Plans stall for cold weather shelter in Arlington

ARLINGTON – Just when it looked like Arlington’s homeless might have a cold weather shelter after all, the idea melted away with the snow from last week’s first chilly Arctic blast.

After months of searching for a suitable site, the city, Public Hospital District No. 3 and North Snohomish County Outreach (NSCO) organization worked on a plan to temporarily use the former Alfy’s Building at 3405 173rd Place NE in Smokey Point.

The district purchased the building in September for future office and meeting space for health and well-being classes, said Ardis Schmiege, superintendent/CEO of the hospital district, also known as Stilly Valley Health Connections. Renovations weren’t planned for the building until April, with an opening likely in late 2020.

“The commissioners were all in favor” of the short-term shelter idea, Schmiege said. “We want to see people helped as much as possible.”

The City Council last Monday was asked to waive a code requirement that the building have a fire sprinkler system, necessary for any buildings with overnight occupancy. State law allows building code exemptions for buildings owned by public agencies or non profits used to shelter the homeless and poor. The exemption, which councilmembers appeared to support, would have cleared one hurdle to serving as a shelter.

However, the council agenda item was pulled after shelter managers NSCO told city officials Wednesday that pending repair costs and time left remaining in winter made opening the shelter impractical.

NSCO executive director Sarah Higgenbotham said the group was disappointed.

“Given the requirements and only eight weeks left in the season, time and money didn’t dictate that it would be a good choice,” she said. The nonprofit organization is known best for the weekly laundry outreach they offer at Smokey Point Suds n’ Duds and at the Laundry Station free to those in need, which has helped build relationships with the area’s homeless.

Higgenbotham said the organization hasn’t given up on developing a cold weather shelter in the future. They plan to keep seeking potential sites in and outside the Arlington-Smokey Point area.

“We want to thank the community for loving the vulnerable,” she said.

Mayor Barb Tolbert said city officials had looked diligently teaming with local agencies and nonprofit groups to find a suitable central location since the Hands Together shelter run by a group of churches on a rotational basis shut its doors in November after 11 years.

“It’s very difficult to find a building in a (real estate) market as tight as ours,” she said.