As leaders celebrated the groundbreaking of a new shelter in Kirkland last year, they spoke of ways they could utilize the space to provide services for a growing number of women and families experiencing homelessness. They envisioned people coming and going from the day center as they pleased, and the floor for families having brief moments of quiet during the day while kids were in school.
But as COVID-19 spread, the option of having up to 80 people in one space dissipated, and there was the unanticipated need for a spot where children could learn during the day.
So Kirkland Place For Families and Women will have changes that weren’t in the proposed layout, like single-bed cubicles for single women and desks in each family room for studying. But the overall purpose remains the same: a permanent, 24-hour shelter for women and families — the first of its kind on the Eastside.
The 19,000 square-foot, two-level shelter held its virtual opening ceremony last week, and one part of the shelter, Helen’s Place, which serves women, opened for move-in Saturday. Families will move into New Bethlehem Place on Sept. 1.
Helen’s Place, operated by The Sophia Way, will occupy the second floor, and New Bethlehem Place, a program of Catholic Community Services, will provide services for families with children on the first. The shelter, at Northeast 80th Street and 120th Avenue Northeast, is the result of a $10 million project funded by the state and local public agencies and private donors.
Both levels have a capacity of up to 48 people, but each will start out with fewer. Helen’s Place will have 36 to 40 women and New Bethlehem Place will have around 35, depending on the size of each family, according to shelter coordinators.
The families floor has 10 bedrooms that include donated desks from a nearby school, as well as a dining area with tables spaced 6 feet apart. Kids will get to use laptops donated by the city of Kirkland and keep their supplies in repurposed lockers.
“If we have 25 to 30 children there all day, that will be another interesting challenge, just like it is for parents,” said Bill Hallerman, of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. “You count on all those kids being out during the day and in school, and instead they’re all with us. It will be happy place, but it’s going to be a very hectic place.”
The day center will still operate for resources like meals and referrals, but the staff will limit how many women can be in the space, said Alisa Chatinsky, executive director of The Sophia Way.
Guests will have their temperatures checked on a regular basis and the shelter coordinators have been consulting with Public Health — Seattle & King County. New Bethlehem Place thought it could put multiple families into one room with a divider, for example, but opted to have only one family in each room to start.
Homelessness was a growing issue on the Eastside before the pandemic, but the effects of the economic shutdown has exacerbated the problem, said Kirkland Councilmember Amy Falcone, who cited the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women of color.
“I think it’s particularly timely we are opening a women’s shelter, since they are getting hit harder during the pandemic,” she said.
The permanent shelter for women and families with children was part of a plan finalized in 2012 by leaders in Kirkland, Redmond and Bellevue to spread services for different demographics of people facing housing insecurity. Redmond and Bellevue opened a youth shelter and a men’s shelter, respectively.
Helen’s Place will serve women from a variety of situations and backgrounds, Chatinsky said, and noted that about a third are older adults. She recalled a woman who was 76 and had fallen apart after her husband died. She lost her home and had nowhere else to go. While she was staying in a shelter, she found out she had bladder cancer. Case managers learned she was a military veteran and were able to secure her additional benefits. She’s now in a home and cancer-free.
“All this going on in your life, and COVID-19, you have all these strikes against you,” Chatinsky said. “There are a lot of stories like that.”