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Eastside’s Congregations for the Homeless gets boost from developer

Kevin Wallace stands outside of Congregations For the Homeless in Bellevue. (Photo by: Natalie Wallace, Wallace Creative Media)

One of the largest homeless shelters on the Eastside is in line to get a permanent home, but the new location  for Congregations for the Homeless won’t be ready for at least another three years.

While the new home is in its planning stages for 13620 SE Eastgate Way, about 100 men are staying at a temporary location on City of Bellevue property. Seemingly a good solution after Sound Transit uprooted CFH to make way for its maintenance facility, the fire department has concluded that the building isn’t safe to house people overnight between the months of May and October. The building isn’t equipped with the proper sprinkler system and it needs a new water line.

“Last year on April 30, CFH was serving 150 men in that facility,” said Kevin Wallace of Wallace Properties. “On May 1, they had to put a note on the door that said they were closed. A hundred men were turned out with no plan for where they were supposed to go.”

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Wallace, a developer and former Bellevue City council member, saw a problem and is organizing a team to develop a solution for CFH’s temporary home.

Since Bellevue doesn’t allow camping on sidewalks or public parks, tent cities, nor long-term parking, Wallace knew these 150 men had nowhere to legally sleep. And the same scenario is about to repeat this year.

Wallace told the city that he would work with the shelter and get the sprinkler system fixed for a lot cheaper and quicker.

“Now we’re out raising money to make that happen and to fund it privately,” Wallace said.

The Bellevue City Council granted temporary use of the building to CFH during its meeting Monday night, and Wallace said the permit process can move forward. The city has been cooperative and Wallace has no doubt they’ll be able to make progress.

“Having someone in the nonprofit world with his connections and passion and skill set has really allowed us to move forward …” said David Bowling, director of the shelter.

Congregations for the Homeless

Congregations for the Homeless first opened its doors in 1993 as an agency of the Eastside Interfaith Social Concerns Council serving. It served 30 single men with a warm place to sleep and hot meals at the time. Since then, they’ve opened a day center in downtown Bellevue and a subsidized housing program.

Bowling estimates about 400-500 people are in shelters any given night on the Eastside. Another 400-500 people are sleeping on couches or in cars.

“Our numbers have been increasing year-over-year for several years,” Bowling said. “Homelessness has been around forever, but I started in 2005 and the numbers have increased drastically since I started doing this work.”

Bowling added that he’s humbled and excited by the work that Wallace is doing.

Wallace said his goal is to get the building improvements completed before the May 1 deadline, but they’re working with the city on a contingency plan in case they run into a construction setback.

“So that this time there’s a plan where the men are able to go … or we have an extension worked out with the fire department,” he said.

It’s not just Wallace who is rolling up his sleeves. He has reached out to his network for help.

“Mulvanny G2 Architecture has done all the architectural plans for free, DCI is the civil engineer – same thing, and Rafn Construction has come in and done the cost estimating and put together plans for the construction work – also at no cost,” Wallace explained. “Everyone has said ‘Yes we’ll help. Yes we’ll help for free and what more can we do.’”

He said they’re asking for volunteers to help out with things like painting.

“It really is a community problem and we all need to recognize that it exists and do what we can to help fix it,” Wallace said.

A growing community need

Wallace said, historically, Congregations for the Homeless was a winter-only shelter. With the recent growth in homeless populations on the Eastside, it’s obvious the need exists for year-round operations.

He said he appreciates that communities on the Eastside have elected to enforce laws prohibiting long-term parking and camping on sidewalks. But he believes it’s then up to the entire community to develop a strategy to help the homeless. He worries that merely placing the responsibility on nonprofits as a solution won’t be enough.

“No one is asking if it’s actually sufficient,” he said.

Wallace’s hope is that cities on the Eastside develop a homeless strategy and then share that with King County and Seattle for an improved regional approach.

“To me, it’s a solvable problem,” he said. “It’s an important problem to solve. We have a lot of work to do, but I think it’s something we can be successful at, make a difference, and show not just the Puget Sound region but the whole country how the homeless should be served and how to create a solution to this problem.”

Wallace encourages anyone who wants to help CFH to check out the shelter’s website for more information, but more importantly, to be willing to volunteer ideas and time to finding a solution.

MyNorthwest is spotlighting local businesses that are making a difference in the lives of people who are experiencing homelessness. If you know of a business that you think is creating solutions, please email us at [email protected] with details.

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