Members of the church congregation and residents of the surrounding neighborhood came together to hear from eight men representing SHARE (Seattle Housing and Resource Effort). SHARE plans to establish a homeless shelter for twenty homeless men at the church, beginning tonight.
The meeting began with an introduction from Pastor Dennis Andersen, who discussed the guiding principles of the Lutheran faith and the church’s mission to help those in need. He explained that the decision to host the shelter at the church came after “considerable inquiry over a series of months,” during which the congregation examined both practical and spiritual matters.
Pastor Andersen acknowledged that the public inquiry period had been delayed until the night before the shelter’s opening. He explained that this was done at SHARE’s request. He also emphasized that the shelter was opening on a trial basis. After one month, the church plans to assess the success of the program.
Representatives from SHARE then provided information about the group’s history, structure, and goals. First to speak was Lantz Rowland, who introduced himself and stated that he had been involved in SHARE “on and off since the late ’90s.” Before he was able to continue the presentation, a woman in the audience loudly demanded to be able to ask a question. Rowland advised that there would be time following the presentation for questions. The woman persisted, demanding to be able to ask a question and requesting that Rowland explain why he had been “in and out of homelessness” for so many years. Rowland offered to answer questions about his personal situation after the meeting and continued with his planned presentation.
Rowland explained that while SHARE has a small number of staff who function as organizers, the fifteen SHARE shelters across the city are managed exclusively by the people staying in the shelters. SHARE, Rowland said, is not a social service organization. It is a self-help group.
Rowland then gave the floor to Roger, another SHARE representative. Roger described why homeless people need shelters, explaining that the primary need is for safety.
The mechanics of how a SHARE shelter is run were also reviewed. The self-managed shelters are run as a democracy by the people living in it. They are not walk-in shelters; screening is done off-site. The people living in the shelter arrive as a group at 9:30 p.m. and immediately enter the shelter. They are not permitted to leave the shelter until morning, when they must leave the neighborhood. They must keep the shelter clean, and they provide extra security for the shelter host. If a member of the shelter breaks a rule he will be removed from the shelter immediately.
A question period then followed. While three of the Green Lake residents in attendance expressed support for the shelter, citing that they believe that the increased security provided by SHARE participants would create a safer neighborhood, several neighbors of the church voiced concerns.
There were many questions about the screening process that SHARE uses. Concern was expressed about the presence of a sex offender at a SHARE shelter in Ballard last year. SHARE representatives responded that they “do no knowingly screen in sex offenders,” and that if an individual does not register as a sex offender, SHARE is unable to screen him out.
There were also several complaints about the neighborhood notification process, which did not include a long or involved consultation of the church’s residential neighbors. The process was called “insulting” by one Green Lake resident in attendance, a comment which garnered loud agreement. Another resident said that he felt as though the shelter was being “shoved down our throats.” A third said that it was a “matter of trust, right off the bat,” and a fourth felt that the notice SHARE provided, which stated the shelter was simply a “proposed shelter,” was “disingenuous.”
The SHARE representatives responded to the concerns raised about the neighborhood notification process by explaining that SHARE was only providing information; they do not have to justify the existence of the shelter or ask permission of the neighborhood. To this, a member of the audience answered: “You haven’t asked permission of the people who bought houses here!”
The tension in the room rose as the woman who interrupted Rowland’s initial presentation continued to interrupt both SHARE representatives and others with her own questions and comments. At several points she was advised by Pastor Andersen that if she continued her inappropriate behavior, she would be asked to leave.
Meanwhile, other concerns were raised, including a series of questions about permitting. One man in attendance had called the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development earlier that day. He reported that he had learned that the shelter did not conform to zoning regulations. Pastor Lisa Anthony of the Green Lake United Methodist Church explained that churches are not subject to zoning regulations when they are performing their spiritual ministry, including outreach to the poor.
The conversation then moved to a discussion the long-term goals of SHARE and the church. The shelter will be at the church for 30 days on a provisional basis. After the pilot period is over, the church and SHARE will assess whether they wish to continue on a permanent basis. While the shelter is starting with 20 men, it may in time grow, although it will not grow in size beyond 30 men.
Those in attendance also heard from other Seattle pastors who have prior experience with SHARE shelters, including the pastors of Trinity United Methodist Church in Ballard and Woodland Park United Methodist Church in Phinney Ridge. Both reported positive experiences with SHARE.
The meeting concluded with an assurance from both SHARE and Pastor Andersen that questions from the community are welcomed and encouraged. You can reach Bethany Lutheran Church at 206 523 4454 and the SHARE offices at 206 448 7889.