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A first-hand report from a Volunteer at Burien’s Severe Weather Shelter

The following is a first-hand report of what it was like to Volunteer in Burien’s Severe Weather Shelter at Highline United Methodist Church:


By Cydney Moore

It has been an amazing couple of days at the Highline United Methodist Church Emergency Shelter.

The first half of the week started off pretty intense, rife with a lot of individual struggles, uncertainty, and a collective grind to address all the issues faced.

Sunday and Monday: we had a number of people come into the shelter with a variety of medical needs, some urgent. We ensured those with immediate needs were connected to appropriate medical services, and were provided with treatment quickly.

Reports rolled in about more and more people spotted out on the street, and we had volunteers offer to go out sweeping the streets to find them. We trudged through knee-deep snow at a local park, made several runs down to the Burien Transit Center, often loading up the car to capacity, promising those who couldn’t fit that we would be right back, telling them to wait for us to return. They all stayed put, and we got each of them to safety. It was startling how unquestioning they all were when I walked up and simply asked, “Do you need shelter?” Yes, they all said or nodded, and I just told them we have a safe, warm place with food, blankets, clothes, etc. They jumped in the car with us without hesitation, so desperate to get out of the freezing temperatures they didn’t second guess getting into a vehicle with complete strangers even for an instant. Watching this happen as someone who has a home, who has safety, who has the ability to maintain that caution of not putting my life and safety in a stranger’s hands because I am not in a position where the risk is worth the potential reward, it was terrifying to witness. It left me feeling fearful for all of the people out there who are so vulnerable they are forced to take any helping hand offered, whether it is trustworthy or not. I can’t stop worrying about the level of desperation these people have reached to not think twice. I carried a flyer on me for the shelter to show them, to offer some kind of validation for our claims of having a safe place, but most of them never even gave me time to pull it out of my pocket before they agreed to come with us. It was an immediate yes from all of them.

There were one or two exceptions; a man who was bundled up in blankets sleeping outside a store front declined to come to the shelter, but asked if we would be willing to bring him a sweater, some socks, and food. We returned a few minutes later to pick up more people after dropping off others, and delivered him all of the above, assuring him that if he changed his mind and wanted to come down, even if only to grab more food and head out again, we would be there for him. Another person was brought to our attention by a bus driver who was at the end of the line at the BTC. We showed up to grab others reported out there and he saw me and flagged me down, informing me there was a man sleeping on the bus. The man was almost impossible to wake, and was injured (later we found out he had just had surgery on his leg, and arthritis in his knees that was acting up). Another volunteer and I put the man’s arms around our shoulders and carefully carried him off the bus, through the snow, loaded him into the car, and carried him into the shelter where he immediately went to sleep. While picking him up we were not able to get any information out of him, as he seemed to be only just barely conscious. I was able to get his first name, that’s all. The next morning when he woke up, it was like he was a totally different person – cognizant, aware, communicative, and grateful.

Another man we received a call about from a metro worker at another bus stop was so overwhelmingly grateful he couldn’t stop thanking us, exclaiming with such joy and gratitude, laughing with pure relief, the entire time we drove with him and long after we got him back to the shelter. He told us he was truly fearful that he may not have made it through the night, unsure if he would wake back up in the morning if he fell asleep, or would freeze in the night. He told us over and over how we saved his life, and said he would do absolutely anything we wanted or needed from him. He demanded we take one of his bags full of shampoo and laundry soap, etc., as a token of his appreciation. I firmly declined, reiterated over and over that we wanted nothing from him at all, other than for him to get some food and get some rest. We bandaged up his wounded hands – injuries that were dirty and exposed, fresh and still bleeding, got him some food, and set him up to rest. His high spirits carried through the night into the next day, and was a constant reminder of how much it meant to him that we had come for him.

We continued working diligently to accommodate the rapid inundation of more and more people coming in (we started with 7 guests the first night, grew our head count each night, and by Monday night had about 50 people and 1 dog staying under our roof), addressing their individual needs as they arose, ensuring they were well-cared for and felt welcome at the shelter.

