Auburn community embraces new homeless shelter

Most of us carry a driver’s license in our wallets, unmindful of what it means to have that bit of plastic beyond allowing us to operate a vehicle, the vital doors it opens up.

But Auburn’s homeless know what it means, every hour of the day – that without one, they can’t get housing, land a job, or access other vital services essential to helping them get back on their feet.

Big problem – how to get one: the licensing office is in Kent.

But one Auburn resident, buzzed by the opening two weeks ago of the Ray of Hope Center day shelter for the homeless on I Street Northeast, has volunteered to drive homeless folk to the licensing office.

That is one of the many things the Auburn Food Bank, Valley Cities and the City of Auburn can do, as Lorie-Ann Larson, director of housing and outreach for adjacent Valley Cities, told the Auburn City Council recently.

“People say it’s just a driver’s license, but it’s one of the biggest pieces, along with a Social Security card. Those are the pieces where we want to help to fill in the gaps. We are committed to helping people who need help,” Larson said.

“Sometimes that little bit of change …can get them into another world of opportunities,” said Debbie Christian, director of the Auburn Food Bank.

Christian fought back tears describing the community’s generous response to the shelter’s opening, the many people willing to volunteer their time and resources to help where help is needed.

“Auburn always steps forward,” Christian said.

Like the man who went to a local store to buy towels for folks at the shelter to use when showers become available there.

“We are taking some intake information from each (homeless) person and trying to categorize the problems and see what we can do. Nothing on the large scale of things will be fast, but it gives these people a ray of hope … that there might be a change to help them come off the street and live differently from now on,” Christian said.

Two weeks ago, in partnership with Valley Cities and the Auburn Food Bank, the City opened the center on a lot Valley Cities is donating temporarily at 2536 I St. NE.

The food bank is providing staff, food and resource connections for the day-sheltering operation, and Puget Sound Energy is providing power. Valley Cities will not only provide the use of its Common Building to provide nighttime services under the wing of Catholic Community Services starting sometime in October, but it has also reallocated its outreach worker staff to support shelter clients.

The center is to remain open for a year and a half while the City works with agencies, private funders and regional partners to create more housing and affordable housing options in Auburn. Meanwhile, the City will continue to work closely with its regional partners to find stable, permanent housing for the homeless in Auburn.

While the shelter should be able to handle 35 occupants at a time, in the first week it saw a total of 18 people. The operating days and hours are 10 to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, but the City intends to expand the times to seven days a week.

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