‘Near Aberdeen’ cold weather shelter effort abandoned

Officials cite logistical issues and condensed time frame

Citing logistical and practical obstacles, along with a short time frame, county officials and shelter providers have ceased a months-long effort to provide an emergency cold weather shelter in central Grays Harbor, the shelter’s provider, Chaplains on the Harbor, announced Tuesday.

The decision comes after a string of contingencies and requirements — including about location and shelter policy — that have delayed the shelter’s opening, which was originally scheduled for Nov. 1.

“After some serious deliberation with legal and our friends at Chaplains on the Harbor, it really has become apparent that the near-Aberdeen site has enough barriers to cause us consternation,” said Mike McNickle, director of Grays Harbor County Public Health at a Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday. “After discussions with the three commissioners yesterday, it’s pretty clear the issues have become too tall of a barrier for us to overcome between now and the end of the contract.”

The proposed shelter was part of the county’s cold weather shelter program, which provides funds to contractors who operate temporary shelter services from Nov. 1 to March 31, the cold weather season.

County commissioners approved a contract with Chaplains on the Harbor Jan. 3 to provide $150,000 for cold weather shelter services in the Aberdeen area. Later, Chaplains identified a site for the shelter — a three-bedroom house on state Route 105, outside the Aberdeen city limits, just west of the Bishop Athletic complex, which could have hosted 20 to 25 people.

At an early January commissioner’s meeting, Barbra Weza, executive director with Chaplains on the Harbor, said the house had “great potential, and it will work for a shelter.”

Weza said Jan. 12 that the group was training staff and working to line up inspections — code enforcement, fire marshal, public works and others.

Public health then brought the proposed site, along with an updated contract for the site, to county commissioners Jan. 17. But commissioners said essential contingencies, including behavioral and operational policies, as well as logistical issues such as transportation, were missing from the proposal, leading commissioners to table a vote on the updated contract.

Commissioners Jill Warne and Kevin Pine said they wanted to see “check-in, stay-in” and “good neighbor” policies in the contract, and Commissioner Vickie Raines said Chaplains still needed to communicate with the county sheriff’s office and Grays Harbor Transit before the shelter could open.

Grays Harbor Transit General Manager Ken Mehin told The Daily World Jan. 18 that he planned to meet with relevant parties to discuss an organized system of transport to the shelter.

During the public comment period at the Jan. 17 commissioner’s meeting, several community members expressed concern about the shelter’s proposed site.

Weza said Tuesday that Chaplains recently met with its own executive team, public health and county commissioners separately to discuss the next steps for the shelter, and made the decision to terminate the shelter efforts.

“Our executive team has come to this outcome, and we feel this (cold weather shelter) will not come to fruition this year,” Weza said.

“Chaplains worked very hard to make this work, but as new details emerged about the logistics of using the site, the site became untenable,” McNickle said in a Tuesday press release from public health.

Weza thanked everyone involved, saying the process has been “fruitful,” and that Chaplains hopes “to continue building on the information learned to be proactive partners in mitigating the needs and gaps of the Grays Harbor County communities.”

Chaplains proposed the site on state Route 105 after its original proposal for a 35-bed shelter near downtown Aberdeen fell through because of issues with location. The Aberdeen City Council voted to reject a cold weather shelter within city limits, affirming earlier objections to the site from Mayor Pete Schave, who cited destructive and harmful conditions of the previous year’s shelter to the downtown business district. Last year’s shelter was not operated by Chaplains.

Those delays ultimately led to a condensed time frame to nail down logistics. Raines said she was hopeful that future cold weather shelter programs could “start the process earlier in the year.”

“I think it becomes a real challenge to find a solution where you can jump through all the hoops in a timely fashion when you are amidst the crisis,” Raines said.

Public health issued a request for proposals for the shelters in July, but after it received no bidders, was forced to reissue the request with an Oct. 5 deadline and a projected start date of Nov. 1. The request received four proposals, which were evaluated in October. A separate shelter proposal from Chaplains began service in Westport in early November.

Cassie Lentz, Healthy Places manager for Grays Harbor County Public Health, said the county has identified basic public safety requirements for the cold weather shelter program, and over the years, the program has worked out other requirements necessary for “community integration” and “mitigating potential negative impacts.”

“As that list gets longer over the years or we articulate things that are part of our ideal plan, that does create some hurdles for the provider,” Lentz said.

Because of project delays, and the recent termination, the county has shelter-designated funds that are currently unallocated. Funding for the program, a total of $590,000, comes from a mix of state and federal grants, both of which are time-limited — one expires June 30 and the other Sept. 30.

Following Chaplains’ withdrawal from the Aberdeen contract, Lentz said, the county has $217,500 still unallocated.

County commissioners voted Jan. 3 to expand funding by $45,000 for the Chaplains’ shelter in Westport, but the Westport City Council voted against the expansion.

Lentz said she plans to present further funding options to the board in the next several weeks.

Those funds could be spent on something other than the cold weather shelter program, but that would require a time-consuming competitive bidding process, Lentz said.

“We hope that’s possible and that we can utilize the funds in our community, but also, we know we’re running against the clock because the funds expire in a few months,” Lentz said.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.