The congregation of the Madrona Presbyterian Church has turned the church basement into Julia's Place, a fourteen-bed night shelter for homeless families. Before organizers of the shelter can open, they need one thing: volunteers.
Julia's Place was scheduled to open this month, but finding enough people to bring dinner, lead evening activities, and spend a week with the families -- staying overnight at Julia's Place -- has been a challenge. Organizers of the family shelter hope they can have enough people in place to open in May.
The effort to create the shelter kicked off in August, when staff at Mary's Place, a Belltown day shelter for women and children, approached Pastor Mark Zimmerly about creating a new shelter for families at the church. After his congregation heard the proposal, they immediately showed their support.
"It was really that easy," Zimmerly said. "Our church board voted right away to go for it."
Since then, more than 60 volunteers from the Madrona congregation and other faith communities held renovation work parties, turning the empty basement into a sleeping area, living room, dining room, playroom for children and office space for parents. In December, staff from Mary's place held a weeklong trial operation of Julia's Place.
"The families loved the space," said Liz McDaniel, family services coordinator for Mary's Place. "It's a place for them to be safe, dry, warm, and together."
With most family shelters only open to women with children, Julia's Place is unique in allowing adult males with families a place to stay together for the night.
"We would assume families are getting more support than single individuals, and it's just the opposite," said Zimmerly. "There's not a lot out there if you've got kids in tow."
The goal is for volunteers to play an integral part in a family's experience at Julia's Place, McDaniel said.
"We're asking volunteers to sit and have dinner with the families, to actually get to know these families. It makes a difference and gives them that little edge of hope they need to say 'I'm worth it.'"
That interaction is important to women like Mary's Place client Gretchen Eschenwald, who balances finding shelter with caring for her 14-year old daughter and preparing to go back to school herself.
"I was really scared at the beginning, scared of the homeless stereotype, but they take really good care of us. I've been forced to be social and I think it's a good thing. It makes me feel like I can achieve my goals."
Once Julia's Place is open for good, Zimmerly hopes it will inspire other faith communities looking to help those in need.
"If we're able to do it, I'm pretty sure other communities are, too," he said.