Thanks to our amazing volunteers, and the guests who offered to pitch in to doing chores, and helping self-regulate and monitor each other, we managed to rise to the occasion, and kept things under control. We also got to enjoy a particularly high-spirited evening on Monday night where we all came together to enjoy a magnificent homemade dinner brought in by some generous donors, which included shepherd’s pie, mac and cheese, corn bread, rolls, salad, brownies, cheesecakes, etc. We had guests playing music on the radio and on their instruments, folks dancing, celebrating our togetherness, reveling in the moment, taking advantage of their temporary safety in the comfort of our shelter to just be happy for a little while. We were joined by the Burien City Manager, Brian Wilson, who took a tour of the facilities and expressed his support for the great job we all were doing, and Burien Human Services Manager Colleen Brandt-Schluter spent several hours volunteering with us. It was truly uplifting to witness the positive energy of the room, and many of our guests expressed how much in awe they were of how much above and beyond our shelter had gone, echoing the same sentiment heard from many over the course of us being open that they’d never been to a shelter that took such great care of them. One guest insisted he felt spoiled, and I kept telling him we weren’t spoiling anyone – food and shelter are human rights, and everyone deserves to be cared for, so he was just finally getting the bare minimum that any person deserves.

When Tuesday rolled around, things took an amazing turn. We had several truck loads of food donations brought in – so much that we ran out of room to store it and actually had to turn some away and send it to other food banks etc. The many folks we had requesting and in need of mental health services, medical treatment, and other specialized needs were connected with appropriate resources, and we had an outreach social worker come to ensure everyone was getting the help they needed, with a promise to try to get a mobile medical unit to come down to the shelter. More donations came pouring in of supplies and warm clothing for guests, making sure we were fully stocked on all necessities.

On Wednesday, we had several of our guests – those with injuries, illnesses, etc. – relocated to another facility fully equipped to meet all of their specialized needs. We had a major influx of people willing to volunteer, and actually had more people showing up and calling to come in to help than we knew what to do with. We have created an updated volunteer sign up form for people to use to see what shifts and tasks we still need folks for (link below). From all accounts, all of our guests are doing very well. We are still well stocked up on most things, although the demand for warm clothes, and shoes in particular, remains constant, as so many people coming in have a need for these items. We have started asking people to focus on making financial contributions if possible, because we are fairly secure with our food and resource supply, but the cost of keeping the shelter open for so long is certainly adding up, and HUMC could certainly use help covering the extra electricity, water, sewer and garbage bills etc. that they will be facing.

For those wishing to donate, contributions can be brought down to the shelter in person or sent to: 13015 1st Ave S, Burien, WA 98168. Online donations can be made by visiting: https://squareup.com/store/LBPC/ [2] – scroll down the page to “general fund” and follow the prompts to check out; on the check out page in the comment box, please add a note that says Cold Weather Shelter.

Those wishing to volunteer can find an updated list of shifts and duties we need people to cover here:
http://signup.com/go/ezEtcJr [3]

Although we have had many people step up to spend time helping down at the shelter, we still have several more days coming up with shifts that are currently unfilled, so getting folks to commit for these is our biggest priority at the moment. If you have some time on your hands, please consider coming down, even if only for a couple of hours, to help out – and please share this with others you know who may be willing to do the same, or make other types of contributions.

This amazing effort is the result of a community pulling together, when push comes to shove, and doing what is needed to ensure the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable people. Words cannot express the thanks we wish to convey to all those who have joined us in this undertaking, to the people making all of this possible. Witnessing the compassion and strength and willingness to put in the hard work the people of Burien have shown in this trying time fills me with such pride for our city and its residents, as well as for the people who have traveled from outside the city to come assist us. Please keep up the good work everybody, and I hope to see you all down at HUMC soon.

Below is an update from Burien Human Services Manager Colleen Brandt-Schluter on how the city has been working to support the Highline United Methodist Church Emergency Shelter:

“As the Human Services Manager I have been in contact with Pastor Jenny and the Ecumenical Leadership Circle (ELC) to offer my support. The City assisted with their permitting process and my level of contact with the shelter has been the following:

  • Connected them with other Severe Weather Shelters in Kent and Renton to learn more about policies/procedures and to coordinate efforts.
  • Connected the Homeless Outreach Workers from agencies that deal with mental health/chemical dependency and co-occurring disorders.
  • Connected them with Public Health and the Mobile Medical/Dental Van.
  • Coordinated with King County and 211 to ensure that the shelter times were listed accurately and updated regularly.
  • Facilitated connections to other overnight shelters to see if there are resources/volunteers to be shared.
  • Volunteered in my evening hours with my group of friends to provide dinners and clean-up.

“In addition to my volunteering, I know that our City Manager and Councilmembers have stopped in and/or volunteered as well.

“I am so proud of the people of our city and city officials for stepping up and working together to support this effort. This is the type of ongoing collaboration we need to ensure the people of our city receive the support they need to improve their circumstances and quality of life. Keep up the good work everyone!”

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