Planning problems place ad hoc sleep center in predicament


Railyard behind Fred Meyer where homeless have been reported sleeping in the past, Photo by Beau Sansom

Beau Sansom, Staff Reporter

Imagine yourself unable to feel a rush of warm air as you enter your home on a cold winter night, imagine having to find a place to sleep outside with no real indication of safety. This is the reality that many in Washington face on a daily basis. Washington is ranked the number five state in overall homeless population according to Wisevoter and Ellensburg is no exception. 

“There is a sizable homeless community here in Ellensburg,” Care Coordinator for Kittitas County Health Network (KCHN) Sascha Burckhardt said. “Our job is basically to support those people with finding housing…and right now, we don’t have a shelter space for them.”

A solution to the lack of housing in Ellensburg is currently in the works with plans to develop the ad hoc sleep shelter. According to Public Information Officer for the City of Ellensburg Nicole Klaus, an ad hoc committee on homelessness was formed in January 2022 to address the growing housing concerns in the community. 

“When that committee formed, there was a big gap identified in the lack of year-round overnight shelter facilities,” Klaus said. “They have continued meeting to discuss public camping regulations. Without a sleep center, public camping regulations can’t be enforced so the committee is recommending construction of an overnight sleep center.” [ad hoc, from Latin and means “for this” or “for this situation”]

The ad hoc committee on homelessness has been a joint effort between many organizations, including the city of Ellensburg, the Kittitas County Health Network, HopeSource and the board of county commissioners. According to Klaus and Kittitas County Commissioner Laura Osiadacz, the committee is still in the early stages of planning the sleep center and are looking at models used by other communities for inspiration.

“The sleep center is a model that’s used by other central and eastern Washington communities,” Klaus said. “Moses Lake uses a sleep shed model, where there’s little sleep sheds and they check in and have a place to put their stuff and then they check out; it’s managed by one of the non-profit partners.”

The sleep center model in Moses Lake has been toured by members of the ad hoc committee. They are assessing how the model has been implemented and what the model in Ellensburg should include.

“They’re individual units, it’s not luxurious but there would be cots, there would be a place for people to store their belongings and a place for people to shower,” Osiadacz said.

While the plans for the sleep center have continued to move forward, it is not without roadblocks. According to Klaus, one major issue facing the establishment of the sleep center is finding a suitable location. 

“We’re in the very early stages of searching for an appropriate location for the overnight sleep center,” Klaus said. “We’ve looked at current public property inventory really hoping we can find something around downtown so our guests who are using the sleep center don’t have to go too far from services, we just have not found a place in our current inventory of properties that will work.”

According to Klaus, in order to help solve this issue, the ad hoc committee has begun a search for an outside consultant for assistance in finding a location that will suit the sleep center’s needs. In the meantime, the committee will continue to examine similar programs’ effectiveness as they, along with the community, assess the situation. 

“We have to take it one step at a time,” KCHN Assistant Director Doug Fulp said. “People are concerned about where it’s going to be, but it’s also about getting to know that this is a model that’s been successful in other areas.”

According to Osiadacz, the sleep center is planned to be a solution to both the safety of the Ellensburg homeless population as well as the feeling of safety for the general public. If the plans for the sleep center were to not come to fruition, the current issue of homelessness in Ellensburg may persist until a new solution is discovered. 

“If the sleep center wasn’t to get off the ground, it’s [this issue] two-fold,” Osiadacz said. “People that do have concerns because of the location of some of our homeless right now, there would be no legal way to remove people if people are feeling unsafe. The ultimate concern is that, especially during the cold months, there would not be a location for people to find a warm place to sleep.”