Appeal made for homeless shelter

By Pat Sunderland


As construction of the homeless shelter moves toward completion, The Abraham Connection finds its building fund depleted. Board members have approached the city for help in ensuring the facility can open as anticipated on Nov. 1.

The Abraham Connection is also applying for grants, conducting fundraisers and appealing to community members to cover the shortfall, board president Cheryl Oeltjenbruns said at the Sept. 15 city council meeting.

The new 4,800-square-foot shelter is located at the corner of 5th and Silver, on land purchased from the city for half its appraised value of $40,000. In addition to that $20,000 donation, the city paid over $18,000 to have a sewer line moved.

Soon after excavation began, the construction crew encountered the remnants of an old feed mill and coal loadout station. Instead of an estimated five days, excavation took 22 working days. The cost escalated from $8,477 to $21,762 to excavate, remove and dispose of the coal residue and 150 to 200 cubic yards of concrete.

A sewer grease trap and pipeline also took more money and time than anticipated.

In addition, the city required the installation of a six-inch potable water line ($7,709), a tap fee of $5,800 and site drainage work ($6,879). None of the costs were anticipated.

These unexpected expenses total $34,903.

Several board members attended the city council meeting, including Oeltjenbruns and general contractor Dick Kirkpatrick. They had no specific requests, but were looking for anything the City of Delta could offer to help the homeless shelter open on schedule. Abraham Connection is asking the county for help with the gravel parking lot.

Council members were sympathetic, but reluctant to refund any fees for fear of generating a long line of similar requests.

Instead, they directed city staff to work with The Abraham Connection to issue a temporary certificate of occupancy that would allow specified items -- unrelated to safety -- to be completed within a year.

Normally, the applicant would be required to place in escrow 150 percent of the funds estimated for full completion.

Landscaping, a retention pond and the parking lot were specifically mentioned as items that could be completed after the facility opens. Those costs could run over $10,000.

"If we had that money, we wouldn't be here asking for a variance," Kirkpatrick told city council.

While council was willing to waive the escrow fees, that still leaves a shortfall.

Councilmember Bill Raley commented, "I'm not sure this will help them that much. Will this help you?" he asked Kirkpatrick and Oeltjenbruns.

"We're to the point right now, anything we can do to knock $5,000 off, that's $5,000 we don't have to have this year. The gravel alone is $6,500," Kirkpatrick said.

"Regardless of the outcome of your decision, the need to help people who are temporarily without adequate housing and the chronically homeless is, I believe, a function of county, local and national government," said Carol Rhan, pastor of Delta United Methodist Church. She worked extensively with the homeless and in law enforcement during a 23-year career in the U.S. Air Force.

The homeless shelter has been housed in the basement of the Delta United Methodist Church for the past five years, and in 2014-15 provided over 1,100 bed nights.

The obligation to take care of those who can not or sometimes will not take care of themselves is something we are all called to do, Pastor Rhan stressed.

After the meeting, Oeltjenbruns said she's confident the shelter will be able to open Nov. 1. Mattresses, blankets and sheets will be moved from the church basement to the new facility; the rest of the furnishings and kitchen equipment will come with time, she said.

Seasonal operation will continue, Oeltjenbruns added, while policies and procedures are adapted to the new facility. "Without knowing what this year was going to look like, we decided to move slowly, to make sure we have the right structure in place," she said. Then, as staff and volunteers adjust, the shelter may begin opening earlier in the fall.

The facility previously hired an individual to cover the midnight to 6 a.m. shift. There's been increased interest from volunteers, and the working board of 12 is doing a lot of the administrative work, while also donating time and materials for the building project.

Any donations of money or furnishings will be welcomed, Oeltjenbruns said. More information is available by calling 773-8290 or visiting Abraham Connection's Facebook page.