SEATTLE – It’s been two years since Seattle and King County officials declared homelessness an emergency.
Since then, more and more people find themselves living on the streets – and for some, finding a shelter that will accept them can be a challenge.
But now there’s a push to reinvent how shelters operate and get more people off the streets and into stable housing.
Seattle now has two 24-hour shelters that operate like temporary dorms. They also offer free services to help people get people ready to rent a permanent apartment.
The city runs one and the second is run by a nonprofit, Compass Housing Alliance, funded through a $1.3 million grant of taxpayer money.
Q13 News got a first-hand look what makes these shelters different and how the people they serve say they are saving lives.
“I’m Renne Enochs, and I’m from Missoula, Montana, and I’ve been in Seattle for 25 years.”
Renne hopes her 6-year battle living on the streets is almost over.
“It’s like you try to stay high to forget,” she said. “It’s scary out there.”
She says when her life spiraled out of control, she turned to drugs and called a tent her home. It was all because, she says, she watched something nobody should have to see.
“When I watched my husband get beat to death I just, I didn’t care about living,” she said.
Back in 2011, her husband of 21 years was killed in front of her inside their Rainier Valley apartment.
“I couldn’t stay in that apartment so I just gave away everything and just walked away from it,” she said.
“I’ve been offered shelter without the dog but I said no,” said Compass client Ray Mobley. “That’s not an option.”
Mobley says he arrived in Seattle six months ago with the promise of an apartment. But that promise fell apart. He had no money or family to help and he says he couldn’t find a shelter that would take his dog Tsonga.
“After a while it can feel overwhelming because there is no soft place to land,” he said. “There’s no refuge.”
But now all of them live in the basement at Seattle First Presbyterian Church in the Compass Housing Alliance’s enhanced shelter – it opened in September.
“We are hoping to be a one-stop-shop,” said program director Robert Taylor. “You don’t have to leave toget a shower, a meal, clean clothes.”
The difference about this shelter, says Compass, is a team of case managers overseeing clients on-site. They help people battle addiction, mental health problems and more.
The enhanced shelter also allows what many others don’t – people can bring their pets, their partners and some property with them.
It’s a temporary home while they look for a permanent one. Stability instead of the daily struggle to stay safe on the streets and a bed every night.
“Getting an ID, replacing a Social Security card, things like that,” said Taylor. “How do you prepare someone to get back into the job market, that takes time.”
Thanks to the shelter’s relentless team of helpers , Mobley says he may soon be able to leave.
“If all goes well today if I get that one sheet in today then I’ll probably be able to move next week,” he said.
Mobley could be Compass’s first success story since its shelter opened.
“We have not had the numbers yet as far as successful exits, but we’re getting there,” said Taylor.
Enochs says her case managers helped set her up with addiction treatment and counseling.
She believes the people at Compass helped save her life.
“They just showed up to our tent one day and asked, me and my friend, and asked us if we wanted to go to a shelter,” she said. “I didn’t even think twice.”
Compass’s program director says there is still a severe lack of affordable housing at the end of their battle of homelessness and sometimes their clients aren’t always ready to leave the streets.
“We don’t win them all,” said Taylor. “There are returns to homelessness, it’s a part of the field.”
But, for those who believe they are ready, the enhanced shelter model is making a difference one person at a time.
“I just feel like I’m getting a second chance,” said Enochs.
The enhanced shelter model is making a difference one person at a time.
“I have an unwavering belief that God is and God will make a way,” said Mobley.
Mobley didn’t end up moving into the apartment his case managers had tried lining up last week – but he and the Compass team say they are aiming to move him into a stable home before Thanksgiving.
The shelter can house up to 100 people at a time; 80 men and 20 women.