The Haven shelter eyes permanent home near Coupeville
— Created May 19, 2021 by Kacie Jo Voeller
By Kacie Jo Voeller
The Haven, a night-to-night shelter for the homeless, is hoping to turn a former Jehovah’s Witness facility on Morris Road near Coupeville into its permanent home. The Haven, which is run by the Whidbey Homeless Coalition, has operated as a pop-up shelter since its creation, and has been housed in rotation by three different Oak Harbor churches.
Jonathan Kline, executive director of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition, said having a permanent shelter will allow the organization to better serve the guests using its services.
“Since 2017, we have been kind of operating as a pop-up shelter, so that means that we did not have any space of our own,” he said. “So we had to set up and tear down every single day and then put everything back into storage and then the next night get everything back out. Having a permanent home will really allow us to be much more intentional with the funding that we do have. We will not have to spend as much time, energy and money setting up and tearing down every single night. We will be able to have more of a sense of security for our guests.”
Kline said the Haven focuses more on providing emergency and short-term services for a variety of situations, from those waiting for a lease to start to those experiencing displacement due to an event such as a fire. Kline says the Haven also aims to help connect those who need additional resources to various community programs for necessary assistance.
“We see a wide variety of folks but it is much more an emergency kind of thing,” he said.
“We look at it mostly as emergency relief, recovery and then development. The Haven is very much (for when) you are in a sense of emergency or some kind of trauma has happened and we are going to get you out of the elements.”
Kline said the Haven has been looking for a permanent location since its start, and applied for funds to help purchase the new building after becoming aware of a grant from the Department of Commerce to help establish and/or expand an emergency shelter. One of the challenges to eventually bringing the Haven to Coupeville was establishing the proper zoning and obtaining appropriate permits. He said there was not a precedent for an emergency shelter in a rural area in Island County, and the organization has undergone a multi-month process of rezoning through the Zoning Code Interpretation (ZCI), which was eventually approved. Upon official rezoning, funds from the Department of Commerce were also approved.
“It was a long process but it is a great process,” he said. “I am glad that now in Island County we have something in the books that says that an emergency homeless shelter can exist in a rural area. Rural homelessness looks a lot different than it does in Seattle or Tacoma but it is very much here, and it is a great thing that we are able to work toward getting that officially recognized in the county.”
Kline said the organization has also been working to address the different thoughts from community members on the shelter and its proposed location in Coupeville.
“I think that we have some folks that are a little unsure of what the program is and the footprint or the imprint on a community,” he said.
Kline said the Whidbey Homeless Coalition hopes to offer small group tours of the space and potentially virtual open houses in the future to help community members visualize how the building will be utilized and answer questions about planned operations.
“We are excited about what is to come,” he said.
On May 6, the Whidbey Homeless Coalition held a virtual public meeting to address questions and comments from community members. Kline said those present brought a number of talking points to the meeting, including concerns about the shelter’s location in a more rural area. Kline said the new location would provide close proximity to other services, including the hospital and the county’s housing services. Kline said another meeting will most likely take place in the future, with hopes of continuing constructive and thoughtful dialogue between area residents and the organization.
“We had a topic that people definitely have some very strong opinions on but I think all in all it was a good start to a conversation that hopefully we plan on continuing,” he said.
Another meeting was held earlier in the year by concerned community members with reservations about the shelter’s proposed location March 19 at the Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association. At the time of press, Whidbey Weekly was not able to obtain a comment from a representative at the meeting.
Fran Stevens, a volunteer for the Haven, said she has worked with the Haven from its beginnings and hopes community members are able to have their questions about the shelter answered. Stevens said the Haven acts as an emergency shelter only for the night — it is not an all-day program, and those who come to the shelter are registered at a specific location. Stevens said she felt hosting the Haven has been a positive experience for the churches and surrounding community.
“I really do hope and pray that people’s fears can be alleviated,” she said. “I know fears are real and I appreciate that, but the last four years of my involvement with the Haven, when and if there is an issue, it is always addressed.”
Stevens said she was excited about the possibility of offering a permanent location and greater continuity for those visiting the Haven.
“I will miss having them (the guests) in our churches, I think a lot of people will, but I think it is so important that they have a permanent shelter and that has been the goal for the last four years, to find a permanent shelter,” she said. “And it has taken a while, we have looked and searched and we feel that this is a blessing to have found this place and I can only hope and pray that the community of where it will be will see the good that this is.”
Stevens said she looks forward to seeing the Haven hopefully establish a permanent presence in Coupeville.
“For me the Haven has been a real blessing to be a part of,” she said. “To know that we are helping people to try and find a permanent home, unfortunately that does not happen for everybody, but it has happened for several of our guests and it is always good because part of the goal is to try and keep homelessness to a minimum and help as many as we can.”
For more information about the Whidbey Homeless Coalition, visit whidbeyhomeless.org.