EAST WENATCHEE — An isolation shelter program funded by Chelan and Douglas counties is pivoting to provide up to 100 rooms for agriculture workers affected by COVID-19.
A 50-room facility in East Wenatchee was contracted in early April to provide isolation for people who are homeless, unsheltered or are unable to adequately isolate in their residences. The need for that shelter has so far been low, said Thom Nees, director of Serve Wenatchee Valley, which is managing it.
It has served a total of nine people since April and was empty as of Monday. The two counties have reported a total of 457 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.
“You pay for this resource to be available should you need it, but you hope that you never have to. I think, fortunately for our community, it’s a good thing that we’ve had the facility, we’ve been ready and should the need have arised, we would have been ready to meet that need,” he said. “But community-wide that need has not been realized. And that’s a good thing for our community, that’s not a negative thing.”
The contract for that shelter, which the organization hasn’t named to protect security and privacy, was extended through the end of June with a reduced room capacity of 25, Nees said.
Length of stay has ranged from a day to a month, said Serve Wenatchee Valley coordinator Jim Kaing.
The organization has had some people who met the criteria, began the intake process, but then decided last-minute not to stay because they felt the shelter was too restrictive, Kaing said. People are expected to stay in the rooms and meals are provided.
“There were a number of cases where we got the referral and made contact with them and, right as were going to place them, they had a change of heart,” he said.
The shelter was originally launched to support people with housing instability, but its threshold for admission has now been expanded to allow agriculture workers.
By early May, about 180 workers had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Chelan-Douglas Health District data. Those workers have so far been able to isolate within their own residences or in company-owned housing facilities, Chelan County Economic Development Director Blake Baldwin said. Chelan County is managing disbursement of the funding.
As the growing and harvest season picks up across North Central Washington, the need for coronavirus-related housing is expected to rise, he said.
The county is considering using the existing site in East Wenatchee, and recruiting another to provide a total of 100 rooms for ag workers. The requirements for occupancy are still being worked out.
“(The low occupancy) is good because that means there hasn’t been a significant impact to the homeless and unsheltered community when it comes to coronavirus,” he said. “However, we certainly understand that there will be a need coming into the various crop harvest and we’re looking forward to being able to open up that resource to those that need it in the ag facility.”
The program has used approximately $384,000 of $885,477 in COVID-19 Emergency Housing grants distributed by the state to Chelan and Douglas counties earlier this year.
The county has requested an additional $2 million in funding from the state’s pool of CARES Act funding to establish the shelter, Baldwin said. That request is still pending.
“It would be a marriage of funds between this emergency housing grant, our local contribution of CARES Act funding and then this potential additional funding we’ve requested from the state,” he said. “... Whether we get that funding or not, we are going to move forward with our existing funding to be able to stand up 100 beds. That’s the goal, we’re just working out the details.”