YAKIMA, Wash. -- After more than two months operating Yakima’s emergency winter homeless shelter, a local faith-based organization is preparing to ask the city if it can make the facility permanent.
Transform Yakima Together has been operating Camp Hope at the site of a former manufacturing facility and warehouse on Englewood Avenue since mid-November. Before that, the group operated a temporary shelter for several months on a city property behind the former Kmart on East Nob Hill Boulevard.
Camp staff planned to return to that property in mid-March when the winter weather shelter would traditionally close. But after a few months in the building, the group decided to ask the city’s hearing examiner to make the shelter permanent. The facility, at 1702 Englewood Ave., offers more amenities — such as running water, heating and air-conditioning and a larger space — to better address Camp Hope residents’ needs.
Many details about the proposal rely on the examiner’s approval. But here’s what we know about the proposal:
To bring the living quarters up to code, Camp Hope staff members will need to renovate four adjoining temporary pods — made of particleboard – that house 84 men and women. The camp must bring the construction of the pods up to building codes as determined by the city’s hearing examiner. Staff members also anticipate increasing the camp’s toilets from seven to 18 — adding three in the family area, which is on the second floor of the building, and eight downstairs.
Camp staff also hope to build five additional family rooms. Eight families regularly stay at the facility, but there are only three family suites. The other five families have slept in an “overflow room.” Family suites, the overflow room and a separate family day room are separated from the camp’s single residents.
Other planned changes include obtaining a mobile kitchen (purchased or donated), which staff members plan to use until a permanent kitchen can be built. The group also wants to expand its facilities into the building’s loading bays, which are not included in the current lease.
Andy Ferguson, executive director of Transform Yakima Together, which operates the camp, said he hopes to use the bays to hold donated clothes and other items, and also offer food storage once a new kitchen is installed. The expanded bays also would provide space for service providers and job training. Ferguson is contacting auto body shops, a cabinetmaking business and other trade groups about possibilities for job-training in one of the bays.
Planned renovations are expected to cost at least $100,000, which would come from donations. But cost projections are tentative pending further review from the city’s planning department. Transform Yakima Together already has a five-year lease — now to include the loading bays — with the building’s owners. The group has been paying $2,500 per month for its winter lease. Ferguson expects that amount to increase but believes the new rent payment would still be far below market rate.
The renovated space is expected to house 150 people — up from 95, the camp’s average this winter.
A 9 a.m. hearing on Thursday in the City Council chambers at 129 N. Second St. will give Yakima residents an opportunity to share their opinions on the project. The hearing is one of the first steps in reviewing Transform Yakima’s proposal. From there, the hearing examiner has 10 working days to approve or deny the group’s application. The public then has two weeks to appeal the decision to the Yakima City Council.
After that, if the project is approved, Transform Yakima Together will work with city planning staff to determine what changes need to be made to bring the building up to code. If the project is approved, Ferguson expects to begin construction in mid-March with Camp Hope residents living in tents in the facility’s parking lot. They would move back into the remodeled facility in late July, he said. If the project is denied, the group would return to the temporary camp behind the former Kmart.
Ferguson stressed that in terms of proximity to services, such as the Department of Corrections, the Department of Social and Health Services and the bus line, the Englewood property is the best choice for the facility. The location also provides shelter from winter and summer weather conditions, and will allow Transform Yakima to house more people including offering a space for homeless families.
Nearby residents and business owners have varying opinions about how Camp Hope’s winter weather shelter has impacted them. Steve Clark, who owns All-Weather Storage, said he and his managers have seen an increase in people throwing trash on the business’ property, and they’ve also witnessed drug deals and people doing illegal drugs across the street. Those problems have increased since Camp Hope located in the neighborhood, Clark said. But Ferguson said Camp Hope can’t be blamed for all the area’s ills — the neighborhood always has had problems.