City council supports possible partnership with two area shelters

City staff has connected with Congregations for the Homeless and The Sophia Way.

City council unanimously passed a motion at its Aug. 31 meeting to support a possible partnership with a pair of area shelters to provide outreach services to homeless people on Mercer Island.

Councilmembers Lisa Anderl and Salim Nice led a discussion in requesting an appropriation of about $20,000 to go toward the city’s potential work with The Sophia Way and Congregations for the Homeless, and council hopes that city staff can present this passage as an agenda bill at an upcoming meeting.

Nearly seven months ago, council voted to pass a new ordinance to prohibit camping and storage of personal possessions on all Island public property. The ordinance, which passed by a 6-1 vote on Feb. 16, went into effect on March 1 and results in a misdemeanor crime. It is also a misdemeanor to camp in parks, which was already written in the previous 30-year-old ordinance.

In a previous Reporter story, Mercer Island Police Department (MIPD) Chief Ed Holmes said there was a very small number of people experiencing homelessness on the Island. Holmes will present a report to council on Sept. 21 that will include data related to the ordinance since it went into effect.

At the recent meeting, councilmembers along with Holmes revisited the ordinance.

“We thought that this would be a very positive way to do it and also not have our police resources necessarily dedicated to that,” Anderl said of the request to pair with the two nonprofits. “If we had trained individuals who could do this on kind of an ad-hoc or kind of contract-as-needed basis, since the need and the timing of the need is unpredictable.”

City Manager Jessi Bon said the funds for the possible partnership were planned to be one of the mid-biennial budget requests.

Holmes said that he, Tambi Cork of Youth and Family Services and MIPD’s homeless outreach liaison toured the two facilities and were impressed with their full wrap-around services, from shelter, to job connections, to transitional housing programs, to counseling for mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

“They can do a far more effective job than a police officer wearing a uniform, trying to explain what the shelters are about,” Holmes said.

Nice echoed Anderl’s sentiment and added that this is the right time to step forward with this request.

“Winter is coming. So as we head into a colder season, it’s obviously at the forefront of my mind to try and connect people more deeply with services,” he said.

Councilmember Craig Reynolds, who cast the sole “no” vote at the February meeting, said he wholeheartedly supports Anderl and Nice’s request and praised Holmes for the work he’s done to connect with the shelters.

“I think it’s a great positive step to contrast with some of the earlier actions we took and I’m very happy to see it,” he said.

A press release issued following the February meeting regarding the ordinance noted, “The city of Mercer Island is establishing these regulations to ensure that public property is used in a safe manner and remains accessible for its intended public purpose, such as transportation, recreation” and more.

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