We are approaching the hottest part of the summer in the Wenatchee Valley and this creates a serious problem for those who are homeless and either won’t or are not allowed to access the valley’s restrictive homeless shelters.
This can be a matter of life and death. Last winter, three homeless people died of exposure in our valley, which is unacceptable. Other communities deal with this situation by developing low-barrier shelters to give these folks relief year-round.
Right now, PowerHouse Day Shelter in East Wenatchee is the lowest-barrier shelter available in the valley. As long as individuals aren’t high or have alcohol on their breath, they are welcome to use the PowerHouse Day Shelter to wash clothes, take a shower, have a sandwich and cool off during hot days or get warm during the winter, according to PowerHouse co-coordinator Dave Kleinfeldt. Other shelters have rules and policies in place, such as religious services, that not every homeless person is willing or able to abide by.
The PowerHouse, which is in the basement of Shalom Church on Valley Mall Parkway in East Wenatchee, is going through a challenging time. Day shelter co-coordinator Scott Slack had surgery recently; and while he recovers, the number of days the shelter is open has been reduced to Monday and Wednesday in the morning and all-day Thursday.
To keep the shelter open on that schedule, local pastors have been rallying supporters to become volunteers at the shelter.
The local homeless task force has been focusing on trying to get a low-barrier shelter established but that will take time and money. More immediate solutions are needed to ease the suffering of our fellow human beings who are struggling to get by.
One solution being floated by Laurel Turner of the Women’s Resource Center would involve local organizations opening their doors during extreme weather conditions to keep people safe temporarily.
I visited recently Kleinfeldt about the situation. Many of the 20 to 70 people who visit during the day have jobs but just can’t afford housing. Some have mental health issues as well as drug and alcohol challenges, he told me.
Addiction is very difficult for people to kick without help, said Kleinfeldt, adding that they do their best not to enable habits like drugs and alcohol that are damaging to their health.
I also spoke with Victor Estrada, who is the outreach person at the Women’s Resource Center. As a recovering drug addict and former gang member who had numerous run-ins with law enforcement and went to prison twice, Estrada understands what it’s like to be on the streets.
“What I love about the Powerhouse is that there is no judgment,” Estrada told me. Estrada spends his days making contact with homeless individuals, giving them food, socks and other necessities. With the Women’s Resource Center, there is no religious expectation of clients, and that suits Estrada.
These individuals are suffering, often with mental health issues and other traumas, Estrada said.
For Estrada, this work is his way of giving back after a career of gang banging, drugs and violence. “I’m helping repair some of the damage I have made.”
The most satisfying aspect of this calling for Kleinfeldt is when people make the decision to go into recovery. That’s when their lives typically turn around.
It’s critical to keep the PowerHouse going to serve those who are in serious need in our community. If you are interested in volunteering or contributing, contact Kleinfeldt at 509-393-9230. The website is powerhousewenatchee.com.
Figuring out a way to shelter people during critical weather periods is a challenge that we need to solve in this valley. Regardless of the circumstances of being homeless, they are still human beings.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. Contact him at 665-1162 or email@example.com.