City opens overnight shelter in Uptown

Less than a week after the first city-sanctioned homeless encampment opened in Interbay, another 50 beds were available for Seattle’s unsheltered population as of last Wednesday night (Nov. 25) at a new overnight facility in Uptown.

That Wednesday, Mayor Ed Murray toured the former Seattle City Light power control center at 157 Roy St., which will later house up to 100 men by late December.

“Our ability to work with our partners here to get this shelter up and running as the weather gets cold is very encouraging,” Murray said.

Of those served by the new facility, the priority will be for those who over age 60 or disabled. Daniel Malone, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), which will manage the shelter, said that choice is a matter of helping those who need it most.

“We’re worried about everybody who’s sleeping outside,” Malone said. “But when faced with the need to prioritize people because there aren’t enough spaces for everybody, we’re seeking people who are more vulnerable if they’re outside than others.”

Malone said some additional life-safety measures still need to be completed on the site to bump the capacity to more than 50 people. That work will continue in the coming weeks, while the heavy, metal-framed bunk beds the shelter will use are being manufactured and delivered.

For Catherine Lester, director of Seattle’s Human Services Department, the new shelter is different than others, not only in its focus on older or disabled men but also in the inclusion of on-site case management services and showers.

“It’s part of a continuum of our efforts to not only house people that are in need tonight but also begin to think about how we get further upstream and make homelessness rare, brief and one-time,” Lester said.

While other DESC-operated facilities do have hygiene services, Malone noted that many other shelters do not, because of their other uses.

“A lot of shelter spaces are really making due with church basements or other spaces that have other uses during the daytime,” he said. “They’re providing a lot of important survival service overnight, but they tend not to have some of those additional amenities like showers.”


Months of work

The city originally announced the new shelter in July, and since then, crews have been working to ready the site.

The configuration of the main room was changed to make it a more open space, while the floor had to be reinforced to accommodate the soon-to-come bunk beds. Bathrooms also needed updating to become ADA-compliant.

Earlier estimates had the shelter opening as early as mid-October, with the second phase opening around this time, but the work ultimately took longer than expected.

“Earlier in the year,” Malone said, “I think we thought it would happen fast.”

As of now, the shelter operates from 9:45 p.m. to 5:45 a.m. each day, with all users of the facility screened and referred beforehand at the downtown DESC location.

Every night, staffers will confirm that people are pre-registered, check them in and take a count of those who did not show up. Arrangements are then made with the main shelter or another referral operation to fill the remaining beds.

While those using the shelter sleep, staff members will be on duty to ensure their safety by watching for fires, obstructions to exits or any other possible hazards overnight.

By the end of the year, DESC hopes to not only have the occupancy expanded, but the operating hours as well, from 4:30 p.m. to 8 a.m.


More than just beds

After touring the facility last Wednesday, Murray also discussed the city’s latest investment in funding for the homeless, which he called one of the largest increases in Seattle history.

“There’s a bit of a myth out there that we put $5 million into 100 beds,” he said. “We put $5 million in for a series of programs and services.”

Those services include help for homeless students in Seattle Public Schools, additional treatment services and assistance to get more people into permanent housing.

He also stressed the need for state and federal assistance: “Cities alone cannot answer a national crisis.”

And while Malone said this one shelter won’t solve the problem of people living outdoors, it’s going to make life “dramatically better” for those it serves.

“You can’t get housed if you die on the street,” Malone said. “So we need to keep people alive and make life safer for them.”

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