A trip to the Edmonds cold-weather shelter | Guest View
I recently had the opportunity to be at the We All Belong cold weather, low-barrier shelter at the Edmonds Senior Center on a very chilly 27-degree night, where 36 people had checked in for the night. There were about seven women; the rest were men – their ages appeared to be from the 20s to the 60s.
The shelter is operated by We All Belong, which has various locations around south Snohomish County, but whose main location is at the Senior Center.
This year, it opened Nov. 15 and will stay open through April 1, whenever the temperature is predicted to fall to 34 degrees or lower. It opens around 7 p.m. and stays open until about 7 the next morning.
It’s staffed solely by volunteers from area churches, who made a wonderful dinner of meatloaf, potatoes, gravy, vegetables and dessert. All were welcomed to eat as much as they wished – some had second and third helpings. While some were eating dinner, I spoke with some of the guests.
The main question I asked: How did they become homeless? Most were very willing to tell me their stories.
One man told me about his breakup and divorce from his wife. She stayed in their apartment in Edmonds, and he had nowhere to go. Years of past drug abuse had burnt bridges with family members, so he had nowhere to turn. When he lost his home, he lost his fast-food job because he couldn't wash his clothes or take daily showers.
One of the women I spoke with was homeless, due to alcohol abuse. She was with her boyfriend, who was in the next room. She indicated they both couldn't hold down jobs and had worn out their welcomes in most friends and families’ homes. So they beg for money during the day for food and sleep in shelters and outside at night.
A disabled man peaked my curiosity, as it must really be a challenge to be homeless and have a physical disability. It turns out he has another homeless friend who helps him ambulate his challenging world.
I ran into a man who finds it "emotionally freeing" to be homeless. He said he doesn't mind being homeless.
One of the women said she looked forward to staying at the Edmonds shelter because men and woman are separated for sleeping, and it's really the only place she feels safe enough to close her eyes and sleep soundly.
One man told me he really wasn't homeless. He lives in his car, parked in the lot.
All have their own story. People are willing to talk if people are willing to listen. It seemed to me that many were pleased to have others to talk to. They were joyful to be inside, safe, warm and with full stomachs.
Mark Waldin and many compassionate volunteers take care of these people, lending an ear and a helping hand without judgment. I am in awe of the work they do, some for many years.
Soon, dinner was over and guests started to lie down on mats provided around the edge of the room. I took my cue and thought it would be best to leave, as I felt like I wasn't giving them the privacy they deserved.
I walked out to my car, got inside and sat on my heated driver’s seat and turned the heater on full blast. I looked down and, according to my car signal on the dashboard, it was 27 degrees outside. Where would these people go if it was 35 degrees and the shelter wasn’t open? What would these people do if we had no emergency shelter? I thought of my nice, cozy warm house and warm bed with sheets, blankets and a comforter. How privileged I was to not be cold on this cold night. How I could walk into my kitchen and fix a warm meal.
Who are we as a society if we can't take care of those less fortunate than us?
Please, if you can donate volunteer time, money or necessary items, go to weallbelong.org to see how you can help.
Adrienne Fraley-Monillas is on the Edmonds City Council.
The shelter network is open to families, women and men. Evening and morning meals will be provided. Those in need of overnight sheltering should meet at Lynnwood City Hall, 19100 44th Ave W, no later than 7 p,m. Individuals will be shuttled to a local shelter. A second meeting location is located at the bus stop near Trader Joe's parking lot on Highway 99 and 196th Street SW. Individuals should be here no later than 7:05 p.m. For more information on the South Snohomish County Emergency Shelter Network, contact Mark Waldin at 425-419-7938.