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New King County homeless shelter set to open next week

A bed in a new King County shelter.
A bed in a new King County shelter.
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King County is on track to open a new shelter to house homeless people and the facility would be the largest congregate shelter in the state and it would house the unsheltered who are currently sleeping on floors at other shelters in the area.

The county used federal funds to lease several auto repair shops in SODO and convert them into a 280-bed COVID Assessment and Recovery Center, but the building has been vacant because its original purpose was not needed.

The new shelter, located at 1039 6th Ave. South in Seattle, was for people who were waiting to get COVID-19 test results or needed a place to stay because they had encountered someone who was infected. The facility can accommodate 280 guests but it will limit its total to 242 to start.

Each guest will receive a dedicated, semi-private space that has a bed, side table, chair and storage trunk for personal items; they will get three meals a day; and the facility will have WiFi in a building that has been refurbished to add a high-quality air filtration system that meets public health standards to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“It gives each individual staying here, the dignity of their own location, their own bed (and) getting them off the floor,” said Jason Johnson, the director of the city's Human Services Department.

People who are currently staying at the overnight-only shelters operated by the Salvation Army at Fisher Pavilion at the Seattle Center, the lobby of Seattle City Hall and other shelters will be moved first into the SODO site.

King County also plans to relocate its sobering support and recovery services from the nearby Recovery Cafe to the SODO shelter.

“So, by the time January 1 comes around, all of the locations will be transferred in and we should be one happy family,” said Felicia Grant, director of the local Salvation Army chapter, the non-profit contracted to run the shelter.

City navigators will work with each person staying at the shelter to find transitional or permanent housing, which has been in short supply for many.

“If we just continue to open crisis response options for folks without also adding housing, then we are really never going to solve the issue,” Johnson said.

But the facility may not be permanent.

It’s being funded, as are many other temporary homeless housing options like rented hotel rooms, by the federal government's Cares Act. If Congress doesn’t renew the legislation by the end of January, city and county leaders will have some tough decisions to make.

“About whether we can keep people safe inside or put people back in congregate spaces that are not this well designed, or out onto the streets," said Leo Flor, the director of the Department of Community and Human Services for King County.

Between the city and the county, there are now 2,300 shelter spaces with 400 more in Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget for 2021. It was estimated there were over 4,000 unsheltered homeless in the county before the pandemic began. Officials expect it to get worse.

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“We have every reason to believe that we have more people who are or will experience homelessness as soon as things like the eviction moratorium expires,” Flor said. “We know there's a lot of unpaid rent out there right now.”

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