Last summer, when the Lewis County commissioners re-approved a contract between its public health department and the Housing Resource Center of Lewis County, an additional stipulation was added to the funds that required the center, an emergency homeless shelter, to limit guests’ stays to 90 days.
“It was frightening for a lot of people. But then as we came to realize, I mean, we have support services that go in there into our shelters,” said Ruth Gutierrez, director of the center, later adding, “Now, it's a requirement that they (guests) actually attend case management meetings. And, you know, to truthfully say, it's good. It's had a good impact.”
At the time of the renewed contract, Gutierrez said, the commissioners were looking to “add more accountability” into county business service providers. In other words, for people to receive services such as emergency shelter, they needed to prove they were working toward getting themself into a better position.
In order to support the new policy, Gutierrez said the center “beefed up” various services to support guests at the shelter, which has, in turn, had the positive effect of helping more people into better housing situations. Since the beginning of the year, she said nine of the 16 individuals they’ve worked with went to “positive” housing.
The county opted at the time to wait on implementation of the new stay limit until Jan. 1 of this year, meaning the first 90-day timeframe expires on April 1.
Guests at the Housing Resource Center can apply for an extension of their stays, and those applications will be reviewed by a citizens committee being formed by Lewis County Public Health & Social Services.
During last month’s Board of Health meeting, Commissioner Sean Swope said, “I think as a board we would be happy to see someone stay in a sheltered situation for a year, for two years, as long as they're making progress. The thing that we don't want to see happen is if someone has decided that they're not going to make progress … there's someone else that is out (in the) cold.”
Public Health Director Meja Handlen said the citizens panel was “helpful due to capacity.” Adding an extra stipulation to stays may ensure housing for those who need it most, as decided by the committee, which will review applications anonymously.
For those whose applications are denied, a night-by-night shelter is available at the Salvation Army in Centralia, however, beds there are not guaranteed.
Years ago, the Housing Resource Center had a similar 90-day stay model, where its own staff reviewed applications, until it eventually became a “continuous” shelter. Gutierrez said she has yet to form an opinion about the county’s new method, but recognized its intention was to prevent bias in the decision-making process.
“We’ll see. The times have changed. Housing is not as available, but, I think wraparound services are happening a little bit (more). They’re better,” Gutierrez said. “This is the first 90 days. … I'm not going to hang my hat on it, but it looks like it might be very well a positive.”