North Bend criticized for homeless shelter response

Cities nationwide are trying to find a solution for homelessness, but advocates say North Bend is doing the opposite.

NORTH BEND, Wash. -- For four years, Jennifer Kirk has tried to get a permit to operate a homeless shelter in North Bend.  Throughout, she said, city leaders have either ignored her or have suggested stipulations some call "outrageous" and "a bureaucratic form of discrimination".

"We need the city of North Bend in order to continue to grow this program," said Kirk, Executive Director of Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services, "It really should be a partnership with the city of North Bend.  Not adversarial at all."

Since 2012, Kirk's non-profit, a full program within Congregations for the Homeless, has operated winter shelters in churches through the Snoqualmie Valley.  Last season, its North Bend location opened without a permit.  By law, one is not needed if in a house of worship.

Across the valley, winter shelters served nearly 130 people.

"We have second and third generation homeless," said Kirk. "The need is huge."

Kirk said she has tried to get a permit every year, but city leaders impose unreasonable measures.    

Recommended permits from last year have included requirements to "email a list of all patrons" if requested by police.  And the shelter can only provide homeless services to locals with "documentation of residency".

North Bend was criticized years ago for an ordinance outlawing public camping, which caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Department of Justice.  City officials said Thursday that law is not being enforced.

Alison Eisinger with the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness called the city's response to the issue "deeply disturbing" and added "it's just a matter of time before they're taken to court."

North Bend City Administrator Londi Lindell strongly disagreed with that assessment, and called the relationship with Snoqualmie Valley Shelter Services "productive".

"That's not inconsistent with state law," said Lindell of conditions included in proposed permits, "(The winter shelter) opened in violation of city code, but we let it operate.  We could've issued a stop work permit.

"If anything, we have the lowest bar for homeless services," she continued.

Lindell added the city is meeting with Kirk next week.

Copyright 2016 KING


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