STEP women's shelter needs funding help

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WALLA WALLA -- With nearly 50 percent of its funding ending Jan. 1, the STEP women's shelter needs a hand.

The shelter was established by Helpline, and opened its doors in June 2009 to serve homeless women and some children. "We serve about 10 a night," said Helpline Executive Director Dan Willms.

The agency had planned on a $104,000 budget in 2012, with $50,000 of that coming from a contract with Walla Walla County's Department of Human Services. That funding came from a federal grant that ended in June, however, county officials said today.

The STEP program typically harbors its clients for 60 days, although people can stay for up to three months, Willms said. "But we're mostly seeing them go into permanent shelter before the 90 days is up."

Residents, most in their late 30s, often have substance addictions or mental-health problems, he added. "They struggle to have gainful employment and don't have a lot of options."

At the house in the Eastgate area, clients get help to find and keep a job, some short-term therapeutic counseling and development of an action plan that will get them to permanent housing, Willms said. "Whatever that takes."

The women are also given clothing and resources to furnish an eventual home.

The biggest cost to the shelter is employing two part-time case managers and a house manager who stays at the shelter at night, the Helpline director said.

The board did consider eliminating the night position and using clients to keep an eye on things, Willms said. To do so, however, would mean finding just the right person, "more than one of them, really," and doing so on a constant basis as clients moved on.

The first step in keeping the shelter open is to try to find $50,000. Failing that, Plan B calls for a look at an alternative method of operating, Willms said. "And I don't know what Plan C is."

The funding cut goes into effect Jan. 1, leaving Helpline with very little time to solve the problem, he pointed out. "And it's the holidays."

For more information call 529-3377.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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