Sawant says Seattle’s emergency shelters should remain open — UPDATE

A tent served as shelter on Broadway during the snow (Image: CHS)

Kshama Sawant, the Seattle City Council member representing District 3, says the city is set to close its emergency cold weather shelters Monday and called on Mayor Jenny Durkan to keep the facilities open.

“While the weather emergency has passed, the homelessness emergency continues,” Sawant writes in her letter to the mayor calling for the shelter space to remain available. “An ever-growing number of people in Seattle is being driven into homelessness by sky-high rents, evictions, and unaffordable housing. Human Service providers and workers do the best they can with resources chronically insufficient to the scale of the crisis.”

UPDATE: A representative for the city’s Human Services Department tells CHS that the “City’s plan has never been to close all its shelters on Tuesday.”

Wanted you to know that after the Human Service Depart made Its initial extension last Monday, we’ve been working with providers and the City departments who are running the 24/7 emergency shelters to keep them open longer. As you may know, we’re hosting a resource fair at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall to connect people with services and resources so they can transition from emergency shelter City into the city or county’s ongoing shelter system, diversion or housing programs.

The rep said the city will have “more to share soon about the extensions.”

As snow and ice covered Capitol Hill and Seattle, Durkan announced the city would  expand shelter capacity by 25% with “2,079 shelter beds and 328 units in villages.” “As the winter weather approached, the City has been serving more individuals and families than ever before,” a city memo on the response reads.

Sawant has continued to level criticism at the Durkan administration over its homelessness polices and is leading an effort to convince the council to reject the mayor’s pick for interim director Jason Johnson to become the permanent head of the Human Services Department.

The department has a budget of over $200 million including $80 million dedicated to homelessness services.

City officials have said its facilities and emergency shelters have faced unprecedented demand during the ongoing cold snap:

While most of our shelters are near capacity, (especially our enhanced shelters) some basic shelters continue to have capacity on any given day. As part of the City’s winter weather response, the City created 550 new emergency shelter spaces across Seattle, in addition to 300 spaces in coordination with the County. The City’s efforts to get people inside leading up to, during, and after the storms was unprecedented, rapidly getting more people sheltered at one time than at any other single time in the City’s history.

Seattle has typically opened a shelter at Seattle Center Armory for cold weather events and did so again this month. City representatives will hold a resource fair at Seattle Center starting February 15 “to get people the connections and help they need.”

Families have been a special challenge for the city’s resources. “Ultimately, the trend remained relatively the same, with the vast majority of individuals staying at Seattle Center, Garfield, and Bitter Lake Community centers being for single adults or adult couples,” the response memo reads. “When the team encountered families with children living unsheltered or staying at the severe weather shelters, they were provided transport to Mary’s Place which expanded capacity to ensure that all families with children could stay inside.”

The city also says the Navigation Team — which includes outreach workers and SPD personnel — was deployed for “ongoing nightly wellness checks” and to convince people to seek shelter. The city says the team made more than 700 contacts and transported 162 individuals to shelter during the storms.


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7 thoughts on “Sawant says Seattle’s emergency shelters should remain open — UPDATE

    • It should also be noted that the shelters were never to capacity. Just having them makes you feel good……..noone using them means they are useless

  1. Isn’t there a consensus that we must spend our (aka taxpayers) money more wisely as far as homelessness is concerned? Adding more “basic” shelter beds is not the answer because that gets us nowhere towards getting people into transitional or permanent housing. Any additional funds (if there are any) should go to “housing first” programs, including “enhanced” shelters.

    Sawant, as usual, is just pandering to her base, and not advocating for programs which will actually help the homeless.

      • Mayor Durkan is the overall “boss” of the HSD, and she is not in favor of opening more basic shelters (except in weather-related emergencies) Also, the city’s own expert consultant on homelessness (forget her name) was critical of how the city is spending money for this issue. The HSD rep quoted in this article is only talking about extending the time when the emergency shelters will stay open, not advocating for more permanent basic shelters.

  2. Does Ms. Sawant not feel that substance abuse play a greater role in this cohort of homeless (the long-term, intractable homeless) than rent costs? It’s interesting to see that whole, significant slice of the pie get ignored by her demagoguery, time and again. It just doesn’t fit her desperate need to foment class warfare.

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