A stuffed animal, a tiger, sat atop it, while its “friend,” a moose, was feet away in the dirt.
The shopping cart, toys, clothes and garbage strewn about are the first signs of a homeless encampment currently tucked in the woods to the east of the Kitts Corner Apartments in Federal Way. Further in sits a make-shift tent made of pieced-together tarps, more shopping carts, a bike and a stroller.
Homeless camps like this are not uncommon for homeless residents in Federal Way.
“We have families sleeping in tents when it’s really cold and no place to send them,” Councilwoman Susan Honda said, Jan. 9.
At the appointment of Mayor Jim Ferrell, Honda and Sharry Edwards, a Group Health nurse, will serve as co-chairs of the city’s new Homeless Mothers and Children Initiative — a task force dedicated to connecting the many homeless service organizations in Federal Way together and finding ways to fill the gaps of need – such as providing meals on Sundays. In conjunction, the task force has partnered with New Hope Christian Fellowship to provide shelter to 35 homeless mothers and children.
“I know there is a huge need for it in Federal Way,” said Angela Greco, the director of outreach for New Hope Christian Fellowship, of the shelter. “I can tell you that, just within the last six months, since they bulldozed The Jungle in Seattle, we are seeing the number we are serving rise.”
New Hope, 31411 Sixth Avenue S. in Federal Way, currently provides shelter for up to 35 individuals and couples. Doors open at 7 p.m. and close by 8 a.m.
In the short-term, the city will also make minor improvements to Brooklake Community Center, which will be used for overflow or if New Hope cannot open. Catholic and Community Services will operate Brooklake if it is needed.
Edwards, a longtime volunteer with the Federal Way Community Caregiving Network, said, throughout the last two years, she and Honda identified gaps in services for the homeless in Federal Way, specifically serving children.
“We learned we have over 300 homeless children in Federal Way Public Schools,” Edwards said.
Edwards said she is grateful for the opportunity to work on the initiative and looks forward to working with Honda, who “has good knowledge of this critical need.”
“As I’ve said before, it’s not our place to judge how a person or a family has become homeless,” she said in a press release issued this week. “What matters is that, in this moment and time, these people are in need of help.”
Honda said she attended a workshop in Tukwila with city staff and police last spring. During that workshop, a police officer came up with the idea to have a coalition of all the many homeless advocacy groups, which include Reach Out, the Federal Way Community Caregiving Network, FUSION and more.
While Reach Out provides shelter to individual men and women separately, children, who cannot be taken from their parents, are short-changed. In an interview process, Reach Out determine’s people’s needs, and those in need of shelter are served on a first come, first served basis. The shelter at New Hope will be also be on a first-come, first-served basis.
Honda said the task force will likely need some kind of funding moving forward, but, because the initiative is so new, it’s unknown how much that will be and whether it will come from grants or city money. Greco said New Hope is always looking for monetary donations to pay for utilities, gift cards or food, as it tries to give out breakfast some mornings.
“It’s desperately needed, not just in Federal Way, but in King County as a whole,” Greco said of help for homeless people. “There are so few places that will take families in. They split families up.”
Greco said if a boy is 13 years old, he typically is referred to a men’s shelter, instead of staying with his family.
“They’re already in a tender position,” she said. “Places like ours are few and far between, and we desperately need more of them.”
In addition to providing shelter, New Hope offers outreach from 9 a.m. until about noon, sometimes later depending on the services provided, every Tuesday and Wednesday. A free lunch is offered at 11 a.m. and providers, such as the Multi-Service Center and the King County Mobile, Medical and Dental Van help those in need.