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Police charge resident in Soujourner’s Alliance arson

Shelter was significantly damaged during fire, leaving five of its residents in temporary housing

+Sojourner%27s+Alliance+director+Steve+Bonnar+says+residents+displaced+by+the+fire+that+broke+out+early+Monday+morning+are+currently+staying+in+a+hotel.++The+residents+left+with+only+what+they+could+carry%2C+and+have+not+been+able+to+return+to+collect+more+of+their+belongings.
 Sojourner's Alliance director Steve Bonnar says residents displaced by the fire that broke out early Monday morning are currently staying in a hotel.  The residents left with only what they could carry, and have not been able to return to collect more of their belongings.

Sojourner's Alliance director Steve Bonnar says residents displaced by the fire that broke out early Monday morning are currently staying in a hotel. The residents left with only what they could carry, and have not been able to return to collect more of their belongings.

RACHEL SUN | The Daily Evergreen

RACHEL SUN | The Daily Evergreen

Sojourner's Alliance director Steve Bonnar says residents displaced by the fire that broke out early Monday morning are currently staying in a hotel. The residents left with only what they could carry, and have not been able to return to collect more of their belongings.

DANIEL DOUCET, Evergreen reporter

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Moscow police officers and fire department volunteers responded early Monday morning to a fire at a homeless shelter. Fire investigators are currently looking into the incident and suspect arson.

Flames leapt out of the living room window of the Sojourner’s Alliance office and housing unit around 12:30 a.m., which destroyed much of the house and left smoke and water damage. Moscow Police Captain Roger Lanier said officers arrested a resident of the shelter, Matt J. Rieche, and charged him with arson.

Police saw Rieche walking away from the scene carrying a fire extinguisher. He was transported to a hospital for burn wounds, where officers then questioned him. Lanier said after interviewing him, they decided they had probable cause to arrest him around 3:45 a.m. Rieche saw a judge this morning and is currently being held in the Latah County Jail.

Sojourner’s Alliance Executive Director Steve Bonnar said he is still unsure of the amount of damage to the living areas and offices. The flames scorched the living room, kitchen and hallway, while smoke and water damage could have affected the rest of the building. He said insurance will probably cover the damage.

“It’s probably going to take a couple months before we can get back in there,” he said.

There were seven men living in the units before the fire. Now, with one in jail and the others temporarily residing in a motel, Bonnar said he is unsure where they will go.

“I’m working on taking care of that now,” he said.

Outside of emergency housing assistance provided by Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse and Community Action Center, Soujourner’s Alliance is one of the only transitional shelters available in the area. It caters to homeless people who are often recovering addicts or people facing financial hardship.

The damaged unit was a long-term transitional housing with capacity of up to 12 men. Bonnar said Sojourner’s Alliance maintains separate units for up to four women and two families. He said that the shelter focuses on re-teaching skills and societal rules.

While Bonnar was surveying the burned house, a woman drove by and greeted him, asking how things were going. He said the woman is a former resident of Sojourner’s Alliance.

“She came out of jail, got a job, got sober. She lived there for three months and paid rent, started working,” he said.

Residents have the option of paying 10 percent of their gross income as rent in order to use the shelter for future rental references. They are not required to pay anything to stay there though, Bonnar said.

The shelter has faced financial concerns in the past, including the loss of federal funding. However, Bonnar said they were able to stick around thanks to community efforts. He said he hopes the fire will generate more support and encourage people to donate.

“We are either going to survive this and come out better or we are going to close,” Bonnar said.

 

Correction: An earlier version of the story misstated the total number of people living in the house before the fire. There were seven residents, not six.

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Police charge resident in Soujourner’s Alliance arson