After a public forum was held on the topic in late March, Lewis County has released a planned location for a night-by-night shelter, or homeless shelter, across the street from the east side of Yard Birds.
The spot is currently occupied by Washington State Employee Credit Union.
Night-by-night shelters are a form of emergency housing that open each afternoon and close in the mornings. They offer food, showers and a place to sleep.
A 2018 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined it was unconstitutional for cities to enforce laws against sleeping and camping in public places unless it had enough year-round shelter beds available for its homeless population.
“To ensure local control, it is important that we act on establishing this shelter now,” said County Commissioner Chair Lindsey Pollock. “Local jurisdictions that don’t make these plans run the risk of having the state make those plans for them, and our shelter should reflect our local values rather than having the state’s will imposed upon us.”
Commissioner Sean Swope agreed with Pollock, saying, “she said it really well.”
Swope was aware that some folks at the public forum in March were opposed to the idea of establishing a shelter, but told The Chronicle he believed most people were “starting to understand,” it was important. Others at the forum, however, were saying it was a necessity.
“‘It’s a moral imperative,’ they said,” said Lewis County Special Projects Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Eric Eisenberg, who has headed the county’s housing initiative. “But beyond that, there are these practical legal reasons.”
Lewis County currently does not have long-term space available for emergency shelter. There is a cold weather shelter that opens in the winter.
“We want to care for folks. We want to give people a place that is constructive,” Eisenberg said.
As previously reported by The Chronicle, the March public forum was a chance for county officials to suss out the public’s views on the topic in a pros and cons format, according to Lewis County Manager Erik Martin, as opposed to simply asking whether or not residents desire the shelter.
After that meeting, the county released a list of questions and answers about the project along with officials’ intent to continue the project on the forward track.
The location is in an area that lies between the downtowns of Chehalis and Centralia, which the news release said “allows for proximity to services without changing either city’s character.”
The county’s statement describes the location as easily accessible to emergency services while being located on already-established public transportation routes. The spot is also outside of the area’s floodplain.
Swope said he thought the location was ideal due to its distance from residential or business areas, and added that it will have an attached shelter for animals.
The release also says the county will soon be requesting applications for operating the shelter with the goal of beginning operations there in 2023.
“This is a way for us to do it on our terms,” Eisenberg said. “So we can have control over our own destiny.”
For more information on the Lewis County Housing Initiative, visit https://lewiscountywa.gov/offices/commissioners/housing-initiative/.
Reporter Matthew Zylstra contributed to this story.