Homelessness: Whidbey Island can do better

Editor,

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, Sno-Isle Libraries sponsored a discussion on “Homelessness Here” as part of their Issues that Matter series. Representatives from Island County Housing Support Center, Whidbey Homeless Coalition, Ryan’s House for Youth and Spin Café were the panelists. At the end we had a few minutes for questions. A woman in the audience asked why a church on North Whidbey hasn’t opened their doors as a shelter yet. Good question.

In Oak Harbor we’ve seen homeless persons on our streets for some time and the situation looks like it is getting worse. Just recently, though, we began to see some hard facts about homelessness from the Island County Housing Support Center, which opened its doors last August. From Aug. 8 through Dec. 31, 2016, the support center registered 285 households — a household is defined as a family, two adults that live together, or a single adult. Of the 285 households, the county was able to find housing for eight (yes, that is just eight households) and referred 102 to other supportive services such as the Opportunity Council. That leaves 175 households on the county’s “housing interest list” of which 63 are households with children.

We have a crisis on Whidbey. In spite of apathy, a not-in-my-backyard attitude, and those who think we are attracting the homeless with services, Whidbey Homeless Coalition came forward with a plan, The Haven. Part of that plan is asking local churches in Oak Harbor (as in Langley) to open their doors as temporary shelters. We are hoping this will happen soon, but it isn’t enough.

Please plan to attend the next Community Conversation on Homelessness on Feb. 7, 1 p.m. at the Oak Harbor First United Methodist Church. If you don’t have the time, you can donate money to the volunteer group, Whidbey Homeless Coalition, the non-profit organization working as fast and as effectively as they can to help North Whidbey open a shelter. Yes, it is only a Band-Aid to the larger issue of why we have homelessness, but I know we, as a community, can do better than this.

MARY WILLIFORD

Oak Harbor

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