Where is the love?
Unconventional shelter provider, Love Overwhelming, struggles to find space for hygiene center in Kelso
Homeless advocates in Cowlitz County trying to establish a low-barrier shelter and hygiene center in Longview or Kelso are facing some barriers themselves.
Organizers of a program called Love Overwhelming, which shelters about 30 people a night at rotating locations, are seeking a permanent location for an overnight shelter and hygiene center to provide shower and laundry facilities to people who are homeless.
Shelters often require that clients be sober, but Love Overwhelming, imposes no such restrictions. Love Overwhelming allows people to come into the shelter drunk or high but does not allow drug use or drinking at the shelter.
The program’s relative tolerance has made it challenging for the organization to find a permanent home, said Executive Director Chuck Hendrickson. The group wants to open a facility by April, but he has been looking for space since last year, and so far landlords have declined to rent to them, he said. Hendrickson hopes to find a building in Longview or Kelso between 6,000 and 12,000 square feet with electricity and water.
“It’s been a hard sell, unfortunately,” said Hendrickson.
Love Overwhelming is also facing some red tape. On Jan. 21, the city of Kelso established an emergency six-month moratorium on any business applications for low-barrier shelters or hygiene centers while it revises the city code to determine where and how such programs can operate.
For its part, Kelso city officials seem amenable to the shelter idea.
“There’s no attempt here to try and bar the facilities from being located in Kelso or put such conditions in place that it zones them out,” said Kelso City Manager Steve Taylor.
Taylor said the city is simply trying to come up with relevant laws because at present, city code does not mention low-barrier shelters or rest stops.
If Love Overwhelming applied for a permit to open a facility Kelso, they would have to get a special-use permit. Instead, the city council will spend the next three or four months drafting an ordinance to determine what kind of neighborhoods — for example,
business, residential or industrial-zoned neighborhood — can host a shelter.
Hendrickson said the moratorium won’t hinder Love Overwhelming’s efforts.
“It doesn’t take [Kelso] out of the picture, but it puts one barrier up, which is unfortunate,” he said.
Despite having no permanent location, Love Overwhelming still provides laundry services. Staff members collect laundry from clients and wash them at nearby self-service laundry businesses.
The program has received more than $350,000 in grants from the county, churches and private donors to open a permanent facility, purchase washing machines and dryers and establish an intake and assessment system.
Volunteers in January 2013 found 245 homeless people living unsheltered in Cowlitz County, a community of about 100,000 people about 130 miles south of Seattle.