Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Transitional Housing Facility Opens at Local Shelter

The Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless recently added a new transitional housing expansion to its shelter, with aims of better serving the local homeless population.

The new expansion is composed of 10 housing units, which can each hold up to two people, and a communal restroom and shower. The expansion is connected with the organization’s Exit Homelessness program.

According to Jordan Green, Executive Director of the Alliance, while the older wing of the shelter has few requirements for stays, the new wing is different.

“You’ve got to be engaged in our weekly meetings with our peer support staff. You’ve got to be working, setting goals and working towards those goals. You have six months in those units to be able to work through them,” Green said.

He also recognizes that even when residents put in all the work, finding housing may still be difficult or impossible. For this reason, residents may be allowed another six month term after their first if they’re unable to find housing.

“We have many people each year who have a housing voucher to pay for an apartment or a home, but there aren’t any that will take them or there aren’t any available. And so those end up expiring. Only about 65% of vouchers that are distributed by the housing authority are used prior to them expiring,” Green said.

But that isn’t the only problem Green sees in Walla Walla.

“There are a couple of big needs in terms of homelessness and housing support in this community … one of them is a dedicated family shelter, and the other is a shelter that is capable of serving single fathers as well. There just aren’t any options at all for them,” Green said.

Even with these problems, Green was happy with the progress that has been made since the shelter opened.

Nancy Forsthoefel, a research specialist in Whitman’s Biology department, has been involved with the Alliance for the Homeless for a long time. She expressed similar sentiments to Green’s.

“We [have] been able to expand our services and reach more people, through increasing the number of huts that we have [in] the transitional shelter, to increasing the amount of services that we have with the peer support counselors, which at the beginning, we didn’t have,” Forsthoefel said.

Forsthoefel said that six years ago, the city passed an ordinance banning sleeping in public spaces. At the same time, they allowed for camping near where the shelter now sits. When the shelter first opened, since it was on city property, it was forced to abide by the city’s instructions: namely to only be a sleep center.

“Then COVID hit and everybody needed a safe place to hang during the day. So it went 24/7, and that 24/7 proved to be really beneficial to the city and to people who are staying here,” Forsthoefel said.

Since then, the shelter has been operating 24/7, allowing for counseling services related to the Exit Homelessness program to run.

Green also described COVID as an important turning point for the shelter. In addition to moving to a 24-hour operation schedule, he discussed an increase in collaboration between organizations.

“All of the different shelter providers, housing providers, service providers began to communicate and collaborate through the last few years. So we’re all working together rather than working individually in the way we were previously,” Green said.

In an emailed statement to The Wire, Deputy City Manager of Walla Walla Robert Francis emphasized the importance of collaboration.

“The City would not be as effective in providing this support if it was not for the outstanding partnership that we have with the Alliance for the Homeless. The existing and ongoing collaboration between our agencies will continue in the future.  Doing this work together allows us to focus on what we each do well, while leaning on each other for the ability and strengths to provide the best service possible to our community,” Francis said.

Green also expressed excitement about a more recent change in public opinion. He said that nearly 80 people showed up to an open house on Saturday, Oct. 21. 

“I think that the most exciting thing that’s been happening here as an organization over the past couple years is the changing tide of community support,” Green said.

Though there is still more work to be done and, according to Green, a potential need for another expansion at some point in the future, the shelter remains an important resource and a model for other shelters.

“A lot of communities, other towns and cities in the region, come and have a look and take tours and ask about our policy manual and all that stuff to learn from it so that they can also work towards having this kind of place,” Forsoethfel said.

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