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Officials abandon efforts to establish homeless shelter on Gowe Street
Facing strong opposition from business and community leaders, the Kent Homelessness Partnership Effort (KentHOPE) and Seattle's Union Gospel Mission officials have aborted efforts to establish a shelter on East Gowe Street.
Concerned about a growing problem in the city, KentHOPE and the Union Gospel Mission took steps to convert a vacant furniture store into a day center/shelter for the homeless.
But the pursuit met considerable resistance from business and community leaders, notably the Kent Chamber of Commerce and Kent Downtown Partnership (KDP).
"It became really evident that the chamber of commerce wasn't really supportive of the idea," said Paul LaRose, emergency services administrator for Seattle's Union Gospel Mission who oversees satellite shelters. "We want to work with a community supportive of (the idea). We just don't want to do it on our own. We want to do it with people around us ... with a community that will support us and work with us on a suitable location."
LaRose said his organization was in the process of doing a feasibility study and contemplating a lease-to-buy option with the building's owner. But after meeting with downtown groups, LaRose and the mission decided to forgo the project.
Sides were willing to openly discuss the site. The location, however, remained a problem for the downtown community.
"We want an outcome that will help our homeless without hindering our businesses," said Barbara Smith, KDP executive director, in a statement.
It is the latest setback for the Union Gospel Mission, KentHOPE and partners and their bid to open a shelter. The groups proposed to transform a two-story, 5,700-square-foot publicly owned building on East Meeker Street into a day center and overnight homeless shelter last year.
A majority of downtown business owners voiced strong opposition to the idea, saying a shelter would have a negative impact on the area.
Based on feedback from focus groups examining the idea of a proposed shelter, Kent city officials last April decided not to proceed with a request to use the former city Resource Center at 315 E. Meeker St. for any specified use.
The Union Gospel Mission and KentHOPE indicated they would finance the shelter through fundraising efforts by tapping into its network of donors, churches and foundations.
Undaunted, the pro-shelter group plans to pursue another location. No specific spots have been identified at this time, LaRose said.
KentHOPE and the Union Gospel Mission have joined efforts to find solutions to reduce homelessness. They vow to do just that, with cooperation and support from the city.
"We intend to work promptly to respond to the need for a 24-hour shelter in our community as recommended by Kent's Homeless Task Force," said Pat Gray, chairperson of KentHOPE. "However, we are actively seeking to work with businesses and the city of Kent to collaborate on issues and solutions that work for everyone in the Kent community. We look forward to actions that will make a positive difference in the lives of homeless people in Kent that provide pathways out of homelessness."
Gray said KentHOPE and the mission highly value positive relationships with businesses, city and the community in general.
While it is a daunting challenge to open a shelter, negotiating parties are encouraged by the positive channel of communication.
Groups hope to build "impactful relationships that will tackle this tough project," LaRose said. "It's not easy to create a shelter. There's a lot of (work) that goes into it. I am really encouraged as to what's going on right now.
"It's a big deal. ... We feel like the more partners we have ... the more success we are going to have long term."
In addition to addressing specific issues raised by the community, Gray said the organizations will coordinate and participate in community meetings, offer seminars on homelessness, welcome additional partners/supporters, and continue to search for alternate locations for a shelter.
KentHOPE (kenthope.org) is a partnership in Kent of faith-based groups, Seattle's Union Gospel Mission, Valley Cities, businesses, local community service agencies and concerned individuals.