In order to inform the Bellevue College community about the new permanent Eastside Men’s Shelter that is being built by Imagine Housing, employees of the City of Bellevue and Congregations for the Homeless held an information forum on Thursday, October 20 at 1:30 p.m. The new site will be located on 14350 Eastgate Way, just north of I-90 and is expected to be finished in 2019.
This property is owned by King County and the shelter will share it with Public Health, but it is also close to Bellevue College’s main campus. “They’re not asking our permission necessarily but they’re being good neighbors,” said Vice President of administrative services Ray White, who was there in place of BC Interim President Jill Wakefield. According to White, Dr. Wakefield wished she could attend but had business elsewhere.
This will be the first permanent homeless shelter in Bellevue according to Camron Parker, senior planner of the strategic planning and evaluation department of parks and community services in the City of Bellevue. There have been shelters since 2008 when the city of Bellevue asked CFH to open a winter shelter after a homeless man froze to death because he had no place to stay. However, that shelter was only open when the temperature was below freezing. Now there is a year-round shelter but CFH had to move it every year in the past, making it hard to provide the services homeless men need to get back on their feet. “There has never been an ideal location before,” said Parker.
With the new, permanent location, CFH and the City of Bellevue will be able to provide resources like a mailing address, medical and dental services, mental health issue treatment, helping men get out of addiction and job coaching in addition to the three meals a day and housing the current shelter provides. “We will continue to add all of those resources that we determine are standing in the way of those people getting out of homelessness,” said Steve Roberts, managing director of CFH development.
Executive Director of CFH David Bowling said that they also give the men leadership roles in their shelters, letting them set certain rules and giving them the job of doing most of the cleaning, just like it was a home. “We really empower them to feel like they matter and that, we find, takes care of 99 percent of the issues,” said Bowing. “If you treat someone with dignity and give them a voice, then what we’ve seen over and over again is that they step up.”
Jermain Berkley, a Bellevue College student and employee who is also homeless, added to this by stating the importance of treating the homeless like they are human beings. “What would be more valuable than anything you could give me or anything you could give [other homeless people] is when you see us around the neighborhood, say hello,” he said, going on to say that being a Bellevue College student and having friends on campus has helped motivate him to not give up. “I have come here with hair all over my face, smelling like whatever and [my friends] always treated me like a person and that has been more valuable to me than anything else,” he said.
This shelter does only accept single men, but other cities have taken up other groups of people. Redmond has shelters for youth up to age 24 and Kirkland has taken on single women and families. The reason these shelters serve different ages and genders is because “each of the subpopulations have certain needs,” according to Parker. He stated that this is just another way King County has tried to serve its homeless community better.
Some members of the audience had concerns about the shelter being built so close to the college, but Bowling assured them that safety is CFH’s number one priority. “Everything we do is built upon the value of relationship,” he said. “If it doesn’t work for everyone, it just doesn’t work.” He went on to say that CFH has a great relationship with the Bellevue Police Department and the shelter will only employ staff that are highly trained in de-escalation and solution focus. “We’ll make sure that people are safe in the community,” he said.
Additionally, previous studies have shown that having a homeless program near a college or university can be beneficial to both institutions. “In Chicago and New York City, there are universities right next to homeless programs and there have been ways that it enhanced both programs,” said Bowling. He then stated that the whole point of this is “to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time,” so the organizations working on this project want to do everything they can to make that happen.