Expanded cold-weather shelter board aims to provide sustainable services for homeless

The cold weather shelter will once again be housed this year at Maple Park Church in Lynnwood. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

As the temperature begins to drop, a new volunteer board for the South Snohomish County Cold Weather Shelter aims to provide a more sustainable service for the community’s homeless.

For 10 years, much of the shelter’s work fell on the shoulders of Mark and Sue Waldin, whose volunteerism has provided a place for the homeless who had nowhere else to go in cold weather. The Waldins were part of a five-member volunteer board that worked with community partners like Trinity Lutheran and Maple Park churches to offer shelter and resources.

Now, the volunteer board, chaired by Lisa Utter, has expanded to include 11 members. The new board’s goal is to make the cold weather shelter a more sustainable resource for the community’s homeless, said board member Reina Hibbert. 

“(The Waldins) really wanted to try to step away and bring in some like-minded people with a great deal of compassion and bring in some fresh perspective as well,” she said.

When searching for new board members, Hibbert said the Waldins looked to partner with those who had previously worked with the shelter and homeless community. 

“We’re really striving to take what was a pretty large burden on Mark and Sue and really spread it out and leverage a lot of our community members’ talents to find a sustainable shelter that will last for years,” she said.

With the new board organization, Hibbert said that board members are assigned to oversee specific areas of responsibility to provide additional organization, like volunteer coordination, recruitment and integration. For example, Hibbert provides “catch all” services and handles shelter operations.

Prior to becoming a board member, Hibbert volunteered as a driver who would shuttle people to and from the shelter at pick-up and drop-off locations, and provides “catch all” services and handles shelter operations.

“I have a great passion for this,” she said. “I think it’s a human right and I think it’s really important.”

While maintaining its current volunteer-based model, Hibbert said the board is working to implement lessons learned during last year’s record-setting snowfall, when the shelter reached its maximum capacity of 50 people.

The shelter currently partners with organizations interested in helping staff teams that monitor and maintain the shelters during morning and evening shifts. However, after hearing feedback from volunteer leaders about staffing difficulties, Hibbert said the board will now hire staff and offer a stipend.

Like last year, the cold weather shelter will be located at Maple Park Church, 17620 60th Ave. W., in Lynnwood. The shelter will be open from Dec. 8 through March 31, on days when temperatures drop below freezing.

“They (the church) have really been absolutely excellent to help us make this happen,” she said.

Though temperatures are already predicted to be in the 30s and 40s this week, Hibbert said the shelter does not plan to open before the announced date. Organizers are working to ensure they are ready in the event of another lengthy cold snap that could cause the shelter to reach maximum capacity. Issues being addressed include bathroom regulations and staffing needs for the long stretches of challenging weather.

“We want to make sure the lessons we learned from last season are oriented properly and the new board members are comfortable in their roles to provide the best service they can,” Hibbert said.

To provide its service, the shelter relies on funding from donations that can be made at the shelter’s website (link). Food and clothing donations can be dropped off at Trinity Lutheran Church, 6215 196th St. S.W., Lynnwood.

For the past two years, the shelter also received Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants to help fund its services. This year, the shelter received a grant from the Snohomish County Department of Human Services after missing the deadline to apply for the FEMA grant. Hibbert added that the shelter board is always looking for new community partners to help provide resources for the homeless community.

“We’re really looking at trying to get down to the metrics of who we’re serving and what we need to provide those services,” she said. “And how to make this process simpler as in terms of how to get someone to volunteer as well as what kind of funding does it take to make this shelter work.”

–Story by Cody Sexton

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