FOLLOWUP: What’s next for Admiral Church’s overnight-shelter plan, after meeting with neighbors

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Admiral Church‘s two-thirds-of-an-acre campus hosts more than a congregation. It’s also home to a preschool, recovery groups, anti-racism classes, bystander-intervention training, rental space for local arts organizations, and a rest stop for Metro bus drivers.

The church’s congregation has decided to open it to another use: An overnight shelter where up to 10 men can sleep.

One week after the congregation made that decision in what pastor Rev. Andrew Conley-Holcom called a “near-unanimous” vote, it opened the sanctuary Sunday afternoon to neighbors who came bearing questions.

The church has long aspired to play a role in solving the city’s housing/homelessness crisis – two years ago, they talked with the community about potential redevelopment of part of the site, including housing. Exploration of that concept is on hold until at least next year, the pastor noted at Sunday’s meeting, but in the short term, they have arrived at a simpler way to make a difference.

The overnight shelter would be a partnership with Operation Nightwatch, founded more than half a century ago as a street ministry. It provides what Conley-Holcom described as “survival services” – food and shelter for the night. It’s been looking for more spaces to provide that shelter – you can see the simple listing in the organization’s current newsletter:

The Westside Interfaith Network helped circulate the request to West Seattle churches. Admiral Church’s congregation answered the call. Conley-Holcom explained to the neighbors that United Church of Christ congregations are the decisionmakers of their churches, not the pastors.

Nonetheless, there he was at the center of the room, explaining the plan:

After dinner downtown, Operation Nightwatch would bus the night’s guests out to the church, where they would arrive around 10 pm and sleep on mats on the sanctuary floor, after a last outdoor smoke break “before 11.” Most of the men in the Nightwatch program have day jobs, the pastor said, and are usually so tuckered out that “they will not likely be conscious more than 15 minutes total while in the building. They’re awakened at 6 and expected to be gone by 6:30; while in more centrally located areas they’re given transit passes, here the organization is working on busing them back off the peninsula itself. An Operation Nightwatch staffer would be there with them all night, logging half-hourly security sweeps.

Church members already had sought answers to a list of concerns, the pastor continued, including whether there’d be any overlap with A Child Becomes preschool, which occupies the church’s entire basement level (answer: no – the first teacher arrives at 7 am, the first students more than an hour after that), and how they’d work out continued restroom use for bus drivers (they have access via keys),

Then there’s the issue of unsheltered people who sleep on the church’s grounds without authorization. Having the Operation Nightwatch staffer on site overnight might make the church’s property more secure, the pastor said. But those people won’t be eligible to come inside and sleep – it’s not a drop-in program, he declared. The only people who’ll be sleeping there are those who arrive on Nightwatch’s bus from downtown.

And who are those people? “They are folks who are actively looking for help,” who can’t use alcohol or drugs (or be under the influence) while there, and will have undergone a criminal background check. If they break the rules, they’re out of the program, he stressed.

When Rev. Conley-Holcom opened the floor to questions, he heard a few testimonials too. The first person to speak said she had been involved with a shelter that was housed at West Seattle’s Holy Rosary Catholic Church for 20 years. “All the things I thought about homelessness went out the window,” she said, adding that the program’s participants didn’t cause trouble – “all they wanted was a good night’s sleep.”

Then the questions and comments. The pastor noted that he hadn’t heard much from the neighborhood in the days since the church circulated a notice in the area; some, it seemed, had sent their questions directly to Operation Nightwatch, including one woman who said she had 25. Another neighbor said some were waiting until after this meeting to send questions.

Some recurring concerns involved who gets in and who gets out. What happens if other people show up seeking shelter? They would be turned away, but they’re not expecting people to show up because this won’t be listed anywhere as a shelter, nor will there be signage. What if men brought there for the night tried to leave on their own, before that 6:30 am-ish bus? They’re not allowed to leave, and if they do, they’re out of the program, losing that access to a nightly meal and indoor place to sleep – people who had sought out that access and waited in long lines for it. Operation Nightwatch hasn’t had problems at other sites, the pastor said. Did Admiral Church talk directly to other churches that had been hosts? Yes, he said, Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church, for one.

Several people asked if neighbors can see the Memorandum of Understanding between the church and Nightwatch before it’s signed. Conley-Holcom said he’d be OK with that but as he explained at the start of the meeting, it’s not up to him; he would also be curious how that sort of review might work without the process “devolving into chaos.” Could the shelter be weekends only? someone else asked. That wouldn’t pencil out for Nightwatch, given the investment they have to make to add a new, outlying location.

The meeting was tense in a few spots. A few people suggested the church should have consulted neighbors before voting to proceed with the partnership. At one point, a woman blurted, “Just because people are homeless doesn’t mean they’re going to come and murder you!” (She later apologized for her “outburst.’) Toward the end, Rev. Conley-Holcom looked around the sanctuary at the dozens and dozens of (distanced) seats filled by neighbors and said he was glad to see so many taking interest in the church, inviting them to send suggestions about other programs they might like to see. Then he closed with a cross between a benediction and a breathing exercise, inviting all to contemplate the desire for safety, peace, justice, mercy, and love.

WHAT’S NEXT: Operation Nightwatch’s executive director Rev. Rick Reynolds is expected to attend the followup meeting at the church at noon Sunday, November 7th. Before that meeting, Rev. Conley-Holcom tells WSB, an FAQ about the partnership will be added to the Admiral Church website. Once the program starts, it’ll run at least three months – that’s what the church has to commit to, given the investment that Nightwatch will be making.

