A local nonprofit is working with local churches to help homeless women find a safe, warm bed during the chilling Eastside winter.
The Sophia Way is a Bellevue-based organization that aims to assist single-adult women throughout King County by providing emergency shelter and tools to work toward permanent housing.
The organization’s overall goal is to get women off the streets through their various month-long programs, but they also offer a low-barrier emergency winter shelter for women who need immediate help. They currently partner with Lakeside Christian Church at 701 1st St. to house up to 50 women every night from 8:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m.
“Lakeside has been so generous to host us for the last two seasons now,” said Cynthia Brown, director of emergency services for The Sophia Way. “This is a valuable lifeline for people. I mean, it’s freezing outside.”
The emergency shelter also gives guests a breakfast and two bus tickets in the morning.
Currently, the shelter only operates from October to May and will move to its next location at the end of January. The Sophia Way aims to eventually open a permanent emergency shelter in Kirkland. They have a plot of land ready to break ground at the Salt House Church.
“We’re in the midst of applying for public funds,” Brown said. “During the summer, there’s no shelter on the Eastside for anyone, so everyone over here has to go back over to Seattle.”
Brown worked as a nurse for 20 years before becoming involved with The Sophia Way in 2016. She always enjoyed helping people in need, but was doing more management at the end of her nursing career.
“I get a lot of joy from knowing that I’m providing someone a little bit of dignity in a very undignified situation,” she said. “I don’t make them ask me for anything…it’s little things that maybe don’t seem like they’re that important, but for that person at that time (they know that) you see them as a human being.”
Currently, Brown oversees six full- and part-time staff at the winter shelter and said they’re on the verge of growing.
“We are growing to meet the increasing need as we serve more women in all of our programs,” said Angela Murray, executive director for The Sophia Way, in a press release last month. “More women are accessing our life-saving services at the Day Center. More women are seeking warmth and safety at our Emergency Winter Shelter and more women are getting into housing.”
The emergency shelter is strictly for individual adult women and while women with children won’t be turned away, the shelter will direct them to the appropriate resources the next day.
The Sophia Way also partners with St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Bellevue to provide a day center for women. The day center operates from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and provides access to phones, computers, laundry machines and showers.
Volunteers also provide a free lunch and resources for personal health, legal assistance and job opportunities.
The church also hosts Sophia’s Place, the organization’s flagship shelter that operates year-round from 6:45 p.m. to 7:45 a.m. and offers 21 cubicles, each with a bed, nightstand, mirror and lamp.
Sophia’s Place is meant to help women get their lives together and hopefully move into their own place. Women can stay for up to six months to and the shelter is usually full on a rotating basis, according to Brown.
The shelters are low-barrier and work to assist women recover from addiction problems.
“Most shelters require a lot of pre-work and barriers to get in,” Brown said. “We don’t have all that, so women can just come as they are, in that moment, to get off of the street and have a safe place to seep. I think (this) is an invaluable service in that way.”
The Sophia Way reported on Dec. 10, 2017 that during the past year, they helped permanently house 112 women, a 320 percent increase from 2016, and served 412 women at their day center, a 35 percent increase from 2016.
The emergency winter shelter housed 95 individual women during its first seven weeks as the service is offered to the first 50 women to arrive.
“We take for granted how we can just lay on our couch if we don’t want to go anywhere and at 7:30 in the morning, these women have to find a place to go all day,” Brown said. “Seeing women (get) that luxury of (saying), ‘You know what? I’m not going to go anywhere today, I’m going to sit in my house,’ is awesome.”