Cold fills county shelters

Paul Durry’s winter jacket wasn’t enough to block out the cold during the nights he slept on Everett benches. The chilly air bit at his bare hands and seeped through his clothes.

"All I had was a jacket and pants. Some night’s I’d get so cold I couldn’t sleep," said Durry, who lived on the street for two weeks in September.

"I’m just glad I’m not out there now, it’s so cold. I feel for the guys who are," he said.

Freezing weather has filled Snohomish County’s homeless shelters, which have been forced to turn away dozens of people seeking a warm place to stay.

"There are people living out there in their cars freezing. It’s really, really hard to tell them that our shelter is full," said Janet Pope, executive director of the Interfaith Association of Snohomish County.

"I can hardly stand staying outside for 10 minutes. I can hardly think of someone trying to survive out there at night," she said.

The association has received more than 200 calls a week from families seeking temporary housing. Its shelter houses eight to 10 families, including Durry, his girlfriend Gerilynn Cristobal and their 2-year-old daughter Chereese.

They were evicted from their one-bedroom apartment in April when they couldn’t pay the $550 rent. Durry and Cristobal are looking for work.

Cristobal called the shelter a blessing and said she’s thankful she’s not among those looking for shelter now.

Last year, 13,010 adults and children were turned away from shelters in Snohomish County because of lack of space, 42 percent of whom were 17 or younger, according to the county Human Services Department.

This year, that number could top 14,000, matching the record-breaking levels of 1999, said Cynthia Moreno Tuohy, who directed Volunteers of America’s homeless services programs.

The VOA gave motel vouchers to 17 families in September, but was unable to help 53 more, she said. Eighty percent to 90 percent of people seeking housing through the VOA have children.

A tight job market and low wages make it difficult for people to find and keep housing, she said.

"We’re seeking more first-time homeless families — people who have never been homeless before, people just like you and me who’ve lost a job," Moreno Tuohy said.

Scott Abrahamson said that’s what happened to his family. He’s living at the Interfaith Association shelter with his wife and three young daughters.

They moved there six weeks ago after he lost his job as a cable installer and were unable to pay the $998 rent for a three-bedroom apartment in south Everett.

"We got a month behind in rent and couldn’t catch up," he said. "You end up here as a last resort. I never imagined myself being here."

The family now shares a single room at the shelter. Abrahamson is trying to save enough from his $8-per-hour job washing dishes to move his family into their own home again.

"We’re definitely lucky we have the opportunity to stay here," he said.

Cold weather has also filled the Everett Gospel Mission shelters, which house up to 200 people per night, said executive director Sylvia Anderson.

When the temperature dips below 32 degrees, the shelter won’t turn anyone away — sleeping people on floors and couches so they won’t have to stay outside, she said.

With the weather turning colder earlier this year, the mission is seeing a greater demand for warm clothing than the past three winters, Anderson said.

"We’re needing more coats, blankets, gloves and other basic items," she said. "The supply that would have taken us through February, if things continue to go the way they’re going, will be gone in December."

The Everett Gospel Mission and other shelters say they need help from the community to respond to the increased need for aid.

"As cold as it is, if you’re inside, maybe you have a little bit to spare," Anderson said.

Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or

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