Tag: homeless

As County Opens More Non-Congregate Shelter to Prevent Spread of COVID, City Plans to Remove Two More Encampments

Nearly two years after King County first announced that it planned to open a modular shelter for people experiencing homelessness on county-owned property in Interbay, the project is almost ready to open for a new purpose: Providing non-congregate shelter for between 45 and 50 homeless men over 55 from the St. Martin de Porres shelter, run by Catholic Community Services. The modular buildings, which are essentially trailers with windows, fans, and high-walled cubicles to provide privacy and protection from disease transmission between the four men who will share each unit, were originally supposed to be dorm-style shelters housing up to eight people on beds or cots.

The project, which will include eight individual showers, 10 single-stall restrooms, laundry facilities, a dog run, and a community room with a meal delivery area, cost $7 million, up from a 2018 projection of $4.5 million. Operating the site will cost around $2 million a year.

“The work we’ve gone to move people out of congregate settings and into hotels has been remarkably successful in terms of preventing the spread of the virus”—King County Executive Dow Constantine

King County has focused much of its response to homelessness during the COVID emergency on moving people out of mass shelters—where, County Executive Dow Constantine pointed out Thursday, “we’re likely to have runaway infections before you know it”—and into individual hotel and motel rooms or other non-congregate temporary housing.

Centers for Disease Control guidelines say that cities should not remove encampments during the COVID emergency unless they can offer each person “individual housing,” not space in congregate shelter, to prevent the virus from spreading. “Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread,” the federal guidance says.

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“The work we’ve gone to move people out of congregate settings and into hotels has been remarkably successful in terms of preventing the spread of the virus,” Constantine said. “We continue to test [people living in] relocated shelters who are in hotels and would be in facilities like this, and we are finding very little if any transmission of the disease.” At the Red Lion Hotel in Renton, which is serving as temporary housing for people who had been staying in the Downtown Emergency Services Center’s main shelter in downtown Seattle, 177 people have been tested for COVID-19; zero have tested positive.

The city has focused its response to homelessness on adding more congregate shelter spaces so that people living in mass shelters can sleep further apart, and on providing referrals to shelter for people at the encampments it removes, which the city says are limited to those that cause a public health or public safety risk. On Thursday, Mayor Jenny Durkan took issue with the notion that the city and county had adopted different approaches. “There is no ‘or’ here,” she said. “We are taking every approach we can and adding significant additional financial resources from the city to make sure that we are bringing as many people inside as we can.”

“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.” —Centers for Disease Control

The city’s Navigation Team, a group of police officers and Human Services Department staffers, has removed at least two large encampments in recent weeks—one outside the Navigation Center shelter in the International District and one at the Ballard Commons park. In both cases, the city said the encampments posed a public safety and health risk, because people were congregating in violation of state and city orders. In the case of the Commons, the city said that a hepatitis A outbreak that has sickened 17 homeless people in the Ballard area endangered the safety of people living in and around the park.

“The CDC guidance made very clear that our number one priority would be outreach to people experiencing homelessness, to provide them hygiene, to provide them information, and to try to bring them inside,” Durkan said. “But if there are areas where there is a public safety or public health [issue], we will try to mitigate against that threat.”

The city has said that there were beds in enhanced shelters (24/7 shelters with amenities such as case management and the ability to stay with partners or pets) available for every person living at the Commons, although the city’s official count of 40 residents is significantly lower than estimates provided by both people living at the site and by homeless service providers at the Bridge Care Center across the street. “Before we remove people for public safety or public health reasons, we’re working on an ongoing basis to offer people the opportunity to come inside,” Durkan said.

“Before we remove people for public safety or public health reasons, we’re working on an ongoing basis to offer people the opportunity to come inside.” —Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan 

Next week, the Seattle Human Services Department’s Navigation Team will remove two separate encampments in the International District. On two recent visits to both sites, I counted a total of at least 80 tents, the vast majority of them on South Weller Street between 12th Ave. S. and S. Dearborn St. Durkan did not respond directly to a question about whether the city had sufficient enhanced shelter beds for 80 people. “We will continue to do our best, and we will make offers to everybody who we try to relocate. We want to put compassion first but it has to work with the policy of public safety and public health in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.

The Public Defender Association has offered to place people displaced when the city removes encampments in hotel rooms through its new Co-LEAD program, which is aimed at reducing recidivism by providing case management and temporary non-congregate housing during the COVID crisis. The city did not take them up on their offer, although Durkan has signed off on the program in principle and name-checked it during Thursday’s press conference. Given that the International District encampments are scheduled for removal starting next Tuesday, it appears unlikely at this point that the people living in these encampments will be candidates for Co-LEAD either.

Morning Crank: “Somebody Is Going to Write Their Ph.D. Thesis on This.”

