County Empties Mass Shelters, Moves Clients Into Hotels, As COVID Continues to Spread in Congregate Settings

Image via Inn At Queen Anne.

Catholic Community Services, whose mass shelters have been hit hard by the COVID-19 virus, is moving at least 40, and up to 60 residents from a large congregate shelter at the King County Airport into a Lower Queen Anne hotel, the Inn at Queen Anne, the C Is for Crank has learned. King County opened the airport shelter in an effort to “de-intensify” the crowded St. Martin de Porres shelter in SoDo after a COVID outbreak at that shelter.

The city of Seattle and, to a lesser extent, the county have focused on redistributing people who are staying in shelters into larger spaces where they can sleep further apart, rather than moving them into hotels or other locations where they can self-isolate. The St. Martin de Porres shelter was among the first to experience an outbreak of the virus, and the men who stayed there—most of them considered “vulnerable” because of age or underlying health conditions—were among the first shelter clients moved to a new, more spacious location.

“We all wish that the response had moved faster, and at the same time, we’re happy that it’s moving as fast as it has,” Flo Beaumon, associate director of CCS, says. “I think King County has really jumped right in to move very quickly and to put the resources together to make this happen.”

The county confirms that it will also move about 60 people from two mass Salvation Army shelters, located at the King County Administration Building and the county-owned Fourth and Jefferson Building, to the Civic Hotel, also in Lower Queen Anne. The county’s Department of Community and Human Services did not immediately have a cost estimate for the hotel rooms, which are expected to be funded, in part, with federal FEMA dollars.

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In March, the CDC recommended moving shelters into larger spaces so that people can sleep at least six feet apart. However, it has since become clear that congregate shelters allow the COVID-19 virus to proliferate, because residents still share the same air, restrooms, and common areas. Dozens of people staying or working in congregate shelters have been infected, according to the county Experts and advocates across the country have been pushing to move homeless shelter clients into hotels so that they can follow the same shelter-in-place guideline that are recommended for people with housing.

“Everybody tells you to isolate, and can’t isolate” in a homeless shelter, Beaumon says. “And you don’t know who’s sick. It’s easy to try to step away from a person who’s coughing, but somebody next to you could have the virus and you don’t know it.”

In addition to the immediate benefits of having a room with a door that locks, a bed, and a shower, Beaumon says the psychological benefits of housing are enormous. “Many of [the shelter guests] have suffered homelessness for a long time. Tensions go down because you’re not sharing space in close quarters with other people. And on top of that, people are going to be healthier and expecting that they will survive this epidemic.”

The city of Seattle has provided staffing and sites for several “redistribution” shelters at community centers around the city. When city council member Teresa Mosqueda asked staffers for the City Budget Office about moving some of the people at these mass shelters to hotels earlier this week, a staffer responded that the city was still focused on “de-densifying” existing shelters and “providing new shelter opportunities” for people who were living outside.