Parishioners’ efforts culminate in day center for Federal Way’s homeless

  • Written by Morningstar Stevenson
  • Published in Local
Sue Drake of St. Vincent de Paul Parish greets visitor Francisco Lira at the new Federal Way Day Center. Drake is the center’s volunteer coordinator. Photo: Courtesy Sue Drake Sue Drake of St. Vincent de Paul Parish greets visitor Francisco Lira at the new Federal Way Day Center. Drake is the center’s volunteer coordinator. Photo: Courtesy Sue Drake

FEDERAL WAY – As the weather started getting colder in December, homeless men and women had a new, warm place to spend the day in dignity, fellowship and hope.

The Federal Way Day Center, a combined effort of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Sound Alliance, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington and other organizations, opened its doors Dec. 5 — some four years after the idea took root at the Federal Way parish.

“The day shelter initiative is an example of parishioners going out and being a transforming presence in the community,” St. Vincent de Paul’s pastor, Father Bill McKee, said in an email. “They had to practice a lot of patience as well as fortitude to keep the project moving forward.”

day center dedication
Bill Hallerman, agency director for Catholic Community Services in King County, speaks at the Jan. 23 blessing of the newly opened Federal Way Day Center. CCS oversees operation of the shelter. Photo: Ron Secreto

On its first day, the shelter staff greeted nine clients, but the number of homeless people seeking somewhere to take a shower, do laundry, talk with case managers or just hang out has steadily grown. By the end of December, the shelter had served 139 people, with a total of 351 visits.

“Despite us not having a grand opening, the word is out. The space is being used,” said Jo Cherland, King County division director for CCS, which oversees the shelter operation.

A welcoming place

The day center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. When people arrive, they sign in and let volunteers know what services they need that day, whether it’s taking a shower, doing laundry or simply getting some sleep.

“A lot of our clients don’t get enough rest,” Cherland said. “So it’s nice to be in a safe space where they know they are not going to be bothered or asked to move on if they take a nap.”

Besides bath, shower and laundry facilities, the day shelter has a great room, computer station and kitchen area with a toaster oven, microwave, and coffee maker. The center is staffed by a full-time CCS program manager and two part-time case managers, who can connect clients with a range of community services, from housing to medical care.

About 15 community volunteers are helping (more volunteers are needed) by greeting visitors, orienting them to the services available and assisting in the kitchen and laundry areas. The guests are “so appreciative of what we have to offer,” said volunteer coordinator Sue Drake, a St. Vincent parishioner. “We get thanked over and over that we are so welcoming.”

Providing social and emotional support for the homeless is another goal of the center. “They have community here,” said Nancy Jaenicke, a member of the Federal Way Day Center advisory board and a member of St. Patrick Parish in Tacoma. “They can sit around and drink coffee while they are doing laundry in a place that is warm and dry.”

Forming relationships

dedication of day centerFather Bill McKee, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, blessed the new Federal Way Day Center Jan. 23. In the background, listening as St. Vincent’s musicians sing, are Episcopal Pastor Esther Poirier of The Church of the Good Shepherd, left, and St. Vincent de Paul parishioners Lynn Ormsby and Linda Kochmar. Photo: Ron Secreto

Four years ago, the center began as an idea out of a small-group “listening session” at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, said parishioner Lynn Ormsby, one of those involved from the beginning.

Soon the effort grew to include more than 32 groups, including nonprofits, churches and labor organizations, she said. Ormsby credits the leadership of Sound Alliance and its members in helping make the day shelter a reality.

Funding has been the biggest challenge, Ormsby said. But the Federal Way Day Center Coalition convinced the city, county and state to allocate money to the project, and raised more than $102,000 in the past year. However, another $50,000 must be raised this year to finish covering the costs of the three-year pilot program, said Jackie Blair, an advisory committee member and St. Vincent parishioner.

Despite the challenges, the effort that began at one Catholic parish succeeded by bringing diverse groups together.

“The beauty of the project is crossing church borders to form relationships with other churches,” Ormsby said. “I’ve personally enjoyed the affiliation of other churches and coming together on common themes.”

Support the Federal Way Day Center

To volunteer at the Federal Way Day Center, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., the volunteer coordinator. To donate, send checks to: Federal Way Day Center, P.O. Box 4154, Federal Way, WA 98063.