For more than 20 years, WHEEL has facilitated loving, low-barrier, come-as-you-are women’s shelters: a unique and critically-needed resource for homeless women, designed to keep women safe, and to establish relationships of trust over time with women who are in crisis or who have multiple vulnerabilities.
The first WHEEL Women’s Shelter was established in the year 2000 at the request of the City of Seattle, inviting a unique partnership with our grassroots organizing effort. At that time, no severe weather shelter in Seattle served women specifically. News had just broken that a serial killer had been preying on homeless women in the Pioneer Square neighborhood and in the Jungle. Not having a low-barrier, severe weather shelter for women was a serious risk and hardship for the homeless women’s community, not just because of predators, but also in life-threatening inclement weather.
WHEEL was glad and honored to pitch in, and with full City funding, started a staffed Severe Weather Shelter for Women in October, 2000 at Drury Hall of the old First United Methodist Church. In 2001, at the invitation of Catholic Community Service’s Frye Apartments, the shelter moved to the Frye Apartments community room.
After several years of successful operations, the City invited WHEEL to operate this shelter as an All-Winter Women’s Shelter. In 2015, thanks to WHEEL advocacy, collaboration, new partnerships, and with willingness and financial support from the City, the shelter expanded to year-round operations.
Now, in the COVID era, with MORE new partnerships and innovative support. this shelter is operating 24 hours a day at our current location, Trinity Episcopal Parish (711 Cherry St.), our eighth host location since this shelter’s founding. Every new site and host agreement was secured through the skilled and effective advocacy and site-search work of homeless women themselves. Prior host sites include Drury Hall of First United Methodist Church, the Frye Apartments, DESC’s Connections, Plymouth Congregational Church, Mary’s Place Day Center, Sacred Heart Hall, St. James Cathedral Hall, and Trinity Episcopal Parish. Our current Trinity Episcopal Parish host site was established on October 1, 2016, and converted to 24-hour operations in April 2020.
In the wintertime of 2020 WHEEL began campaigning for additional low-barrier women’s shelter resources. Initially, we were pushing for WHEEL to be able to operate a nighttime-only women’s shelter at Seattle City Hall. We were thrilled that instead the City of Seattle invited us to partner on a larger, 24-hour low-barrier shelter for women at Seattle First Presbyterian Church (715 Spring St.). This shelter opened in February 2021, and currently shelters 40 women.
The WHEEL Women’s Shelters are a model of effective organizing, advocacy, flexibility, portability, and loving, low-barrier operations, for and by homeless and formerly homeless women. At several key junctures during our 20 years of operations–because a move or expansion were imminent, or we were severely over-capacity, or other women’s shelters were closing or changing–WHEEL convened and facilitated Women’s Shelter Roundtables to coordinate, collaborate, share information, and establish new partnerships.