Judy Thorpe (from left), Tracy Weissel, Sarah Westcott and Michael Thorpe listen to the audience during a community meeting at the Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association in Coupeville on March 19. About 40 people came to the meeting to discuss their concerns about the Whidbey Homeless Coalition’s proposed emergency overnight shelter on Morris Road in the former Jehovah’s Witness building. (Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News-Times)

Judy Thorpe (from left), Tracy Weissel, Sarah Westcott and Michael Thorpe listen to the audience during a community meeting at the Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association in Coupeville on March 19. About 40 people came to the meeting to discuss their concerns about the Whidbey Homeless Coalition’s proposed emergency overnight shelter on Morris Road in the former Jehovah’s Witness building. (Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News-Times)

325 people sign petition opposing new shelter near Coupeville

Many expressed concerns over the location, lack of nearby services and safety issues.

More than 300 people signed a petition against Whidbey Homeless Coalition’s proposed emergency overnight shelter at the former Jehovah’s Witness building on Morris Road near Coupeville.

Those uneasy about the proposed shelter are concerned about its location, lack of nearby services and safety issues for both neighbors and people sleeping there.

Whidbey Homeless Coalition Executive Director Jonathan Kline said the proposed shelter is in a prime location and that the organization has a good relationship with the community because of its success with its existing shelters.

Forty people gathered Thursday at the Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association to voice their concerns about the shelter.

Judy Thorpe and her husband, both Coupeville residents, organized the meeting. Thorpe said she has 40 years of experience working with people with behavioral and mental health issues and those struggling with housing.

She is critical of the proposed location.

“It’s not that we don’t want to help the homeless — we do, we care,” Judy Thorpe said. “But putting them out in a residential area without services is not the answer.”

She said she’d like to see the shelter in a place closer to services such as counseling, employment training, education and other resources more easily found off-island.

She said she gathered 325 signatures on her petition against the shelter and estimated she would have 400 by the end of this week.

“These are the people that are saying they don’t agree with having this homeless shelter on an island where there’s limited resources for the people. The people really don’t feel like isolating in a rural area is good for them,” she said of the petition.

Al Lindell, a Coupeville resident, also attended the meeting and signed the petition. He also said he feels like the location is not a good fit for the proposed shelter.

“They’re not creating any opportunities for them,” Lindell said, citing a lack of jobs in the area.

He also questioned county commissioners’ recent approval of a $415,000 state grant for the Whidbey Homeless Coalition’s purchase of the building.

“I think that money could have been used for something better,” he said.

He said he felt people were not given enough opportunity to comment on the coalition’s proposal.

“It just seems like the word really hasn’t gotten out for people to provide any input,” he said.

Kline said there are misconceptions about the proposed shelter. He noted he was not invited to the recent meeting but knew about the petition.

He described the shelter as a permanent version of the Haven, a pop-up emergency shelter that rotates between Oak Harbor churches and is not a place where people receive services. Staff and volunteers can connect people with services elsewhere, he said, and might open doors for caseworkers to meet with their clients on a case-by-case basis.

The organization has already responded to more than 200 concerns during the permitting process, he said.

The top three comments, based on how many times the issue was raised, were a preference for the shelter to be located in Oak Harbor, worry over people leaving the shelter and concern about safety issues.

They echoed statements voiced at the recent meeting.

In response to criticism over the location, Kline said the former Jehovah’s Witness building sat empty for more than a year, and “the price was right.”

He disagreed that the site was far away from services people staying there may need.

“It’s very near to most of the services that our guests need to access, which are almost entirely all in Coupeville,” Kline said, adding that county caseworkers, the hospital and a substance abuse recovery program were all in the town.

“I get that people maybe think that Oak Harbor is this large city for Island County and that they’re where the services are clustered, but it’s not the case as far as social services go,” he said.

In response to fears that people would leave the building, Kline explained that guests will be able to leave the shelter only for two smoke breaks at night, aside from checking in and out each evening and morning. After people check out, drivers will transport them to where they were picked up, he added.

“Everything is pretty supervised, pretty calm.

“Most nights at the Haven guests are just grabbing a bite to eat and going to bed,” he said, adding that the doors are locked both for the safety of the guests and people nearby.

There will also be at least one staff person supervising those staying at the shelter at all times.

Another concern was that the building does not have enough bathrooms or showers for people to use. Kline noted that current Haven spaces don’t have showers either, but that the new building will likely go through some renovations.

He said there will be a public hearing later as the organization gets further into the permitting process to talk with the community.

“I would hope that after folks ask some questions and maybe hear us out, that we’ll be able to ease some of those concerns,” he said.

This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.

Talk to us

More in Local News

WSDOT workers open up the Smokey Point Rest Area on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free coffee will be back soon at Smokey Point rest areas

Everett’s Silver Lake rest area for southbound I-5 drivers remains closed while WSDOT works on the facility.

The Everett Music Initiative team, (from left) Ryan Crowther, Nate Feaster and Michael Hannon. (Everett Music Initiative)
As Everett Music Initiative turns 10, downtown no longer a ‘ghost town’

The group will celebrate its birthday Thursday night with a party to kick off the eighth Fisherman’s Village Music Fest.

Pro skateboarding competition coming to Everett in August

Street League Skateboarding’s championship tour will be at Angel of the Winds arena for two days.

Drivers heading north on Interstate 5 will take a detour from Highway 104 to 220th Street SW and back to I-5 this weekend during nightly lane closures for Sound Transit light rail work. (Sound Transit)
Light rail work closing I-5 North lanes nightly this weekend

Crews need to close northbound lanes between 220th Street SW and Highway 104. Drivers have two detour options.

A car makes its way through a winding unpaved section of the Mountain Loop Highway 15 miles outside of Darrington.
14-mile scenic stretch of Mountain Loop Highway opens early

The highway between Granite Falls and Darrington reopened to traffic on Friday due to good weather.

A Port Angeles police officer cordons off an empty lot in Sequim on Thursday as law enforcement officials investigate an incident in the area. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
Man arrested in Sequim, connected to homicide, has Snohomish County ties

A dead woman was found in Bret Allen Kenney’s home, police say. He previously attacked Snohomish County Jail guards.

Top row (L-R): Rep. Suzan Del Bene, Sen. Keith Wagoner, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, Rep. Rick Larsen. Center (L-R): Tamborine Borrelli, Bob Hagglund. Bottom (L-R): Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, Rep. Kim Schrier, Mark Miloscia, Sen. Patty Murray.
As filing ends, campaigning shifts into a higher gear

The ballot will feature intraparty battles, election deniers and 16 challengers to a longtime U.S. senator.

Wade Brickman works through a call with trainer Lars Coleman Friday afternoon at SNO911 in Everett, Washington on May 20, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
‘Difference between life and death’: New 911 tech saves vital seconds

Snohomish County is the first in the nation to get the new technology, which reduces delays on emergency calls.

Cars drive through the intersection of Highway 9 and South Lake Stevens Road on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022 in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 9 to close this weekend in south Lake Stevens

Detours take drivers around the closure between 20th Street SE and 32nd Street SE from Friday night to Monday morning.

Most Read