By Christi Baron
Forks Forum Editor
As the weather turns colder, there has been the recent discussion about homelessness in our community, on the venue that provides the best place to solve a problem … Facebook … okay, it is not the best place to solve problems because for some reason people usually resort to attacking each other and not the problem. But homelessness is here in our community, and what if anything, should be done?
It is a bit startling when you go to the post office about 6:30 a.m. and find someone sleeping there. Maybe this is normal in other communities, but I was surprised when it happened to me and wondered if other options might be available to this man.
Several Facebookers suggested that one of the empty buildings downtown could be used as a shelter. Those empty buildings belong to somebody, and just because a building is empty doesn’t mean the owner is open to the idea of using their property for this reason, even if it is empty.
A couple days ago I received the following letter, it is reprinted from the Church of the Nazarene Sunday bulletin Dec. 17, 2017. It was written by Pastor Tom Lafrenz. He has put a lot of thought and research into this dilemma and no matter what, it is and will be a difficult problem to solve.
Homelessness in Forks. There are several questions that come to mind as I have studied the situation. For a shelter to develop it has to be determined who of the homeless are going to be served: men only, women only, women with children, men with children, couples, same-sex couples?
What kind of security can be offered to those staying the night? If someone goes outside for a cigarette, are they allowed back in? (not in Seattle) Will there be just toilets, toilets and showers, laundry facilities? As most shelters in the greater Seattle area only allow people in around 4:00 and then lock the doors, should those people be fed, and if so, one meal or two? The last court ruling I was aware of said you can’t have homeless people clean or help out unless you pay them minimum wage, so they then lose even that dignity of work.
Volunteers, at least two staff would be needed anytime the shelter is open. Would that be once a week (Vancouver B.C.), or every night (Seattle)? Would it be through the winter only, (Enumclaw), or all year round? Would we have separate volunteers to do the cooking and cleaning, sanitizing the mats and the bathrooms, maintaining the plumbing and other maintenance?
Do volunteers work shifts, or just stay the night? How are volunteers held accountable for their time commitment? Should volunteers be required to pledge for six months or a year, or longer? The issues of vandalism that now have our city lobby and transit station and bathrooms at the park locked, will also be happening in a local facility. That means financial resources.
Tens of thousands of dollars to start, (a safe secure dry warm place with a functioning bathroom) and thousands in higher utility bills, maintenance (food, storage, dry cleaning after each bedding use, background checks for workers/volunteers). What about legal fees and insurance?
We had a homeless man sleeping on our porch for several months last year. He did a great job of monitoring our church when he was here. I had to ask him to leave finally because of liability issues. I hated that. So, as scripture tells us to count the cost, these are some of the issues that have to be counted.
There are homeless here in Forks that have given up the ability to be housed. There are others that have chosen to not participate in any kind of homeless sheltering opportunity (much more common than many realize). Our ministerial association provided emergency shelter until that was abused to the point that the motels quit taking people without a credit card to cover damages.
God still calls us to be good Samaritans. The baby born in a manger is good news for all.
Pastor Tom Lafrenz