Neighbors express concerns over proposed shelter near Coupeville

Neighbors shared their comments, concerns and criticism of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition’s proposed overnight emergency shelter on Morris Road near Coupeville in a meeting last Thursday.

The shelter has been in the throes of controversy for months. At least 325 people have signed a petition against him.

It was time for Executive Director Jonathan Kline to share more about the refuge’s vision and its proposed location. More than 50 people participated in a Zoom call with coalition leaders.

Kline explained how the Whidbey Homeless Coalition worked to create their own emergency shelter after operating The Haven from a rotating list of three Oak Harbor churches in recent years.

Guests will be bused to the Morris Road shelter from Oak Harbor or other locations, he explained. They will be entitled to two smoke breaks during the night, but otherwise will stay indoors until the morning when they will be taken back by bus to the place where they were picked up.

A few people asked during the meeting what would happen if a guest left in the middle of the night.

Kline said it was rare for people to leave at other coalition shelters, but if that happened, staff would notify the sheriff’s office that the person had left.

Several people wondered why the shelter would be located in downtown Whidbey instead of Oak Harbor.

Kline has already addressed these concerns and highlighted the fact that many services for homeless people can be found in Coupeville.

“The single point of entry to enter any island-wide housing program is at Coupeville,” Kline said at the meeting. “The hospital is in Coupeville, Sunrise Services is in Coupeville, the housing authority is in Coupeville, the mental health services for the homeless are based in Coupeville, so there are a lot of people who come to Coupeville. What they do is they come in, they get their services, and then they go about their business. ”

Kline said he does not anticipate a sharp increase in the number of homeless people coming to town, but if there is, it would be because they are connected to the programs.

“And I personally think that’s a good thing,” he said.

One of the recurring criticisms that people shared over the past months was the feeling that they were unable to comment on the proposal because there had been no public meeting on it.

“It’s like, wow, this thing is already moving like a runaway train and we don’t have a say,” William Fritsch said at the meeting. “Again – the cause is big, I’m just wondering about this solution.”

Kline said the group had not been forced to hold a public meeting as part of its work so far. The organization had to go through a zoning change process because Island County did not have bylaws for a homeless shelter outside the city limits on the books. The coalition responded to over 200 community questions and concerns as part of this process.

“This is the community meeting they accuse us of not having,” he said during a tour of the building.

The old church still looks a lot like a church. It will need some renovations, Kline said. The sanctuary will be transformed into a bedroom with bunk beds that can accommodate 30 people. The Haven typically has 16 to 20 guests, Kline said.

There are two small rooms behind the stage in the shrine which could be more private rooms for people who may be sick or just need a little more privacy.

A supply cupboard will be transformed into a laundry room. The bathrooms will need updating to add toilets and showers. Two small rooms outside the sanctuary will be transformed into offices.

Kline noted that the building is fairly well insulated from road noise as well as from aircraft noise from the nearby Coupeville Perimeter Field, another concern shared at Thursday’s meeting.

“You can still hear them for sure, but it’s not crazy,” Kline said.

Outside, neighbors may notice landscaping work and the construction of a larger pumping station. The property is on a septic tank and has a well, and a larger pump station will be needed to increase usage.

Kline also raised concerns that the emergency shelter could become a permanent shelter or expand in some other way. He highlighted other organizations on the island that deal with issues such as food assistance, mental health, vocational training and others.

“We see no reason to reinvent this wheel,” he said.

If a person were to get ready for stable housing, then they could be referred to the coalition’s Langley shelter, called House of Hope, Kline explained.

Whidbey Homeless Coalition leaders Katie Watkins and Jonathan Kline stand outside the organization’s proposed shelter on Morris Road outside Coupeville. Photo by Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News-Times

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About Ethel Nester

Ethel Nester

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