19 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: What's next for Admiral Church's overnight-shelter plan, after meeting with neighbors"

  • Jenhen October 27, 2021 (8:34 am)

    Pastor Andrew ROCKS! He is an amazing person and pastor and I’m so glad to see the Admiral UCC dive into this work! 

  • RTD October 27, 2021 (8:45 am)

    While I still do not support this initiative, this follow-up has alleviated many of my concerns and I appreciate the thorough communication. Specifically, I am glad to see the Church Leadership and Nightwatch outline a firm plan for the evening’s schedule and participant requirements. Continued transparency and communications will go a long ways in avoiding conflict.

    • Derek October 27, 2021 (8:58 am)

      Why do you not support using a church building to house people who are recovering and houseless? Such a weird statement to make.

      • Genessee October 27, 2021 (11:58 am)

        Weird?  How so?

    • AN October 27, 2021 (9:43 am)

      Respectfully curious, would you be willing to share your reasons for not supporting it?

    • Mellow Kitty October 27, 2021 (11:38 am)

      Isn’t that kinda the point of Christianity – you know, following the example of Christ, blessed are the meek and all that? More churches should open their doors. 

  • S.A. October 27, 2021 (9:00 am)

    Good for Admiral Church. That’s love in action right there.

  • Derek October 27, 2021 (10:48 am)

    Church buildings stand empty for a majority of the time. Use them all for shelters. Long overdue. And it’s against most religions to not help the poor. 

  • Pessoa October 27, 2021 (10:50 am)

    Neighbors deserve the right to have their concerns heard and addressed. I am happy that UCC agrees. Not happy with comments in previous coverage that attempted to shame concerned neighbors with what amounted to emotional blackmail.

  • momosmom October 27, 2021 (11:01 am)

    @Derek and An you must be new to the WSB followers…there are so many people here in WS that are afraid of things (people) they don’t understand or haven’t  gone thru the experiences these people are going thru so they fear it by commenting negatively. A lot think they’re better than thee 

  • KM October 27, 2021 (11:27 am)

    If churches aren’t to be used for this, what is their real purpose?  I have huge respect for them doing this.  They’re not just talking the talk, they’re walking the walk, and that is how you live your faith.  Grateful that they’re looking out for our unhoused.  So many want to complain about the encampments and the trash, but they offer no solutions.

  • Stephanie Trinneer October 27, 2021 (11:41 am)

    Thank you for this thoughtful and informative article!  I am a member of Admrial UCC, and want you to know that many of us live in the neighborhood, though not all, and understand people’s concerns for safety.  We feel this move will not only help the unhoused in our city, but will actually make our property safer with a Nightwatch employee on the property all night.

    • Derek October 28, 2021 (9:22 am)

      I live in Admiral too and I think it’s safer than anywhere I’ve lived in the country. And I’ve lived in 20 states. I think we’ll be fine, even without a nightwatch. Everyone already has 20 cameras on their property because they’re scared of their own shadow.

  • CONCERNEDINADMIRAL October 27, 2021 (1:29 pm)

    This sounds like a great program! It addresses the issues that should concern neighbors with regards to potential impacts.  They are screening for substance abuse and past history of violence.   It also sounds like they also have appropriate contingencies in place.  Appreciate the church taking the time to work with the community and to listen to concerns.      

    Despite what some folks may state here, it is perfectly acceptable to not want the problems being experienced in the downtown corridor being dispersed into every residential neighborhood.   Compassion is funding the appropriate facilities that can treat substance abuse and mental illness, not bussing those folks into areas without the proper means to handle those issues.   Labelling everyone who subscribes to this idea as a NIMBY is indicative of not being able to have rationale discourse.  

  • Derrick October 27, 2021 (8:59 pm)

    This sounds noble and charitable – but realistically, are we actually serving these ten people well, or just making ourselves feel better? Busing people to an area with no resources so that they can face a lengthy unpleasant commute limiting their resting time when they aren’t even getting 8 hours of sleep?Crowding an already overtaxed bridge during rush hour? These people should have humane housing somewhere closer to where they spend their days in an area with transportation and resources for any of their medical / mental health / substance abuse needs. 

    • TophWS October 28, 2021 (11:44 am)

      Crowding an overtaxed bridge?  With a bus, or I suppose a van vehicle?  Seriously?  It’s 10 dudes plus a driver and watch person, and the resource is the available space itself. Is it ideal? No, but we’re well and truly into the “all options should be considered” phase, and if this helps by providing  a safe place to sleep 10 people at a time as they are working and/or getting back on their feet, then that’s 10 people (hopefully)  taking advantage of support on their way out of the crisis.  Little changes add up.  We can either look for the changes that add to the good side, or we can NIMBY or “it’s not perfect” our way into little changes adding to the bad side.  Also -the 8 hours of sleep thing – would it be good to get more?  Probably, but they are likely to have more effective and better sleep being some place safe than they are if they got 8+ out on the street or a less managed shelter situation.

  • Cozy October 28, 2021 (7:59 am)

    Thank you for this compassionate work and leadership.

  • Rara October 28, 2021 (9:31 am)

    If this program works as well as they’ve said why not accommodate 20 people a night? They’re being screened and the church has already approved the program thru the parishioners. The sanctuary seems to have plenty of room. Just curious. 

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