Two commissioners say ‘no’ to low barrier shelter

For now, the county will pass on federal and state funds totalling nearly $1.5 million that could be used to develop an overnight shelter in Aberdeen because two of the three county commissioners oppose a shelter model that doesn’t turn away people who have been drinking or using drugs.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, no motion was made from commissioners Kevin Pine or Jill Warne when a report recommending the approval of the contract for the shelter was presented. Commission Chairwoman Vickie Raines, who supports the plan, said after the meeting that her hands were tied by the other two commissioners — as board chair she could have made the motion to consider the contract during the meeting, but her motion would have required a second to bring it forward for a vote, and the other two commissioners did not support that.

“I would just like to say how extremely disappointed I am,” said Aberdeen City Councilman Nathan Kennedy during the public comment period on the topic, “that, once again, the shelter agreement has basically been ignored. And once again two of our commissioners have ignored professional opinion. We need to take care of the homeless situation and we are not going to do that without shelter without low income housing.”

The Aberdeen City Council unanimously passed a resolution late last month supporting the shelter.

“This is a first step and you guys are mucking it up,” said Kennedy. “The city of Aberdeen is screaming and crying and begging you to do something about this. So please do your job and get this stuff passed so that we can move forward, help the people that need help, and get our streets cleaned.”

Pine and Warne both told the Daily World after the meeting that they were not interested in a low barrier shelter; their issue was not with the applicant to operate the shelter — Chaplains on the Harbor — or where it might be located. Both disagreed with the intent of the request for proposals to provide a low barrier shelter. Both were also aware that the $1.08 million in federal and nearly $300,000 in state funds had no matching fund requirements, and that the grant required a low-barrier shelter model that did not mandate treatment or sobriety services for a place to sleep.

“This problem needs to be addressed,” said Pine during the meeting, “but by going in the way of a low barrier shelter, it has been proven for the last decade that it’s not effective.” He said he’s spoken with businesses in Olympia. “I’ve talked to downtown businesses and (the closest) where (they came to saying) this was a good thing, they said it’s not as bad as it was, but it’s still terrible.” Pine went on to say other counties like Cowlitz and cities like Marysville found success using a treatment-first model and dry shelters to help citizens.

“We need to find something that’s going to give people a hand up, not a handout,” said Warne after the meeting. She does not agree with the low barrier shelter model either, saying she feels that there is a better way to address homelessness in Grays Harbor County. Warne also knows that the funds required a low barrier shelter and that saying ‘no’ to the shelter format says ‘no’ to the funds — “If the state is going to mandate that money be used solely for continuing the problem, then I think that we don’t need to make a deal with the devil.”

Rev. Sarah Monroe with Chaplains on the Harbor, which has operated a similar shelter in Westport under a county contract, said after the meeting, “We are deeply disappointed in the two commissioners’ refusal to vote.” She added that Chaplains on the Harbor “will continue to show up to support people experiencing homelessness in Aberdeen through outreach and meal programs and we will continue to fight for their right to exist and stay alive. Even through all the hatred so often directed their way by some members of this community, people on the streets continue to show courage in survival and loss. We will not give up in our fight to bring shelter and support to people experiencing homelessness.”

The overnight shelter is not to be confused with Aberdeen’s temporary alternative shelter location (TASL), which allows all-day stays for its residents; rather, it would provide restrooms, a bed, and a warm place to sleep every night for the next year — during overnight hours only — with no barriers on whether a person has used drugs or alcohol prior to entry. No use of drugs or alcohol is allowed during their stay, and clients are asked to leave every morning.

The county had a similar contract with the Coastal Community Action Program last winter that expired March 31. Since then, 30 to 40 people who were staying there now do not have another local shelter option.