Seattle Opens Nighttime-Only Shelters In Anticipation of Freezing Week

Seattle Center Exhibition Hall | TeenTix

By Erica C. Barnett

With freezing weather and possible snow in the forecast for the coming week, the city will make about 200 emergency beds available for single adults living unsheltered to come inside. The temporary shelters will be at two locations: The Compass Housing Alliance day center at 210 Alaskan Way S (80 beds) and Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall at 301 Mercer St (between 100 and 130 beds). There are currently no plans to open City Hall, which has historically served as severe-weather shelter, or other city locations, such as community centers or the Seattle Municipal Tower.

The emergency shelters will open at 7pm and close at 7am, despite the fact that daytime forecasts call for sub-freezing weather throughout the day from December 26 through the end of the year. A daytime warming center at the Seattle Center Armory building is currently supposed to open at 10am, and the Compass building is open to clients during the day. UPDATE December 24: The city announced that several more warming centers will be open during the day for the duration of the declared winter weather emergency; information and hours are available on the city’s website.

Otherwise, the city is encouraging people living unsheltered to go to public libraries, which are open various hours (and not at all on holidays.)

Families with children who need shelter from the cold should call the King County emergency family shelter intake line at 206-245-1026.

The city’s emergency winter shelter protocols call for emergency shelter to open whenever the forecasted temperature is 25 degrees or less for multiple days, or when more than an inch of snow accumulates on the ground, which is known as a “Phase II” winter weather event. A Phase III event—requiring “prolonged emergency response,” potentially including shelters in community centers and other city buildings—is the same as a Phase II event, plus a snow accumulation of six inches or more.

Historically, the city has opened emergency shelters before the city reaches these thresholds, which haven’t been updated for more than 20 years; last year, when PubliCola asked about the 25-degree threshold, HSD told us that changing the criteria (and thus opening emergency shelters in slightly less harsh subfreezing temperatures) would have cost implications. According to HSD spokesman Kevin Mundt, the city has two contracts for emergency shelter this year—one with Compass, and one with the Salvation Army. Each is required to offer 15 days of 24-hour shelter per year; we’ve asked HSD for more information about why each agency is only offering shelter for 12 hours a day.

In years past, the city’s temporary emergency shelters have not always filled up despite the cold. The group primarily responsible for going out to encampments and identifying people who are at risk of dying if they stay outside in freezing weather (and transporting them to city-funded shelters) is the HOPE team, a group of Human Services Department employees who offer shelter and services to people living in encampments the city is about to sweep. During a major snowstorm last February, according to Mundt, the team transported a total of 40 people to shelter.

Health One, the Seattle Fire Department team that responds to non-emergency crisis calls, won’t be mobilized until December 27 because of staffing shortages; when they do, according to SFD spokeswoman Kristin Tinsley, their job will be to “reactively and proactively respond to distribute supplies (food, hand warmers, blankets, etc.) and offer transport to severe weather shelters.”

Another change this year, compared to pre-pandemic practice, is that the city is not funding any non-emergency winter shelters—that is, shelters that are routinely open throughout the winter months, not just during emergencies. Mundt said the city stopped opening winter shelters because of “the ongoing de-intensification of the shelter system in response to COVID-19, which put added strain on shelter provider capacity”; he also noted that the city opened about 500 new shelter beds this year, including three new or expanded tiny house villages and a new shelter for single men, which took the place of the temporary winter shelters. (Editor’s note: We’ve updated this post, at HSD’s request, to include the 150 temporary shelter beds at two hotels that will close in January. The two hotel-based shelters—King’s Inn and the Executive Pacific Hotel downtown—are winding down operations and not accepting any new guests.)

However, the new year-round shelter beds are not a ready substitute for shelter designed specifically to keep people warm and alive through the winter, because most of those beds are already full; when beds do become available, they’re only accessible through specific channels, like referrals from the HOPE team or through case conferencing, a process by which homeless service providers make the case for specific clients. Winter shelter, in contrast, is a temporary measure to ensure that people are safe and warm for periods longer than the duration of a declared emergency.

Complicating matters this year is the fact that HSD is handing over all its homeless service contracts to the new King County Regional Authority at the end of the year, including the contracts for emergency winter shelters. A spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management said the office would take a leading role directing shelter efforts this year while the regional authority ramps up.

