Under Pressure, County Executive Constantine Cancels Plans to Expand SoDo Shelter

King County Department of Community and Human Services Director Leo Flor with one of the Pallet shelters that would have been part of a shelter expansion in the SoDo neighborhood.

By Erica C. Barnett

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced on Friday that in response to “community feedback,” the county will abandon plans to provide new shelter beds and a sobering center on vacant land next to the existing 270-bed Salvation Army shelter in SoDo. In a statement, Constantine said, “It is clear that building trust and resolving underlying concerns about the conditions in the community today will take considerable time before we can move forward with any added service capacity.”

Residents of the Chinatown International District have held protests outside the shelter and during King County Council meetings objecting to the shelter expansion, which many described during county and city public comment sessions as another example of “dumping” services for homeless people in a neighborhood that was hard-hit by the pandemic and has seen an increase in both crime and gentrification over the past few years.

Tanya Woo, a Chinatown-International District business owner who has helped organize opposition to the shelter expansion, told PublICola before today’s announcement that she wanted the county to put its plans on “pause” and have more conversations with neighborhood residents, including discussions about potential shelter locations in other parts of the city.

It doesn’t matter what side the community is on this shelter issue, the most important thing is having our voices heard,” Woo said. “My one wish is that the county and city can come to a conclusion that may include looking at other sites and looking at a more equitable distribution of shelter resources so that it’s not all concentrated in one area.”

In addition to community members, paid outside advocates have involved themselves in the debate, including the King County Republican Party (which paid for and handed out “Down With Dow” signs to tweak the county executive, who has a history of being rattled by vocal criticism) and the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank that launched the career of far-right activist Chris Rufo.

Pointing toward a large encampment that has grown up next to the existing shelter, DCHS director Leo Flor told reporters, “Some of the folks in that encampment actually came from the shelter. They’ve got behavioral health conditions that we need a different type of solution for.” With today’s decision, Constantine has put off that solution indefinitely.

Reporters received tours of the existing shelter, and the areas where the shelter would have been expanded, earlier this month. In total, the expansion would have added 90 new shelter beds: 40 beds at a new high-acuity shelter, focused on bringing people with the greatest health needs (and visible impact on the surrounding neighborhood) off the street, plus 50 new tiny house-style Pallet shelters. In addition, the county would have moved the existing sobering center, currently housed in the Yesler Building in Pioneer Square, to the complex, adding up to 60 non-shelter beds.

The high-acuity shelter has been a longtime priority for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is an independent entity funded jointly by the city of Seattle and King County. A spokeswoman for the KCRHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about this latest setback for the shelter.

The director of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), Leo Flor, said last month that the new shelter would help get many people off the street who are unable to access traditional shelter like the Salvation Army’s SoDo shelter because of serious physical and behavioral health needs—the kind of needs that often lead to disruptive behavior and neighborhood complaints.

Pointing toward a large encampment that has grown up next to the existing shelter, Flor told reporters, “Some of the folks in that encampment actually came from the shelter. They’ve got behavioral health conditions that we need a different type of solution for.” With today’s decision, Constantine has put off that solution indefinitely.

Constantine’s office did not provide any information about whether the county is planning to revisit any of the new services and shelter that were canceled today. The decision will save the county some money, though it’s unclear how much; a planned lease with the property owner, developer Greg Smith of Urban Visions,  would have rolled the existing lease for the Salvation Army shelter up in a new six-year contract that would have cost King County $10 million a year.

Nor is it clear when the onsite encampment will be resolved. A spokesman for Constantine directed questions about the encampment to the KCRHA; a spokeswoman for the authority told PubliCola that the site is “within the Partnership for Zero focus area” and will be addressed as part of that work and, presumably, closed down once the homelessness authority moves the people living there into housing or shelter.

12 thoughts on “Under Pressure, County Executive Constantine Cancels Plans to Expand SoDo Shelter”

  1. For the folks demanding shelters in Magnolia etc, this is giving some Ron DeSantis moving refugees around vibes. Shipping vulnerable populations in retaliation for political dissent is just, ick.

  2. News flash….those people aren’t going to leave the area…so protesting a place that could contain them, offer 3 meals a day, employment help, mental health management, addiction management and free shelter is totally opposite of what you SAY is the problem. You did this bs protest yet your “victory” has exponentiated your problems. So enjoy cleaning up human feeces in your doorways, losing business because of crime and know that you chose the exact opposite of Buddha. Just like christians in Laurel Hurst, magnolia and leschi…which btw, have been gentrified beyond belief. Welcome to Seattle, where you a$$holes would rather bit”$ and whine rather than help others who are devestated by YOUR rights. Now, where do you think these homeless people will go??? 🤣🤣🤣 Right outside your door!!! 🤣🤣🤣 Your protest didn’t solve the problem…it just gave you more to whine about. Dumba'”*es

  3. Just to be clear we never asked the King County Republicans for their help. They showed up to support us with their own signs. Our protest against King County was non-partisan.

  4. sallykinney, CID already has over 20 shelters within a mile of its borders. How many does your neighborhood have? The second closest is Pioneer Square followed by Tacoma, which has 8. In other words, NIMBY doesn’t apply to the CID because they already are suffering under the weight of shelter density – literally suffering.

  5. It’s time to locate these shelters in single-family neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Magnolia, Seward Park or Leschi. Stop locating social services only in “urban villages.” We’re maxed out and need rich white neighborhoods to step up.

    1. Did you miss the part that the people in that encampment “…(ha)ve got behavioral health conditions that we need a different type of solution for.” ?? Do you seriously think that putting drug addicts and those with severe mental illness into “single-family neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Magnolia, Seward Park or Leschi” is going to help those drug addicted and mentally ill people? Do you think it is fair to the people in those neighborhoods to suffer the crime, property damage, and violence that accompanies this population?

