WENATCHEE — Plans for a regional low-barrier homeless shelter are moving forward.
Low-barrier housing programs accept homeless people without the fees and restrictions of other shelters, and also connect them with service providers and resources. The Chelan-Douglas Homeless Housing Task Force began researching options in 2018.
Chelan and Douglas counties and the cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee are now applying jointly for a $642,636 grant from the state Department of Commerce for the design, development and operation of a shelter.
Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said the grant could be used to look at possible locations for a shelter, the costs of remodeling or building, and the costs of operation.
Community Development Director Glen DeVries told the Wenatchee City Council on Thursday that such a shelter would not only help people in crisis, but also allow the city to enforce its codes. In 2018, a federal court of appeals ruled homeless people cannot be punished for sleeping outside if there are no adequate alternatives.
DeVries said the grant wouldn’t cover the entire cost of a low-barrier shelter, but would help the region move forward with establishing one.
“There are a lot of different moving parts that would be necessary in order to make a successful partnership,” he told the council. “Other funding sources are definitely required.”
Based on a report from a Seattle-based consultant, the city has projected it would cost about $1.2 million annually to staff such a shelter. However, Housing Programs Coordinator Sandra Van Osten said in January that it would likely cost less than that to run a shelter in a smaller, more rural area like Chelan and Douglas counties.
Kuntz told the council Thursday that his concern is finding a location but not having the money to build or operate a shelter.
“That all needs to come from probably the one-tenth two-county-wide sales tax increase that the county commissioners haven’t, at least at this point, been willing to do,” he said.
The council could also vote on a sales tax increase within the city, Kuntz said, but he’d prefer for the counties to help finance it so the city doesn’t use up its general fund.
“I need some sort of commitment from them that basically says, ‘Yeah, we’re willing to look at or at least do an advisory vote to figure out how to pay for some of this stuff,’” he said.
The council approved entering into a new grant agreement with the state Department of Commerce for the shelter planning.
It also approved entering into a separate, amended agreement with the department to increase funding for the CARES Act Emergency Solutions Grant. Commerce is allocating additional funding through the existing grant, which helps mitigate the effects of the coronavirus on people experiencing homelessness.
The exact amount is not yet known, but the city estimates it will receive an additional $1.18 million. Based on that estimate, the money would be allocated as such:
Chelan-Douglas Community Action Council
- $665,658 for rapid rehousing rent assistance
- $180,000 for emergency hotel vouchers
- $146,141 for rent assistance to prevent eviction
Severe-weather emergency shelters
- The People’s Foundation, $92,400
- Women’s Resource Center, $39,600
Last winter, the People’s Foundation ran a severe-weather shelter for men out of Holy Apostles Catholic Church in East Wenatchee and the WRC ran one for women out of First United Methodist Church in Wenatchee.