Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw has a plan to shelter 1,000 homeless Seattleites: She wants religious institutions and nonprofits to offer them hospitality. She said her plan will cost $5 million, and it can be implemented in 2015.
“I want to do it now,” said Bagshaw in her City Hall office. “This is my recommendation for this budget.”
The city council is currently considering Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed $2 billion budget for 2015-16.
Bagshaw’s plan models itself on an existing city program, Road to Housing. Started in 2012, Road to Housing connects people living in their cars with churches. The car campers can park their vehicles overnight in church parking lots and use the churches’ bathrooms and sometimes their kitchens. After two-and-a-half years in operation, Road to Housing serves 15 car campers at five churches.
Bagshaw said she would not ask institutions to set up formal homeless shelters, but instead to host one to five people. They would include car campers and people currently living outside. The people might sleep in a fellowship hall, meeting room or a church basement. It would be a radical change in how city government tries to shelter the homeless.
“We’ll have money available,” said Bagshaw, “if [the churches and nonprofits] would be willing to take people onto their properties.”
Councilmember Mike O’Brien established Road to Housing to provide safe spaces for people living in vehicles. “We should be doing more for the homeless,” he said. “Shelter is always a priority.”
O’Brien said his experience with the program has taught him it’s difficult to get city bureaucrats to work with church congregations. “One of the biggest challenges Road to Housing has faced is having the capacity to work with churches,” he said. “When I look at the model Councilmember Bagshaw has roughed out, that’s 200 churches. That’s a lot of churches. And it’s one thing to have folks in a parking lot; it’s another to have them inside the church.”
O’Brien expressed pessimism about Bagshaw’s budget request. “Five million dollars is probably unrealistic in this budget cycle,” he said.
Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church was the first church to participate in Road to Home, said senior pastor Katherine Hawks, who now heads the church’s program. She said she loves it, although she admits it was hard to set up. “It took about a year,” she said.
Hawks gave credit to retired pastor Steve Grumm for negotiating with the church’s congregation, city government and neighbors. “Part of what Our Redeemer’s had to offer was Steve. Someone who had the time and patience,” she said.
Located in Ballard, the church has five parking spaces for car campers. Hawks said, “If it’s cold, people can stay in the fellowship hall.”
She voiced enthusiasm about Bagshaw’s idea to create a much larger program on the Road-to-Home model.
“Go for it!” she said. “I’d say to congregations, ‘This is a gift for you. You are going to meet Christ in the interactions you have.’”