Dozens of homeless people have found warmth and protection from the late December snowfall thanks to a new partnership between the City of Federal Way and FUSION.
Beginning on December 26, several inches of snow blanketed the Puget Sound area. Coupled with the freezing temperatures, snow and ice meant quick fixes were needed to help vulnerable members of the Federal Way community.
The city has partnered with FUSION to secure extra beds for families at the Pete Andersen FUSION Family Center, the only emergency shelter available in Federal Way for families. FUSION’s human services network connections were used to provide rooms for single adults or adult couples in need of shelter at two hotels in Federal Way and Kent.
“We’re in a place where, I’m touching wood, we haven’t turned anyone away yet,” said Dorsol Plants, FUSION program manager who works at the Pete Andersen FUSION Family Center, Dec. 30.
As of Jan. 4, FUSION has helped house four families and 34 others in shelter options, Plants recorded. Several neighboring towns supported each other during the blizzard and did their best to prevent homeless families or individuals from leaving their communities to protect themselves from the elements, he added.
In previous years, the city has worked with organizations such as Catholic Community Services to provide emergency overnight shelters for gatherings at the city day center or at local churches.
With the surge in COVID-19 infections and staff shortages among human service organizations, Federal Way needed a new option.
“The city got it and FUSION stepped in and said, ‘Let’s talk and see what we can figure out,” said Sarah Bridgeford, director of community services for the City of Federal Way. “Without them, it wouldn’t be possible.
This year’s model allows for the same amount of accommodation capacity as the city offered in 2020, Bridgeford said, although the number of people seeking shelter is higher than in the past two years.
FUSION will provide emergency weather shelter to the city if needed until the end of 2022 with a plan to return to a rally shelter with nonprofit staff, Bridgeford said. The ongoing relationship allows for adjustments to prepare for the next weather period and “make it a smoother process overall,” she said.
The city will also provide a future hotel option in reserve and in case an overflow is required, she added.
“Because we pivoted the plan so closely to the severe weather event, we had no accommodation planned,” Bridgeford said of the December snowstorm. “FUSION worked hard to develop relationships with the hotels using some contacts from other vendors to make sure there was an option to get people inside during the freezing weather. “
Dorsol Factories and FUSION Executive Director David Harrison personally provided transportation for some people who were referred to FUSION accommodation options. These car trips have created a space to ask their passengers how they ended up homeless, learn more about their backgrounds and ask them what their goals are.
Grocery gift cards were provided to people staying at the shelter and hotels, and Federal Way City Council member Jack Walsh delivered a van full of fresh produce from the Federal Way Senior Center food bank. Several employees of the FUSION family center brought a suitcase and stayed at work for five or six nights, for several shifts, Harrison added.
“It was a big wave of community support from all over to make sure people weren’t sleeping outside, that they were warm and dry and that they had something to eat,” said Harrison.
Plants, who has worked in the human services field since 2007, said the violent weather event provided an opportunity to treat people properly, especially those who may have been injured or did not feel at home. comfortable with service providers in the past.
“There is a real opportunity to show the ‘human’ part of human services,” he said. Some people in shelters have great needs and most have mental health issues, he said. It can be hard to keep the human side up when times turn negative, but that’s when it matters most, he said.
On Christmas night, Plants would set up cots and prepare the foyer of the family center for shelter guests to arrive the next day. Several families already residing at the family center came down to find out what was going on and immediately asked how they could help, he said.
Throughout the week transporting people to the shelters, Plants encountered a man who had lived homeless in the Federal Way area for about 20 years.
“He has a wealth of knowledge. He considers himself a citizen, he just doesn’t have an address, ”Plants said.
As the camp beds were filled on a freezing cold night in late December, the man was one of the last people to enter. The man wanted to make sure people he knew didn’t sleep on the streets if he didn’t have to, Plants said.
“When I say the community has come together,” Plants said, “that also includes homeless members, whom we forget can contribute just as much. ”