Work set to begin on new REACH shelter for women and children

Demolition on the lower level of Renton City Hall could begin mid-March to transform the former jail into a place of hope.

A new women and children’s shelter called the REACH Center of Hope is scheduled to open there this May.

The City of Renton now houses prisoners in the South Correctional Entity or SCORE jail in Des Moines.

The former jail space is being developed by the Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches. Tuesday the group announced that Justin Jensen had been selected as the contractor to punch out holes and create new walls in the basement of City Hall. After the demolition work and restructuring is done, it will take a team of volunteers to haul off debris, former bunks, bars and stainless-steel toilets to make way for a supportive and safe environment for families.

“I’m excited; I’m amazed,” said Rev. Dr. Linda Smith, center director. “I’m just filled with joy and overwhelmed at the fact that the center is opening and that there will be a place for women and children who are homeless.”

Smith updated REACH members and others from the community on the Center of Hope’s progress, as did other project team members. The audience filled the room, seated around a group of tables configured in a U-shape in the Renton Salvation Army’s dining hall.

There are two phases to the project: a day center and an organized shelter. The lower level of Renton City Hall will be used for the day center. Area churches are to provide accommodations for overnight shelter for families of women and children. Currently the group believes it will be able to accommodate five to six families or up to 25 people.

“The idea is to stabilize people for a week to a month until they can get a long-term solution,” said Smith.

REACH is still gathering support among its member churches and elsewhere to house families overnight and staff hosts for the stays. One idea in the works is a REACH Volunteer Force that calls on people in their 20s and 30s to devote time as volunteer overnight managers. The group has discussed inviting volunteers to stay overnight one night a week for four weeks and attend meetings at Luther’s Table to reflect on the experience over a beer.

To enlist churches in the effort, representatives from St. Andrew Presbyterian Church explained what they went through to make their commitment. Dana Holstine and Laurie Rossnagel gave insight on a feasibility study the church conducted.

“It came down to providing a safe place for a mom and her kids to sleep,” said Holstine to the audience.

She called the process her church went through identifying team members, doing vision sessions and researching answers to questions “fluid,”  meaning it all eventually came together for them.

“This is a window of discovery; we’re going to do this together,” she said about the new endeavor.

Members at St. Andrew will clean out clutter to make space for a homeless family and volunteer hosts. It will be the first church to participate in the project as the overnight host site.

“This is exactly what the kingdom of God is about,” said Smith in her welcome to the group.

All along the group has been working with project team member Sally Cumming’s words in mind, “We can do this,” said Smith.

The REACH Center of Hope is expected to open in May. For more information about the center, click here.



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