Shelter General

Small shelter units sit April 26 at the site of the Skagit First Steps Center in Burlington. The units will serve as an emergency shelter and social services site managed by homeless services nonprofit Friendship House.

BURLINGTON — The opening of a new homeless shelter in Burlington has been delayed because of difficulties filling staff positions.

The city and nonprofit partner Friendship House had hoped to open Skagit First Step Center by Saturday, but now the shelter won’t be open until at least the end of the month.

“We don’t have anywhere near the staff we need now,” Friendship House Executive Director Tina Tate said. “Hiring is proving to be very difficult.”

Of the 17 shelter staff the nonprofit needs, Tate said only four have been hired.

The positions require no special certifications or qualifications, and staff will receive first aid and de-escalation training, she said.

While Tate said she could seek to fill the positions with volunteers, that would introduce a level of risk with which she isn’t comfortable.

If something went wrong when the shelter was staffed with volunteers, she said that could leave a permanent blemish on the shelter.

“We made a promise to the city and the neighbors that we would do it right,” Tate said. “I just can’t take the chance that something would go wrong.”

She said she believes that generous unemployment benefits offered as part of the federal American Rescue Plan are providing a lack of incentive for people to seek work.

Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton said city workers have accomplished an impressive amount of work on the Pease Road shelter, setting up 35 individual shelter units and converting an existing warehouse into an office space.

“This is damn impressive, what they’ve gotten done,” he said of his staff.

With this work out of the way, Sexton and Tate said staffing is the only thing keeping the shelter from opening.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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