Winter shelters open on the Eastside

Helen Leuzzi, director and founder of Sophia Way, tours her newest shelter, Sophia
Helen Leuzzi, director and founder of Sophia Way, tours her newest shelter, Sophia's Place, set to open in mid-November.
— image credit: Celina Kareiva

When Deborah Beamer lived in her car, the simplest tasks presented an obstacle. Finding a place to shower, or a restroom overnight meant enduring stares every time she walked into a business. She was hesitant to stay at a shelter, but couldn’t afford to keep her car heated during the winter months.

It was cold, and my car took gas to run,” remembers Beamer of her time on the streets. “I was confined to my vehicle in those winter months…After a while, everything wears at you.”

Beamer, who later found relief in the form of Bellevue women’s shelter, The Sophia Way, said the winter months are extra difficult on the city’s homeless population.

It’s not easy to sleep in a car or park because of the rain, the cold and the elements,” explained Helen Leuzzi, executive director of The Sophia Way. "[These shelters] are really life-saving."

Winter shelters opened on the Eastside last Thursday, and will continue to serve Bellevue’s homeless population through March of 2013. The seasonal program is a joint partnership with the cities of Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond, King County and organizations: The Sophia Way and Congregations for the Homeless (CFH). Though year-round services are also available, emergency facilities target an increased demand during the winter months. Homeless men and women, who may be more comfortable sleeping outside during the spring and summer, are forced indoors by stormy, sometimes extreme weather.

They offer a safe place to sleep, and a warm place indoors,” said Steve Roberts, Executive Director of CFH.

CFH began its seasonal program in 2008 at the request of the city, after hearing of a weather-related death. What began as a rudimentary emergency facility has since grown into a 50 bed unit.

Bellevue is slowly starting to realize and slowly coming to grips with the fact that there is a need,” said Beamer.

In the streets of downtown where panhandling is frowned upon, the city’s homeless population is largely invisible, said Leuzzi. But according to last January’s One Night Count, 138 people were found without shelter on the Eastside. Last year, Congregations for the Homeless saw 250 different people in the five months it was open.

You might think, how in such an affluent area as East King County, there is homeless. But the same issues happen to people everywhere,” said Leuzzi.

Eastside’s women’s shelter opened Nov. 1 at Redmond United Methodist church. It will be joined Nov. 15 by the opening of the men’s shelter at St. Peter’s United Methodist church. Both shelters will remain open from 8:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. daily, and will offer two warm meals a night.


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