THREE HUNDRED homeless people may find themselves without shelter next month if the nonprofit SHARE can't come up with $55,000 in additional revenue. An emergency grant from the United Way kept SHARE's 13 shelters open last week, but the city says it is unlikely to grant a request to come up with any additional funding.
The city has already contributed $173,000 to SHARE's annual budget, but it issued a critical evaluation of SHARE last month.
"The reason the city is not going to help us now is because it is politicizing the situation," says Anitra Freeman, president of SHARE's board of directors. Freeman and others at SHARE charge the city with extracting retribution for their organization's activism on homeless issues and its operation of the 100-person Tent City, which the city opposes.
SHARE's response to the city's report counters some of the city's numerous "concerns." The city questioned whether increased spending on garbage and other things was due to the inception of Tent City, in spite of the city's stipulation that its money is not to be used for the encampment. According to SHARE, an error on the part of a disposal company led to increased garbage costs.
The city also suggested that SHARE was funneling private donations to Tent City that could have gone to its shelters. SHARE responds that nearly all of the almost $39,000 in donations it spent on Tent City was earmarked for that purpose, leaving only $5,700 for its shelters.
But SHARE has less persuasive arguments in response to some of the city's other concerns. SHARE claims that its overall vacancy rate is as low as 15 percent for the year so far. That's not consistent, however, with a citywide shelter count done one night last fall by the Seattle King County Coalition for the Homeless, which found 90 spaces at SHARE shelters, translating into a vacancy rate of 28 percent.
Two years ago, a SHARE women's shelter at Gethsemane Lutheran Church closed because it was getting only one or two people a night—and sometimes none at all. "I was confused because we're always hearing that there are not enough beds for women," says Gethsemane's Pat Champion.
Yet there's plenty of unmet need for both homeless men and women. A one-night count of people sleeping on the streets, also done by the Seattle King County Coalition for the Homeless, found 900 such folks, not including the 100 sleeping outdoors at Tent City.
One reason for SHARE's empty beds is its policy allowing residents to stay away for up to two nights—perhaps to work a nighttime shift, perhaps to sleep with a romantic partner—and still have a bed reserved for them throughout the time they're away. Another reason is SHARE's stringent screening process for drug use and violent behavior, and its insistence on cooperativeness. And some who get the nod don't show up when evening rolls around.
These policies reflect SHARE's unique self-management model. Shelters are run by residents. There is a small group of staffers, but many of them live in SHARE housing and they earn a maximum of $13,000 a year.
Predictably, the model has pros and cons. While residents feel empowered, management is, by definition, unprofessional—no doubt a source of many city complaints. For instance, the city claims that interviews with dozens of residents revealed that people at SHARE shelters are sometimes coerced into political activity. SHARE denies it, saying that people are merely asked if they want to participate in rallies and the like. But how does that message come across when it is voiced by an ever-changing group of resident managers?
Other problems at churches hosting SHARE shelters, like the transgression of church rules, have soured a few on the self-management model. The First United Methodist Church, home to a 50-bed shelter that is one of SHARE's largest, recently decided that it wants to transfer management of its shelter to a more conventional organization. "We really agreed with the city's assessment," says the church's Lisa Connolley.
Still, the city's report takes care to praise SHARE and stress its importance to the homeless. It states that SHARE's shelters are, on the whole, "running well"—a tremendous accomplishment considering the challenges of its system. Many hosts are enthusiastic about the program, including the Lake View Free Methodist Church. "Lives are clearly being changed" at the shelter there, says Pastor Dave Banks.
Host churches met at Lake View last week and expressed a desire to work with SHARE and the city on resolving their differences. SHARE already announced one key concession, its intention to develop a waiting list of prescreened people to fill beds that would otherwise go empty.
The city, for its part, insists it wants only to better SHARE's services. "We really want to work through this with SHARE," says Alan Painter, director of the city division responsible for funding and assessing shelters.