Dedicated to the citizens of Mason County, Washington since 1886

Community Lifeline addresses handling COVID

The Rev. Barbra Weza, development director of Community Lifeline, addressed the League of Women Voters of Mason County on Dec. 21 about how the pandemic has affected the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Community Lifeline's mission is to provide low-barrier shelter, meals, showers, case management, advocacy, education and resource connections as pathways to permanent housing. Weza said limits on crisis services have made it more difficult to serve people already in need, even with diverse funding sources that include private and corporate donations and grants.

Weza said Community Lifeline has served the community since 2004, from its origins in the ministries of St. David's Episcopal Church to Community Lifeline becoming a private nonprofit in 2015. It bought its building from St. David's and the Diocese of Olympia in 2017, and paid off the mortgage in 2018.

Weza mentioned on how the Asset Building Community Development Model, established by Jim Green, allows Community Lifeline to tap people and organizations as assets, just as trauma-informed harm-reduction techniques enable Community Lifeline to deal with people's root traumas.

According to Weza, Community Lifeline is a 24-hour access point for anyone needing housing, and has served as a year-round, 35-bed living shelter for adults without children. It has applied for a permanent increase to 50 beds as the only shelter in Mason County for adults without children.

Weza touted Community Lifeline's daily breakfasts and dinners to shelter guests, plus dinners-to-go every night to the community, and its showers and distribution of hygiene items available to shelter guests and community members.

Weza said shelter guests receive comprehensive assessments to determine their path to services and permanent housing, from health insurance to social service benefits, including mental health and recovery services, financial literacy, employment and education.

Community Lifeline matches guests with opportunities provided by community partners.

Weza recalled how, in March 2020, Community Lifeline was asked to be part of the Emergency Management Team by providing shelters in place and COVID education for people without shelter.

The pandemic required Community Lifeline to expand its services from a seven-month shelter running from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. to a 24-7 year-round operation providing meals and crisis services for up to 50 guests, under city and state emergency declarations.

Weza recounted how Community Lifeline provided COVID education, testing and vaccination connections and outreach to homeless people in the shelter, on the streets and throughout the community while working with the state Department of Health until March to provide quarantine and isolation services.

The pandemic taught Community Lifeline that its service population is not only primarily adults without children, but that 65% are chronically homeless and 50% are 50 years and older Weza said.

Community Lifeline's service population also is 70% people with disabilities, 83% of those suffering from mental illness, 65% with addiction problems and 10% homeless veterans.

Weza said shelter beds can be a first step to transforming lives.

"Not only were we bringing people out of the margins and back into the community, but a community was forming within the shelter itself," said Weza, who noted that Community Lifeline forged partnerships of necessity with law enforcement and designated crisis responders.

Weza also credited a technology grant with allowing Community Lifeline to have support meetings and counseling sessions for guests online.

Weza praised shelter guests for supporting one another. They requested support meetings and gatherings, provided peer-to-peer support in recovery, job and housing searches, and held each other accountable for following COVID policies and staying educated on the subject.

Weza said 39 people gained permanent housing through Community Lifeline's diversion and community connections, while eight guests reunited with their families and moved back to their home states.

Weza told the League of Women Voters of Mason County that Community Lifeline applied for a hearing, which took place Dec. 6, to increase its bed capacity permanently to 50 beds, but the examiner is requiring more safety measures to be put into place before that application could possibly be approved next year.

In the meantime, Community Lifeline has increased its staff to meet additional needs, hired a shelter manager to manage its daily affairs, and built a working board "with diverse gifts and skills needed for the business," according to Weza.

Looking to the future, Community Lifeline aims to make accommodations for adults ages 18-24, women affected by domestic violence and shelter guests in crisis, and is working with architects and planners on whether its existing facility can meet expanding needs.

To make a referral to its shelter, call Community Lifeline at 360-462-4439.

Author Bio

Kirk Boxleitner, Reporter

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Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald
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