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Harborview Hall finally put back to use as homeless shelter set to open

Attendees at last week’s information session on the reopening of Harborview Hall

Two years after the allocation of funding, the Harborview Hall shelter is targeting a December 15th opening, providing 100 beds for people experiencing homelessness to stay overnight.

Representatives from The Salvation Army and King County, which owns the property, met with dozens of community members, many of whom were Harborview Medical Center employees, last week in an open house on the hospital’s campus to discuss the opening of the shelter.

The Salvation Army will be operating the temporary overnight shelter, located at 326 9th Avenue on the first floor of Harborview Hall, which has been vacant since 2011. There will be a minimum of four staff members inside the facility while it’s open, according to The Salvation Army’s offsite shelter programs director Scott Moorhouse.

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The art deco-era building had been lined up for demolition with First Hill community representatives mounting a rarity for a neighborhood campaign — pushing for the removal of the historic building to make way for a possible park as the county mulled plans for preserving the building.

The Metropolitan King County Council set aside $2.5 million for the shelter plan in November 2016, but there have been issues making the space livable and compliant with code and it took a year for King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office to compromise to a shelter that wouldn’t be open 24 hours a day.

Seattle City Council members Sally Bagshaw and Teresa Mosqueda in June said they hoped the shelter could be one that is open all the time and called overnight-only facilities a “step backwards.”

“The 24-hour shelter is what we need to provide stability for people currently living unsheltered,” Bagshaw and Mosqueda said in a letter to King County Executive Dow Constantine.

An October press release from Constantine’s office said that King County is “working toward expanding the shelter to 24/7 at a later date if feasible.”

The council members also hoped the shelter would open before September, prior to Seattle’s cold and rainy season.

The facility is meant for single adults and their pets. Mary’s Place on Dexter Avenue is an alternative for homeless families in need of shelter.

Beds will be available on a first come, first served basis in the beginning, but returning users of the facility will gain privilege once the shelter matures. Multiple community members attending the open house expressed fear that people would camp outside the shelter waiting to get in.

The First Hill Improvement Association is also advocating to expand the Harborview Hall vision to include “enhanced shelter” offering fewer barriers to housing, room for pets, and important services like storage.

A number of security precautions are being taken for the shelter and its surroundings. Lights will be improved around the Engineering Building, the firehouse, and the Maleng Building, as well as the corridor between the Research and Training Building, where the open house was held, and Harborview Hall, according to Harborview capital project manager Ted Klainer. Additional permitting is needed to upgrade lighting on Alder Street.

Planners believe lighting is sufficient on 9th Ave. Lights are currently being tested in multiple locations, according to Klainer.

Four high-definition cameras will be added, two on the back side of 9th Avenue and two in front of the building. Two officers will also be on-duty, one near the Engineering Building and another on 9th Avenue at the entrance to the shelter, according to Harborview security operations manager Tyler Redding.

There will be no uniformed security inside the building and little can be done to safeguard against people stealing from others in the shelter, which was an argument used by Bagshaw and Mosqueda in advocating for a 24-hour facility. There is no screening criteria for people hoping to utilize the refuge.

The shelter will have an area set aside for those with medical machinery and those that have mobility issues. The operators say it will also be welcoming to LGBTQIA+ individuals.

While people staying in the shelter cannot use drugs inside Harborview Hall, they can be under the influence as long as their behavior does not become unruly.

Meanwhile, there will be no showers, kitchens, or laundry machines available to those that utilize the interim-use shelter. They will be sleeping on new cots installed by The Salvation Army, not bunk beds.

There are no immediate plans for the rest of the King County-owned building, but that will likely turn into another showdown in the coming years as Mosqueda and others have already floated the idea of using the rest of the 10-story building for housing, according to The Seattle Times.

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8 thoughts on “Harborview Hall finally put back to use as homeless shelter set to open

  1. I agree with Bagshaw and Mosqueda who think this approach is a step backwards. King Co. needs to commit money ASAP to make this an “enhanced shelter,” with well-funded addiction and mental health services. Otherwise, it’s just “business as usual” and no real effect on our homeless problem.

      • Even knowing nothing about social services, it seems self-evident that anytime you send someone out to pursue services elsewhere (not in-house), even just across the street, a lot of them (maybe majority?) won’t make it. Having the facilities nearby but “in-contact” can’t be as effective.

    • I’m not at all sure about that. It’s not enough to simply point the way to such a center. There needs to be staff at the shelter who are trained in effective intervention.

    • I couldn’t find where they labeled this a “step backwards” but do see that they see the need for beefier services. Are those their words from another source, or is this your read on their thinking? Yes–more in-house services would be better. But if this gets 100 people off of the streets every night, I view it as a positive.

      • Apologies, just saw that exact quote! But I do stand by minimally serviced shelter being a better option than the sidewalk.

  2. This is exactly why our local gov’t can not “solve” the homelessness crisis. A large vacant space own by the local gov’t in a seemingly perfect location + $2.5 million + 2 years = 100 overnight cots from the salvation army… sigh. Yeah, emergency, right.

    Apparently I have a very different interpretation of what an emergency is. It seems that the declared homelessness “state of emergency” is only an emergency when they want more money from us or if you question the decisions which they are making… other than that just business as usual, nothing to see here.

    Seems like this is a story of different parts of the local governments getting in each other’s way preventing the desired outcome; emergency be damned.

    In a real emergency it seems that six months would be more than enough time for even King county + Seattle to get the resulting shelter done… but alas, “emergency” is merely a slogan and not a reality.

    How much money would have been needed to get a 24/7 enhanced shelter completed in six months? If it was simply a question of money (as opposed to pure intractable organizational dysfunction and incongruent policies) and there really was an emergency they would find some loose change somewhere in combined $17.5B combined Seattle + King county annual budget.

    Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of how homeless should be addressed, this is disappointing. If you didn’t already know now you see the the reality we are weighed down with.

  3. Ridiculous outcome, as others have already pointed out. It’s not even the money for the retrofit, it’s the time and minimal result.

    Never thought I’d say this in the context of homelessness, but Mosqueda and Bagshaw are right. Overnight-only shelter where you have to line up with all of your stuff every day to sleep on a cot and can’t even take a shower is absolutely part of the problem and a step backwards. This should be enhanced shelter with priority for those in doorways or tents to come as they are, with assertive services to link to mental health and drug treatment – pointing people there is pretty futile.

    And the rest of the building should definitely be used for PSH. This shouldn’t even be a question.