Council votes to temporarily allow homeless shelters in Edmonds

A mother and toddler sleeping in a car with the motor running. Men and women huddled behind a closed grocery store seeking warmth in freezing temperatures. Despite what many people think, Edmonds has homeless people, and the City Council voted Tuesday night to make it easier for local churches to provide them with temporary shelter.

Local church leaders and volunteers appeared before council Tuesday to request that the city relax its strict interpretation of the building code, which has prevented Edmonds churches from allowing homeless people to take temporary shelter in church buildings.

That approach, noted Rev. Barry Keating of Maplewood Presbyterian Church, implies that those who are homeless will be safer outside in cold weather “instead of taking the risk of people being inside without a sprinkler system or a monitored alarm system.”

Eileen Hanson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood, who has been working with Edmonds and Lynnwood churches through the South Snohomish Emergency Cold Weather Shelter Network, said the network has provided 200 people with beds during the past 11 days. Bill Ellis, who runs the Food Bank at the Edmonds United Methodist Church, said that the code restrictions meant that Edmonds homeless needed to be transported to Lynnwood churches instead.

“Edmonds is a prosperous community,” Ellis noted in his written remarks. “Many residents are unaware of the widespread poverty, out of sight from our pleasant neighborhoods. Low-cost housing, some hardly better than slums, is hidden in back streets or behind deceptive facades.” The number of recipients at The Edmonds Food Bank has nearly doubled in the past 18 months, and many of those are seeking help for the first time, Ellis added.

Council President D.J. Wilson said that he wanted to bring the issue before council given the recent cold-weather snap that has put local homeless people in jeopardy, adding “This is the only vote we will take that will save lives.” Before voting unanimously to support Wilson’s ordinance to allow churches to temporarily provide shelter, the council voted in favor of a resolution applauding the work of community organizations who work to end homelessness. The resolution also directed staff and the City Planning Board to review the existing ordinance covering temporary homeless shelters “to incorporate the greatest amount of flexibility” possible.

The Council will take up the issue of a permanent ordinance regarding homeless shelters in Edmonds in early 2010.

For information on other council action Tuesday night, Edmonds residents can watch the proceedings rebroadcast daily on Comcast channel 21 and Verizon channel 39 at 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m.

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