With the COVID-19 pandemic entering its second year, homelessness has become a crisis across America. According to a new study by the Economic Roundtable, the pandemic-induced recession is expected to increase chronic homelessness nationwide by 49 percent over the next four years.
Facing this unprecedented challenge, the shelters around Sammamish have made efforts to adapt quickly to meet the surging demand for their services, including prolonging service hours, organizing food drives and procuring donations. Meanwhile, a few local residents have recognized the need and are generously supporting these shelters.
The Sophia Way is a shelter with a long history of serving single, homeless women by providing a place to stay overnight, along with basic necessities such as a shower, laundry, clothing, toiletries and meals. Their goal is to offer a supportive environment where homeless women can rest and get some help.
Before the pandemic hit, the shelter provided a night service, offering overnight beds for the homeless that was paired with weekly daytime meetings with case managers. It was open only part-time during the day.
Due to the recent increase in the homeless population, the shelter moved to provide 24 hours of service each day, according to Alisa Chatinsky, the executive director of The Sophia Way.
In the past, the organization had only one shelter – Sophia’s Place – but the surging demand and COVID-19 social distancing requirements quickly proved more space was needed. So, they opened another shelter, Helen’s Place, in August 2020. The new shelter is also open 24 hours everyday.
Due to social distancing requirements, Helen’s Place can serve only a limited number of people at any given time, with capacity at 38. Chatinsky hopes to operate the shelter at its full capacity of 48 residents when it is safe to do so. The Sophia Way is also looking at utilizing empty malls and buildings for more shelter space.
The pandemic has also impacted their volunteer support.
“We normally have hundreds of volunteers come in to volunteer at the shelter, but due to COVID, they can no longer come in,” Chatinsky said. “Most volunteers are trying to do things at home. We have volunteers who answer phone calls, help with greeting cards, help in the office, and cook meals.”
Some volunteers do come in to help with cleaning, organize closets, or work with the women on projects. Chatinsky is grateful for these volunteers, but stresses that funding has become a constant issue since the pandemic began.
“There are a lot more expenses involved during COVID,” Chatinsky said.
While The Sophia Way shelters are located in Bellevue and Kirkland, one organization has been running a homeless encampment right here in Sammamish.
Tent City 4 is located at Faith United Methodist Church, with support from the Seattle Housing and Resources Effort (SHARE) and Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL), as well as local churches in Sammamish. It is a portable, self-managed community of up to 100 homeless residents. The Meals 4 shelter service is a program organized by Tent City 4, in which people can donate hot meals and canned or non-perishable food items to its homeless residents.
Kerry Bosworth, a Sammamish resident in her forties, cooked a hot dinner for about twenty people at Tent City 4 on Jan. 17, bringing a full spread of rolled chicken, spicy green beans, rice pilaf, fresh rolls, chocolate chip cookies, milk, chocolate milk, water and seltzer. She even brought napkins, plates, utensils, serving spoons and hand sanitizer. She was inspired by her mother-in-law, who has been helping to serve dinner at Tolt Congregational Church since June.
On Feb. 3, Bosworth prepared a second meal for the residents at Tent City 4.
“It was good to see they have a well-stocked wall of provisions and I wished them a good night. Food has a way of bringing people together. For me, the reward is the act of doing the work and hoping it inspires others,” Bosworth said.