On May 30, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a plan to increase shelter space for people experiencing homelessness by 500 beds within 90 days. The plan, called the Path to 500, uses a multi-pronged approach, including increasing the space at City Hall, constructing tiny home villages, and adding funding for shelter space that had been set to close at the end of May, among other strategies.
The plan is funded, for now, by the proceeds of a $6.3 million sale of city-owned property in South Lake Union. The Seattle Times reported that Durkan plans to find other funding sources to maintain the beds going forward.
The plan is playing out in small ways all across the city, said Meg Olberding, spokesperson for the city’s Human Services Department. She said the city has been working with providers to find ways they can add extra beds. ‘Whatever you can squeeze in,” she said. “Two or three here, 20 there.”
Some of those beds are finding their way to our area of the city including additions at places like 19th Ave’s Peace for the Streets, by Kids from the Streets, and E Madison’s Bailey-Boushay House.
Peace for the Streets, by Kids from the Streets, a group on 19th Ave that provides shelter and other services to young adults will expand its shelter services from 20 beds to 25.
The city approached them, explained Heidi Jacobsen-Watts, chair of the group’s board, and asked if they might add some space. The group already had a contract with the city for shelter and day services, so this was expanding on the existing relationship.
The extra beds will be used, Jacobsen-Watts said. The shelter is often full, excepting some seasonal dips around the summer and the holidays.
Jacobsen-Watts said there was already a large room that had been used as a church and could be converted into shelter space. For sanitary reasons, the room had to have its carpeting removed, and the city picked up the bill for that, Jacobsen-Watts said.
They were required to add in some smoke alarms and additional lighting to get the space up to code.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” she said.
Getting the facilities up to snuff isn’t too much of a problem. Though Jacobsen-Watts noted that in the longer-term, adding extra beds could lead to adding extra staff to keep staff-to-client ratios in balance.
Bailey Boushay House, at the intersection of Madison Street and Martin Luther King Jr. way will also be adding shelter beds.
Brian Knowles, executive director of Bailey-Boushay House, explained the beds there will be an outgrowth of their existing mission. Bailey Boushay opened 26 years ago to help serve people with AIDS, particularly at the end of their lives. As AIDS treatments evolved, so did their mission.
Now, while they still serve people with AIDS, they usually focus on people with AIDS who also have chemical dependency, are mentally ill, are homeless, or some combination of those factors.
Knowles said about five years ago, the group noticed that the percentage of their roughly 400 clients who were homeless spiked from about 20 percent to closer to 50 percent. That number now varies from roughly to a third to a half of their clients.
They have focused mainly on outpatient services, between 6:30 AM and 4 PM. Then a couple years ago, Knowles found that many clients would simply stay in the neighborhood, within a couple blocks of the facility, sleeping in people’s yards, garages and doorways.
Last year, Bailey-Boushay applied for a grant to add shelter facilities, though they did not receive it, Knowles said. But once the mayor announced her path to 500 program, the city approached them about adding some shelter space after all.
The facility is going through some renovations that will allow them to make a daily transition from day operation to night operations – swapping tables and chairs for cots and privacy shields and then back again. Knowles hopes they will open with 50 beds in November.
“This will actually become a 24-hour facility,” he said.
First, they have to figure out the logistics of how to transform space between uses every day, and hire and train staff. Then will come some very hard decisions about which of their clients will get to stay there each night. Ideally, those who do stay will then be able to move on to a more permanent housing situation.
Transitioning people into permanent housing is one of Durkan’s goals for shelter programs. She’s said it’s one of the factors the city will use in measuring the efficacy of various shelters and will help decide which groups will continue to receive funding.
Knowles explained that Bailey Boushay will help administer a rental assistance program which could help move about 40 people into permanent housing. Additionally, they’ll have counselors for things like chemical dependency and also just helping their clients learn how to live in a community.
“The goal is that shelter space is a transitionary space,” Knowles said.
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