter is the first time he has been homeless. “I got kicked out to the street,” he said.
This spot is great, with the exception that it is open for only 12 hours, he said.
The shelter can take 18 guests, as well room for two staffers and an extra space in case law enforcement finds someone in need.
“We’re probably going to be full for the night,” said Gary Steele, who was holding a clipboard with a list of expected arrivals Wednesday evening. Steele helps run the People’s Foundation which is located at the Gospel House in Wenatchee.
To safely house people for the night Steele uses 21 one-person tents, all equally spaced apart. Staffers check temperatures of guests before they arrive and masks are required for everyone inside until they zip up their tent.
Steele said the operation has been going pretty well so far. “It’s not a perfect world but we just do the best we can,” he said.
By 8 p.m., most of the tents in the shelter were filled.
“We’re up to the point we’re we might need more tents, I don’t know if we could even fit more in here,” said Hugo Ciborian, a shelter worker.
There were only about five people the first night, he said. The numbers quickly grew.
Tuesday night, about 14 people slept in the shelter, he said. “Just to see people staying in a warm place instead of outside in the cold, that makes me feel good.”
Devin Steele, a shelter worker, said he has seen a lot of new faces coming into the shelter this winter. The word got out faster than it did last year, he said.
Most of the people that stay at the shelter are from the Wenatchee area, he said.
“All you have to do is sign in, give us your name, make sure you’re not sick and we’ll give you a place to stay,” he said. Adding, “we’re just trying to help people out.”
WENATCHEE — Jose Blázquez, a Leavenworth resident originally from Spain, received an email last Wednesday from a contact in Venezuela asking about what was going on in America.
Unsure about what they meant, he turned on the television to see a crowd of pro-Trump supporters violently breaking into the U.S. Capitol.
He thought the images on the screen were a joke at first. Many of his contacts from all over Central and South America messaged him about the event, all of them in complete disbelief. None of them believed that something like that was actually possible in the United States, he said.
Blázquez remained glued to the television for the rest of the day. Nothing made sense to him.
“You don’t attack the people who are attempting to fix your problems,” he said in Spanish. “You go there to discuss, argue, and find solutions. One of the things you learn about this country is that you have the right to speak, not the right to fight with people.”
A reporter talked with four immigrants, including Blázquez, for their reactions to the riot at the Capitol. All of them have recently become U.S. citizens or are on the cusp of citizenship.
They were shocked and saddened. Some of them were ashamed but others confident that important American values would overcome.
Blázquez pointed to an event in 1954 when Puerto Rican nationalists Lolita Lebron and three others also attacked the Capitol. In that case, five U.S. representatives were injured and Lebron served 25 years prison. Will anyone involved in last week’s riot serve a similar sentence? Blázquez doesn’t think so.
Despite it all, nothing like this will ever change what the United States is all about, Blázquez said.
“There will be countries that are better or worse but no country like the United States,” he said. “One thousand years will pass but the United States will always have the same values.”
Blázquez has been trying to start the path toward citizenship for 38 years, but he never had the time to do so because of his business. Now, after submitting his paperwork, he waits for his interview date on Feb. 4 to arrive.
Silvestre Sanchez, a Wenatchee resident originally from Mexico, became a citizen during the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Now that he is included as part of the American people, he said he does feel sadness and some shame over the violence at the Capitol.
“Doors and glass got destroyed. What is that but vandalism?” he said in Spanish.
Sanchez said the country needs to be careful about who is elected as leader. He thought that President Donald Trump was too racist ever since appearing as a candidate in 2016. As a new citizen, he voted for Joe Biden in last year’s election. Now he hopes to see a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in this country.
Elizabeth Morales wasn’t even in the country when last week’s riot began. She was born in Mexico and became a citizen on Feb. 6 of last year. In Mexico with her daughters, she watched, horrified, as the riot broke out at the Capitol. It made it feel unsafe to return to the United States, she said.
But Morales said she is still proud to be an American.
“The people who do these things are not OK.” Morales said in Spanish. “But for the rest of us, we know what we want and who we voted for, for peace and for something really worth changing. I’ll never be ashamed about that.”
Karla Cazarez-Arrez was raised in the United States almost her entire life but has been an American citizen for only a little over a week. She was sworn in on Jan. 8.
An Eastmont High School graduate and student at Wenatchee Valley College, Cazarez-Arrez imagined what would have happened if the Capitol Hill riot had occurred during the summer when many Black Lives Matter protests across the country were occurring. Things might have been worse, she said.
Comparing the two, one is about protecting people of color, the other is about trying to keep somebody in office who has been accused of many awful things, according to Cazarez-Arrez.
“Why do [people] want him to stay in office? He’s already been impeached twice,” she said.
At times like this, Cazarez-Arrez said she does feel ashamed to be an American. When she became a citizen last week, she always imagined herself crying of happiness. She is proud of her accomplishment, but the experience is different than she imagined.
“It was more like, ‘Oh, it happened. What now, what’s going to happen? America is the laughingstock of the world.’”
WENATCHEE — Turnout in the last presidential election was huge across the country — including in the Wenatchee area. That fact is working against the upcoming Wenatchee School District Educational Program and Operation Levy.
In order for the election to count, it must get 40% of the vote turnout from the last general election. In this instance that would be the last presidential election.
“We had a huge turnout. There are 28,000 registered voters within our boundaries. Over 24,000 people voted in the last election. We have to hit right below that 10,000 number,” said Superintendent Paul Gordon at the Jan. 12 Wenatchee School Board meeting. “We need people to go out and vote.”
Ballots for the levy will be mailed Jan. 22. The levy election is Feb. 9. The levy needs a simple majority to pass.
“The levy vote is serious, so talk to your colleagues and friends about how important it is. Tell them to be alert for the ballots and remember to exercise their vote,” said Board member Martin Barron.
The levy would raise roughly $12 million to $13 million over four years at a rate of $2.10 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Passage of the levy assures about $3 million in State Equalization funds each year for a total of $15 million annually over four years.
The levy increases about 3% each year, but Gordon emphasized that the projected rate ($2.10) stays the same over those four years. It is a replacement levy and is rate is the same as the levy it would replace.
The owner of a home with assessed property value of around $400,000 would pay about $840 per year.
“Many community members have asked this question: What happened to the dollars during the pandemic? Some community members feel like we’ve been shut down and work hasn’t been occurring,” Gordon said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Gordon said educators have reimagined what schools look like. Custodians have been working around the clock to make sure facilities are safe for students and staff.
“We’ve spent significant dollars on PPE to make sure we had the right protective equipment when we are around each other and insuring we continue to have all the right cleaning supplies,” he said. “There is no way possible we would have been able to move into online learning without the significant dollars to pay for all the laptops.”
Roughly 350 students have left the school district to homeschool, and the reduction in enrolled students, Gordon said, has been a significant hit to the finances. He does anticipate those students returning, but those dollars will not be captured in this budget cycle.
What happens if the levy does not pass?
“It’s pretty clear. We reduce $15 million from our budget. We reduce staffing. We reduce supplies and programs,” Gordon said. “The district will try to rerun another ballot. If we fail twice, we would have to wait a year. The consequences of this are very significant. These dollars really do impact our kids.”