Hotel-Based Intervention Program Will Expand to Serve Seattle’s Homeless Population

Tents line a street in the International District on Saturday, May 9, 2020.

The Durkan Administration, which has been reluctant to spend city resources putting homeless people in hotels, has signed off on the expansion of the Public Defender Association’s new Co-LEAD program, which provides hotel rooms, case management, food, cell phones, and other necessities to people experiencing homelessness in King County, to include the city of Seattle. Co-LEAD is an expansion of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, a pre-arrest diversion program for people involved in low-level criminal activity, and is aimed at reducing criminal activity at a time when legal options for making money are scarce and setting clients up for success once the immediate threat of COVID-19 has passed.

Co-LEAD started last month in Burien, where LEAD partnered with local police to identify people living in parks without access to basics like food and toilets, and now serves people exiting the King County Jail system. The program has secured about 50 hotel rooms in three cities, including Seattle.

The PDA had hoped to offer Co-LEAD as an option to people living at the Commons, but were unable to work out a deal with the city before the camp was removed.

The program targets people who need case management and who are also at risk of ending up in jail without intervention—people like those who were living at the Ballard Commons, where the city removed a large encampment two weeks ago. Participants get temporary hotel rooms, access to gift cards for basic needs, help with housing searches, and physical and behavioral health care through an in-house provider.

One goal of the program is getting people connected to services. Another is simply getting them through the COVID-19 crisis—something that’s hard enough to do in a private house, much less a crowded shelter with limited or no access to entertainment . Something as simple as access to television can make a huge difference in a person’s mental health during lockdown, PDA director Lisa Daugaard says. “There’s no question that that’s  a stress alleviation tool that we’re all using right now,” and it’s especially helpful “for people with anxiety and certain mental conditions that respond well to distraction,” Daugaard said. 

The program isn’t meant to be long-term, nor is it for everyone—a misconception that LEAD has had to combat in Burien, where word of mouth created excess demand for the program.

“It’s not a come-one, come-all program—it needs to have a targeted population,” said PDA deputy director Jesse Benet, who set up Co-LEAD over three weeks. “The whole goal is to get people to shelter in place in hotels, to support them while trying to figure out a longer-term plan.” For example, Co-LEAD case managers might help people get their federal stimulus checks, connect them with medical care and treatment programs, and getting them back on Apple Health, the state’s Medicaid program, Benet said. 

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The PDA had hoped to offer Co-LEAD as an option to people living at the Commons, but were unable to work out a deal with the city before the camp—which had been a target of frequent neighborhood complaints, an online petition, and a sensationalistic story on KOMO TV—was swept. However, the city did agree last week to partner with the program in the future, which could lead to hotel room placements for some of those living in crowded outdoor conditions in Pioneer Square or near the Navigation Center in the International District, where a large encampment now stretches along the length of S. Weller St. 

Many homeless service providers and advocates have pushed for hotels as an alternative to crowded shelters at a time when COVID continues to spread rapidly in the community. But they’ve also started asking what comes next. Providers have long argued that crowded shelters are inhumane as a long-term solution to homelessness, but the Seattle area has failed to invest in sufficient housing to get its 12,000-plus homeless residents out of shelters and off the streets. Hotels could be part of the solution.

Certain aspects of a hotel-based approach to homelessness would have to be worked out, including which hotels, how they’d be funded, and who would work there (regular hotel staff? Homeless service providers? A combination of both?) But Daugaard says she can imagine a future in which governments fund hotels as a interim step between homelessness and housing even after the immediate COVID emergency is over. “Hotels, to me, are the game-changer,” Daugaard said. “In a landscape where a pure lack of units is the main barrier to a housing-first strategy for alleviating mass homelessness, suddenly there may be much closer to enough units, at least as a bridge to a more permanent plan,” while potentially helping hotels and hotel workers as well.

The Seattle City Council will get an overview of the Co-LEAD program at its 9:30 am briefings meeting tomorrow.

7 thoughts on “Hotel-Based Intervention Program Will Expand to Serve Seattle’s Homeless Population”

  1. But people like mike pope room 10 aeroline motel Georgetown with a room filled with stolen goods and drug dealing out of the room all hours of night & day. Real good program wouldnt ya say??

  2. Please stop pretending that giving homeless people free hotel rooms is only a temporary measure. You have called it temporary several times, whereas it is in fact just using Covid19 to get a foot in the door for more free stuff. As you know, once a certain free thing has been handed to the homeless for free, we may be stuck with handing it out for free forever. Can you name something which was handed out to the homeless for free and then the freebees were taken back? What free stuff for the homeless has actually been eliminated? Please name one thing. You probably cannot name anything which was being given to them and subsequently terminated (unless it was replaced by something even more expensive or wasteful). That is tantamount to telling a lie on your part. Please put May 11th on your calendar for each of the next five years, as I will be writing to remind you that free hotel rooms are still being handed out to the homeless for free. When you know something you have said is not true, I think that is pretty much the definition of a lie. There are many false beliefs being repeated in this space so I finally had to say something.

      1. The Seattle Times says that program was going to be replaced by the Youth Center at Pine and Broadway in partnership with Capitol Hill Housing and YouthCare. I don’t know if it actually was. Apparently that was not going to include emergency shelter space so you might have a good example. Thanks for the reply in any case. My statements were intended to refer to generic services and not a specific location or facility within the City. When I was that age I was hopping freight trains around the country and it would have been much easier to just stay in a free place with all those amenities I missed like the bed, heat, laundry, storage space, showers, and TV. Instead, I decided I had to get off my butt and go to college. I got a job, stole food from the cafeteria, and slept in the attic of the engineering building. If I can do it, anyone else can too.

  3. Thanks for this clear and understandable review of the program. One question. You write: “The program targets people who need case management and who are also at risk of ending up in jail without intervention—people like those who were living at the Ballard Commons…”

    Why put in jail? Unless I’m missing something the city isn’t jailing folks for breaking no camping laws and have suspended 72-hour parking. Thank you!

  4. Good idea for temporary solution but too expensive for long term unless these are hotels that can be purchased for low price. It’s been done before. But the fact is we can’t afford to house all the homeless who choose to come here. And Seattle and King County taxpayers should not be on the hook to pay for all who choose to come here either. We need some kind of system that looks at residency and asks the city or state of residence to pay for the services we provide.

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