Help establish a severe weather shelter on San Juan Island

By Deborah Neff

SJI Severe Weather Shelter Steering Committee and United Way of San Juan County

San Juan Island has an urgent need: the homeless population has increased in recent years. There are as many as 10 or more people living in cars and in the woods on San Juan Island, alone, and the numbers are on the rise.

San Juan Island’s faith-based groups and other community stakeholders are leading an initiative to establish a severe weather shelter on San Juan Island. The purpose of the shelter is to house the island’s homeless during the coldest nights of winter when the temperature drops below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. There will be separate spaces for men, as well as women and children.

The San Juan Island Grange and San Juan Island Family Resource Center have offered space, but details have yet to be worked out. The shelter will be modeled after the Orcas Island program’s success. It is scheduled to open by Nov. 20, with a blanket drive and volunteer open house, earlier.

This island-wide, collaborative project is run by a steering committee that includes pastors and church representatives, social service organizations, United Way of San Juan County, San Juan County Affordable Housing, Friday Harbor Food Bank, Washington Vocational Services, Senior Services, Compass Health, and others. Based on Orcas Island’s experience, the group estimates there are approximately 18 nights that are below 30 degrees Fahrenheit during an average island winter.

The committee needs to raise $12,000 by Nov. 20 for supplies and staffing. Donated funds will be used to pay for a part-time shelter coordinator to manage schedules and four paid employees to cover night shifts. Volunteers will staff other day and night shifts. The shelter needs at least 40 volunteers.

To donate, visit or send a check to:

United Way of San Juan County

P.O. Box 3181

Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Designate “for shelter” on your check or in the comment section on the website donation page. United Way SJC will pass 100 percent of funds raised through this campaign directly to shelter expenses.

To join the volunteer list, email or call 360-378-2141.