City shelter staying ... SHARE/WHEEL loses old shelter space at Sacred Heart

Residents in the longtime SHARE/WHEEL shelter in Sacred Heart Church are looking for new digs, but the church in Lower Queen Anne has announced it will renew its original 90-day lease on a yearly basis for the controversial Downtown Emergency Service Center shelter.

The DESC shelter is located on the main floor in the church's Parish Hall. The self-governed SHARE/WHEEL residents have been living on an upper floor in the building.

That arrangement is no longer feasible, explained church administrator Larry Pomada at a public meeting last week. That's because the church has rented out the upper floor to the Hazel Wolf High School, he said, adding that office space upstairs has also been rented out to Birthright, an organization that counsels pregnant women against having an abortion.

However, SHARE/WHEEL was invited to share the main floor with the DESC shelter residents, Pomada stressed. That was easier said than done. "SHARE would have had to cut down some of the number they have," he said.

SHARE had approximately 100 people staying at the church last winter, although the capacity is supposed to be around 85, according to Pomada. But there is only room for 50 of the SHARE/WHEEL residents downstairs, and they joined 50 DESC shelter residents in a room divided by tables on Nov. 15. "They're welcome to stay as long as they want," he added last week.

SHARE/WHEEL isn't interested in the arrangement and had planned to leave by Monday this week, said SHARE member Jim Sevier last week. "God bless Sacred Heart for what they've done for us," he said of the group's nearly 5-year-long stay at the church, but "there's just too many people down there."

There's also only one bathroom, and there are four women staying with the SHARE/WHEEL group, Sevier said. "DESC is strictly men."

Asked why Sacred Heart didn't ask the DESC shelter members to leave and let SHARE/WHEEL stay on the lower floor instead, Pomada said church officials looked at the different philosophies of the two groups. "We feel that DESC has paid staff and a holistic program," he said. "It was more helping those folks move up in the world [than SHARE/WHEEL]."

Pomada conceded, though, that the DESC shelter is pumping much-needed money into church coffers. SHARE/WHEEL had been paying the church only a couple hundred bucks a month, he said in a previous story.

The DESC shelter, the school and the abortion-counseling office will bring in around $30,000 a year for the building, which had been operating at a deficit of approximately $25,000 a year, Pomada said.

He also said the church had only received one complaint about the DESC shelter, and that was from a woman who also wrote to the News charging that shelter residents were hanging out in the neighborhood.

Bill Hobson, executive director of DESC, said the agency has zero tolerance for any of the shelter residents loitering in Lower Queen Anne. If they're found loitering in the neighborhood, they will lose the opportunity to stay in the shelter, he said.

Where next?

No one willing to be quoted returned calls for comment made to the Hazel Wolf school, but the school had originally planned to move into the Sacred Heart building in January, Pomada said. That time frame was moved to November, he said, adding that the school has already moved into the building.

SHARE/WHEEL members figured a January move-in date for the school would give them enough time to find a new location, Sevier said. "So far, we've got about 30 other locations were scouting," he said, adding that none are immediately available.

So SHARE/WHEEL members are trying to convince the mayor's office to let them move into the second floor of the new Municipal Building and stay until Jan. 7, at which time the group should have a new place to set up a shelter, Sevier said.

Al Poole, manager of survival services for DSHS, was at the church meeting, and he sounded skeptical that SHARE/WHEEL will be able to find a new location by then. "Given my difficulties in finding a [new] cold-weather shelter, that would be remarkable," he said.

SHARE/WHEEL has lobbied the Seattle City Council for support in moving to the Municipal Building, but Mayor Greg Nickels has so far said no, Sevier said. "What we're looking at right now is sleeping outside so we can stay together - maybe under a bridge," he said last week.

However, that probably won't happen, according to Pomada. "I did have one of the [SHARE/WHEEL] residents say there are a number of folks who want to stay," he said on Monday this week.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.

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