1. I sat down with Mayor Ed Murray at his campaign office last Friday, four days before he announced that he would not run for reelection. At the time, the mayor put on a game face, outlining what he saw as his path to victory and sounding very much like a man who planned to fight at least until the primary, where he would have faced a dozen or more opponents. I have no way of knowing what was going on in the mayor’s mind during that interview, or whether he had decided not to run (although sources close to the mayor tell me he made the decision sometime over the weekend), but there were moments when he seemed to dwell on the past—and the counterfactual world in which he still could look forward to easy victory. Here’s a bit of that portion of our conversation.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Since the scandal broke, you went from a pretty safe race to a primary where you could have a dozen or more opponents by the filing deadline. You’ve made it clear so far that you aren’t dropping out of this race, despite the allegations against you. What is your path to victory at this point?

Mayor Ed Murray (EM): More opponents.

ECB: How does that help you?

EM: Well, that’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek. If the field gets so crowded, it allows me to be the person with the highest name recognition in the city—in good times as well as bad times —and I’m the one who’s actually producing. And our road to victory is to tell my story. It’s to go to every single one of these forums, every single one of these debates, and talk about what I did as a legislator, what I’ve done as mayor, why I’m one of the most liberal mayors in America, and how I get things done.

There are other aspects of this, [like] the [new] $500 limit [on campaign contributions], which is even lower than last time. We had a strong grassroots effort before and we’ll need a stronger one now that the limits have gone down. [And] we made a really clear decision that the people in the office would work and run the government, that people on the campaign side are still on the campaign side, and then we set up a group of folks who’ve been managing the allegations. So that’s basically how we’ve tried to deal with it.

ECB: Will responding to these allegations make it more difficult for you to concentrate on your job as mayor?

EM: A lot of the case itself involves issues that only lawyers can handle. Depositions will take up some time and a jury trial will take up time, but if everybody who’s ever been sued, whether elected or otherwise, had to stop their job, there’d be a lot of people not working.

ECB: Three of the last four mayors served just one term, and Nickels didn’t get a third. It seems obvious that you’re in an even more challenging situation.

EM: I would have said a month ago that I was in the best situation of any of us.

ECB: But this is the world you’re in now.

EM: [Pause] OK, sorry.

2. Homelessness director George Scarola and Seattle Police Department Lieutenant Jason Verhoff had good news for city council member Sally Bagshaw’s health and human services committee yesterday: Of 499 people the city’s new Navigation Team has contacted since it began doing outreach to unsheltered people and people living in encampments last month, 342, or about 69 percent, agreed to accept “some sort of services,” Verhoff said. “That’s a staggering number—staggeringly high,” Verhoff said. “That’s amazing, in my opinion.”

Bagshaw agreed, asking Scarola and Verhoff, “Who’s writing this up? This is a case study for somebody.” She continued, “Seriously—I would reach out [to the] University of Washington … and let people know this is going on. … I think that somebody is going to write their Ph.D. thesis on this.” 

The lovefest continued as Verhoff recounted several stories of individual homeless people who were helped by the Navigation Team’s outreach efforts—a woman who commuted every day from the tent she shared with her husband in Seattle to her job in Redmond, until the Navigation Team found her a spot in a tent city in Issaquah; the man who “looked like a West Virginia coal miner” when the team first made contact with him but is doing well now that he’s “away from the addiction and the other drug users down there who might have contributed to his lifestyle”; and the man who was “very, very addicted to methamphetamine” but has reconnected with his mother and “by all accounts is no longer using meth.” 

If you’ll indulge a bit of skepticism, I have few issues with these tidy stories. First, I’m not sure a tent in Issaquah is a marked improvement on a tent in Seattle, except that it reduces the commute of the woman living in that tent by some minutes. (In other words: We need abundant, low-barrier housing, not tents.) Second, addiction stories don’t typically end with “and then he moved back in with his mother and kicked meth”—meth addiction, in particular, typically requires lengthy, intensive treatment and often medical intervention, not just gumption and a new place to live. And finally, all of these success stories are so recent—the Navigation Team started doing outreach less than three months ago—that it’s hard to say whether these interventions will be successful in the long run, or even in the short-to-medium term. My hope is that the city will keep tabs on all those “contacts” for longer than the time it takes to put them on the path to a new tent or a room in Mom’s basement or a bed at the Union Gospel Mission. Real success is different for every person, but the one thing every success has in common is that it’s sustainable.

3. A few items of note from Murray’s April campaign reports, which he filed yesterday: In April, when it appeared he was still in the running, Murray raised less than half of what he raised in March—$30,468, compared to $69,054 a month earlier. That’s tens of thousands less than Murray spent in April on consulting from Sound View Strategies ($12,000), Strategies 360 ($34,500, including $4,500 for video production), and Northwest Passage ($21,000). Murray also spent $25,300 for the EMC poll that apparently helped convince him that he could not win. Murray’s April report also includes $775 in returned contributions from five campaign contributors.

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