Cold weather was on the way, so churches in Marysville moved up the opening of the community’s first emergency shelter in an effort to beat it.
The Marysville Homelessness and Hunger Organization (H2O) was preparing to train about 60 volunteers to operate the shelter on Dec. 6, when the temperature began to drop. With just 20 mattresses, canned soup and oatmeal, Damascus Road Church opened its doors Dec. 2 to accommodate a single person looking to find a warm place to sleep.
“We opened on a shoestring on that really cold week,” said Jim Strickland, a special education teacher at Marysville Pilchuck High School and a volunteer organizer for H20.
A few days later, the church was housing 11 people overnight.
An H2O volunteer monitors the forecast every day and announces on Facebook whether the shelter will be open. Other volunteers spread the word through community meal programs and local police.
Nine churches have committed volunteers to operate the shelter every night the temperature drops below freezing. Eventually, organizers hope to expand the program.
“The dream is to have a permanent, year-round shelter,” Strickland said.
The nearest shelters to Marysville are a cold-weather shelter in Arlington and some permanent shelters in Everett. Homeless people from Marysville frequently travel to the neighboring cities, Strickland said.
Volunteers found 44 people living outdoors in Marysville in January during a one-night count, said Victor Rodriguez, pastor of Marysville Free Methodist Church. Strickland estimated there were as many as 100, based on the number of people he sees at community lunches he staffs each week.
Services in Marysville have expanded to meet the need. Two years ago, a homeless man was found dead in a greenbelt. That prompted the community to start building local services. Strickland helped start an outdoor meal program that moved indoors after it attracted between 50 and 60 people each week.
The shelter is the next step, but he’d also like to see a day center.
“It’s really hard to kick people out into the cold at 7 a.m. when they have no place to go, and it’s still 18 degrees out,” he said.