By Erica C. Barnett
As temperatures plunged during the first severe weather event of 2023, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority had just one emergency severe weather shelter available for adults without children in Seattle—an overnight shelter in the lobby of City Hall with a capacity of up to 45 people. This represents a loss of more than half the city’s emergency winter shelter capacity from last year.
The Compass Housing Alliance, which provided 60 beds during previous weather emergencies, did not seek to renew its contract with KCRHA for 2023. According to Compass director Mary Steele, the frequent shelter activations did a number on Compass’ staff and its building in Pioneer Square, where it runs a year-round men’s shelter and a day center.
“During 2022, Compass was activated for overnight or 24 hour shelter more than 50 times in the 4th quarter,” Steele said. “We could not sustain that level of wear and tear on the staff and building.”
In December, the authority put out a request for proposals (RFP) for emergency winter shelter providers that could provide a safe place for both families with children and single adults. According to a KCRHA spokeswoman, only one qualified agency applied: The Salvation Army, which has historically run emergency shelters during severe weather and wildfire smoke events at City Hall and Seattle Center.
The award document for the Salvation Army contract, worth a little over than $200,000, notes that the KCRHA used an alternative procurement process for the emergency shelter contract due to “the low number of applications received for this REP, and the proposer’s inability to serve both single adults and families with children.”
A spokeswoman for the Salvation Army, Marta Coursey, told PubliCola the KCRHA also authorized the nonprofit “to provide shelter to families with children via a hotel voucher system.”
The KCRHA’s draft Five-Year Plan, which the agency is required to produce by the interlocal agreement that established it, includes “improve severe weather response system performance” among its high-level priorities. Currently, there are still very few emergency severe weather shelters open to all people, including adults without children, in any part of the county. The KCRHA took over responsibility for Seattle’s short-term emergency shelters from the city last year.
The authority has struggled to find providers willing to provide severe-weather shelter on an as-needed basis, even before its contract with Compass expired. As PubliCola reported in December—a time when the Compass Center shelter was still available—the KCRHA used a home care provider with no homeless shelter experience to staff the shelter at City Hall. According the KCRHA agency spokesperson, 17 adults stayed at City Hall on January 28, and 33 slept there on January 29. The KCRHA currently plans to keep the shelter open through February 2, according to its website.