      I certainly agree with the decision to cancel this expansion of the homeless industrial complex in the Chinatown International District. This venerable — and vulnerable — neighborhood has suffered far too much, and not just from the pandemic. The protests following George Floyd’s murder damaged more than 100 CID storefronts. Fools who believed Americans of Asian descent were responsible for COVID stopped patronizing the CID, or worse, committed acts of violence on Asian individuals. Sound Transit’s lack of security in the existing light rail station, coupled with excluding the CID community from the planning discussions for a second station until long after preferred alternatives were presented only add to the long-running harm imposed on, in, and near the CID.

      This is one time that King County Executive Dow Constantine’s thin-skin and aversion to criticism led to a huge benefit and, at least temporarily, a better direction.

      1. You do realize that this expansion wasn`t in the CID, right? It was south of the CID, in SoDo. Like the story says. This isn`t even NIMBYism. It is NIYBYism. It doesn`t matter whose backyard it is, this community is against homeless shelters.

      2. A Joy, maybe you ought to go to this area and see for yourself. The Homeless Industrial Complex that was to go in is one block south of the CID. One block. Dearborn is considered the dividing line, and the homeless complex is on Dearborn.

  6. What a shame. The publicity given to this NIMBY success by the Times and other media will no doubt cause other groups to try the same thing, again with the help of the GOP and the loathsome Discovery Institute.

    1. wow there’s a lot of flattery in this corportist propaganda to decades long career politicians, which is only matched by the privledged racism

      funny this writer claims that the $66.5 million dollar 6.8 acre 5 year lease has anything to do with helping unhoused, it’s basically a love letter from Constantine to donor ownership

      writing here makes it seem like the private developer Urban Visions, LLC that donates to BOTH Democrat James Dow Constantine and the Republicans is completely caught between screwing over 1 marginalized communities or another

      Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and buisnesses FEED and support the needy in our Chinatown-International District community, we’re far from NIMBYs like these politicians that have ZERO shelters in their neighborhoods while we have 25+, the mostly Buddhist immigrant restauranters and grocers donate food at end of day to the needy

      you’re not journalist you’re cheerleaders for wealthy working to deceive people #stopAsianHate

    2. How can you be so racist, Sally? The Asian Community is this instance wasn’t at all “NIMBY”, but rather sick and tired of having all of society’s detritus dumped on them once again. The GOP and Discovery Institute were merely recent participants exploiting the already existing organizing that local people and local CID organizations had been engaged in for months.

    3. Sally you are totally mistaken on how this played out. Had the county and the city began talking with the CID a year ago when they were hoping to extend the lease on the existing shelter(a shelter that the community never had any input in its siting) the outcome would have been totally different. The County never reached out before embarking on this extension. I manage the property next to shelter and never was notified when the existing shelter was opened 2020, and was never contacted about the expansion until after they had a lease ready to go and were committed. For months both the county and the land owner Urban Visions were non responsive in terms of cleaning up the property around the shelter, and doing the things a committed neighbor would do if they respected their community. From May until mid August the property was cleaned once and within days it looked as if had never been cleaned. The shelter and the immediate blocks surrounding the shelter are like night and day. Inside the fenced off shelter the county spends upwards of $100,000 a month on security, the grounds are clean and there are safe places for people to stay. Outside the fence is a disaster. The CID gets no security, the county and the city didn’t clean up, and those who don’t want to participate in the shelter system(shelter averse is the correct term I believe) have been allowed to camp inside what is essentially a walled fortress. In that encampment the list of horrific activities include stabbings, fires, assaults (Fireman have been assaulted trying to put out these fires), rape, women being forced into prostitution, and open drug use which of course is now totally a normal activity in the CID and downtown area. It has never been about what goes on in the shelter, it is the communities lived experience of what comes with the siting of a shelter in the neighborhood. We toured the shelter 3 weeks ago and the county/city would not guarantee they would keep unauthorized encampments from popping up even after expanding it to twice the size of the existing shelter. There are solutions well within reach, but again the county is their own worst enemy. The original lease on the existing Urban Vision property was for $200,000/mo for 100,000sf of space and a couple parking lots which served 270 people. A great deal for Urban Visions considering they had scheduled the buildings to be torn down and the going rate per sf in the area is 1.50sf. The counties goal with expansion was to help an additional 230 people. The real shame is that everything the County wanted to do could have been done on the existing sites footprint. There are about 40,000sf of the 100,000sf are currently unused or used for storage, plenty of room to house the proposed Enhanced Behavior Shelter and the sobering center. There is even a large parking lot that the county has never used that could have been used to place 40-70 Pallet shelters(kind of tiny homes). What did the county do? Instead of negotiating a new lease that would have kept the same footprint and a similar $200,000/mo cost they agreed to lease all of Urban Visions property for $870,000/mo. Greg Smith is the owner of Urban Visions. The Smith tower downtown is named after his family and they are well connected in the city. Shipping over $600,000/mo extra to a man that lives in a penthouse instead of spending it on actually helping the homeless is criminal. If the county and the city continue to cut deals like the one with Greg Smith and Urban Visions there is no hope for solving the homeless crisis. The public needs to pressure the City and the County and Urban Visions to redo the lease (as of now the county is going to honor the lease). With that $600,000 you could rent 300 apartments to house 600 people. You could buy 60 Pallet houses every month for 5 years for a total of over 4,000 sheltered spaces. You could invest in the CID to right current issues and address historical injustices. All or combination of each would have been a better solution than the one County wandered into because it did have any community input.
      Mike Donnelly
      Inscape Arts Building Manager

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