In Our Opinion: Central Whidbey location is right for homeless shelter

Since 2017, the Haven has offered a warm, safe place to sleep for people who have no other options for shelter from the storm.

A reporter who visited the emergency, overnight shelter in Oak Harbor one night met a young, single mother who had lost her job; a man with lifelong mental health problems; a domestic violence victim; a man suffering from alcohol and drug addiction.

Drawing on volunteers, donations and grants, the Whidbey Homeless Coalition runs a shelter for 30 of the island’s most vulnerable citizens in Oak Harbor churches on a rotating basis, disappearing each morning as everything is put away, only to be unpacked again at night.

The nonprofit group has the opportunity to open a permanent location in Central Whidbey to host a bigger and better overnight shelter in a long-empty Jehovah’s Witness church near the Navy’s Outlying Field. The group has a grant to purchase the property.

But months after the county’s planning department asked for public comment on the proposal, a chorus of more than 300 residents have signed a petition against the project; some of the neighbors attended a meeting to voice concerns last week.

Many of the arguments against the shelter seem to be based on a misunderstanding of what the Haven is. Several people, for example, said it was in the wrong place because of a lack of services in the area for homeless people.

While the shelter will likely have information about ways people can get help, it has never been envisioned as a place where people can get services.

Such emergency shelters are meant to be short-term solutions for people facing the dangerous, soul-crushing dilemma of having nowhere to go, not even a place to get out of the rain overnight.

Under the Haven’s modus operandi, people who need shelter are picked up at an Oak Harbor location and transported to the Haven, then brought back in the morning. A Central Whidbey location would broaden its reach.

While the “not in my backyard” attitude is understandable for those wanting to preserve a rural environment — although the site is close to a Navy airfield, a shelter for youth and a solid waste facility — residents must ultimately trust in the permitting process prescribed by law.

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