If it turns out that two nighttime shelters aren’t enough to meet demand, the city could decide to open up community centers, City Hall, or other city buildings; however, because HSD and the RHA are mid-transition, neither agency has enough staff to “loan” a significant number of people to staff those shelters, as HSD has in the past. A spokeswoman for the Parks Department, which runs the community centers, said the department might provide “building support” but would rely on the nonprofit shelter providers, which are also short-staffed, to provide personnel at shelter sites.

Meanwhile, the city has not halted plans to sweep an encampment in Lake City that has been slated for removal for weeks; barring a weather-related delay, that encampment will be swept next Wednesday, December 29.

10 thoughts on “Seattle Opens Nighttime-Only Shelters In Anticipation of Freezing Week”

  1. The only “free stuff” worthy of mention that’s widely available in Seattle is the same as what’s offered in virtually any other city of at least 50,000 or so: congregate shelter beds, soup-kitchen meals, random cast-off clothing and a smattering of hygiene supplies. That’s just about it. Everything else that’s supposedly “free” in Seattle (in terms of requiring no monetary payment) nonetheless requires a large investment of time, effort, inconvenience, risk, bureaucratic hurdles, painful trade-offs and general unpleasantness that dissuades many if not most housing-insecure people from even trying to access it. Yes, some people do come to Seattle from places with harsher climates because they believe they will better endure homelessness here. But it’s the milder weather and the higher social tolerance intrinsic to a large city that are the primary draw, not “free stuff.” It’s likely most newcomers could get roughly the same (meager) free stuff in the places they came from.

    But whose bright idea was it for the HSD and RHA to “transition” during the cold-weather shelter season instead of late spring or summer? That seems an indefensible screw-up.

  2. Seve Willie , stop being such an arrogant and judgmental asshole about those without homes. Most people in the US are only one paycheck away from financial disaster. May you lose your job, get evicted and have to live in a tent one day.

    1. Susan: You will remain a homeless enabler until you understand how Progressive policies created this mess.

  3. If Seattle is too cold, the homeless can easily move to San Diego. They will be nice and toasty and dry with 300 sunny days per year. This is just one example of how they could significantly improve their situation by something cheap and easy. But I suppose the 30-40 kinds of free stuff you can get in Seattle is easier for those who won’t lift a finger to help themselves. Steve Willie.

    1. Washington State isn’t in the top 15 states for handing out “free stuff”, and Seattle is 97th out of the 100 largest cities in the US for handing out “free stuff”, right down there with LA and New York. So your tired rhetoric is laughable, as always.

      1. A Joy: So you came up with a source of fake stats which you think proves your point. How can the amount of free stuff be measured if nobody can even get a reliable count of the number of homeless persons getting the free stuff? In Seattle is it 5,000 or 40,000? Do your fake stats include all 30-40 different types of free stuff? Your claim is a joke. Plus, any stats about the entire state of WA
        are irrelevant to a discussion about homeless in Seattle. Please try to stay on-topic next time. Keep believing in fake stats because it makes your face-plant more enjoyable to watch.

      2. Steve Willie, the dollar amount that Seattle spends on homelessness and social services is a fixed amount, regardless of ho many homeless there are. So the amount can be measured regardless of how many homeless people there are. It’s called math and accounting.

        Speaking of “fake stats”, that 40,000 number? That’s for the whole county, not Seattle. And I know this may be news to you, but medical services for the homeless in Seattle? Paid for by the State. through Apple Health, aka ObamaCare. So there is indeed a topical reason to refer to state spending in your “but free stuff” tirades. Those DSHS offices, where the homeless are signed up for Apple Health? Paid for by the State. Seattle food banks? NorthwestHarvest, a state wide organization.

        Clearer now?

    2. “… they could significantly improve their situation by something cheap and easy.”
      Are you kidding me? I’m not even homeless and it would cost me many thousands of dollars to make a move just to another apartment, let alone move to somewhere like San Diego, which is basically almost as expensive if not more so than Seattle. And easy? JFC, no, it’s never easy to make a move. Unless you have oodles of money. I imagine.

      1. bri65: I can get from Seattle to San Diego for free and have done it several times. Plus, who said anything about getting an apartment? They don’t even have one right now. That is why we call them homeless. Please try to stay on-topic next time. WOW! is that why you don’t use your real name? Steve Willie.

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