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Marysville churches, fire officials look for compromise to house homeless

The city of Marysville is struggling with how to safely house its homeless as winter approaches. Several churches want to open "cold weather shelters," but they may be in violation of the city's fire code.

Churches in Marysville are preparing to take in the homeless as another cold, wet winter approaches. However, there are concerns some shelters may be too dangerous for the homeless to sleep in.

The activity room at Marysville's Damascus Road Church usually hosts socials and pot-lucks, but come winter they hope to host something very different.

The church wants to house the homeless when temperatures turn dangerously cold.

Two deaths on the streets a few years ago inspired the move.

"I think providing a place for people to be safe and give them an opportunity to warm up and be fed is important," said Executive Pastor Randy Loveless.

There is one problem, however. In spite of all its amenities, the church lacks sprinklers which are required in Marysville if people are going to spend the night.

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"The whole purpose of having these guidelines is to protect those in need," said Fire Marshal Tom Maloney. "These are our most vulnerable people. We want to make sure these folks are protected in every aspect."

It's part of a broader discussion going on in Marysville right now where churches want to fulfill their mission of helping the homeless. But not all churches have sprinklers and can't afford to install them.

"I think there is a good argument to be made that it's more dangerous for someone to be in the cold than in a building that doesn't have sprinklers," said Loveless. "But I understand the city has codes it has to enforce."

The two sides have pledged to work together to address the issue. Fire Marshal Maloney is now proposing a compromise.

Also see | King County to open homeless shelter in wing of Seattle jail

There would be no sprinklers for now, but church volunteers would have to take fire training, establish an exit plan, learn CPR, and adhere to a host of other requirements.

It's a plan the churches are now considering as they hope for a solution that doesn't leave the homeless out in the cold.