Homeless shelter tries to move past arson

Jailed suspect awaits hearing as shelter faces long recovery


RACHEL SUN | The Daily Evergreen

Sojourner’s Alliance director Steve Bonnar says residents displaced by the fire are currently staying in a motel. The residents left with only what they could carry.

DAN DOUCET, Evergreen opinion editor

Three weeks after an arson destroyed much of the men’s unit of the Sojourner’s Alliance homeless shelter, the organization is slowly rebuilding its ability to provide services found nowhere else on the Palouse.

Director Steve Bonnar said that since the fire, the homeless shelter is operating its offices out of the spare bedroom in his own home.

“We are just kind of piecing together the bare minimum,” Bonnar said.

By next week, they will be operating out of the Moscow Family Promise shelter. He said the organization offered to let Sojourner’s Alliance use three of its offices. Sojourner’s cannot operate without offices, where they meet new residents, collect donations and store records.

The offices sustained smoke and water damage, Bonnar said. The smell of smoke permeates the walls and carpets, and about two inches of water flooded the basement on the office side of the building. He said his insurance will cover the costs to repair the building and replace office supplies and computers.

Sojourner’s Alliance is the only shelter in the Palouse that offers long-term transitional housing. The shelter has faced financial troubles in the past, including a loss of federal funding. Sojourner’s recovered some of its lost revenue through community fundraising.

The organization maintains separate units for women and families, but the men’s portion will not be livable again for another eight to nine months. Until the men’s units are repaired, Bonnar said, they will have to turn away any new residents.

“This affects not only Moscow, but the region,” he said.

Former Sojourner’s resident Matthew Rieche is being held in the Latah County Jail on charges of arson, according to the Latah County Jail Roster. Police arrested Rieche the morning of the incident after interviewing him in the hospital. Rieche is awaiting a hearing on Jan. 18, according to the Idaho Supreme Court Repository.

At the time of the fire, the men’s unit had seven residents. Besides Rieche, Bonnar said the other six have been given temporary residency in a motel, with emergency funds from the state to cover their stay through March.

He said two of the residents qualify for apartments through supportive housing. Another will be transferring his job to a different city, and one plans on moving into one of the organization’s vacant family units. The other two are still unsure of their plans.

Bonnar said Sojourner’s Alliance just finished a major fundraising event at the end of December, with about 100 more people donating than last year.

“A lot of people want to donate and help,” he said, “but right now there’s not really anything we can do.”