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Capitol Hill ‘comfort station’ part of Seattle scramble to help homeless people get through COVID-19 crisis

UPDATE: The city has provided this new map with updated information

The City of Seattle has deployed a Capitol Hill “comfort station” at Cal Anderson Park as part of efforts to increase access to sanitation for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, another dangerous health crisis has emerged here with a disturbing increase in hepatitis cases in the city.

While modeling shows that Washington may have passed the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, people who are unsheltered are feeling the worst of its effects as minimal access to clean running water and restrooms mean the virus can spread rapidly among this vulnerable population.

This was the tense topic of discussion at a Wednesday meeting of a Seattle City Council committee as officials were confronted with local activists calling on them to reopen public spaces and staff them with the National Guard so they will be available to people who are experiencing homelessness.

At the Chief Seattle Club in Pioneer Square, the club’s executive director Colleen Echohawk told the panel that they had to limit bathrooms to four people at a time to comply with social distancing guidelines. One woman, who Echohawk said was menstruating, begged her to use the bathroom.

“I could tell you many, many stories of just desperate need for bathrooms and showers,” Echohawk said. Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, added, “What we are seeing unfold in our city is a truly shocking experience.”


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Late last month, the city deployed 14 toilets and six handwashing stations at locations across Seattle, including at Cal Anderson Park. The facilities, which will also be located at Benvenuto Viewpoint and City Hall Park, are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and go through daily maintenance.

The Cal Anderson facility is specifically located on Nagel Place at the northwest corner of the playfield in front of the pump station.

The city’s moves so far, however, are minimal compared to Los Angeles, which has deployed over 300 stations, and even Berkeley, a city with far fewer residents experiencing homelessness, which has deployed dozens of hygiene facilities.

Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller said there has been vandalism and hand sanitizer theft at these sites. And each site costs $35,000 per month to operate, which will add up to $500,000 every month once an additional eight sites are brought online before accounting for staffing. These issues have contributed to difficulties in the city’s ability to deploy such hygiene facilities, he said.

These issues are compounded with an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak that has infected more than 100 individuals in King County since January, a majority of whom are experiencing homelessness, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County. This is compared to between five and 16 cases in recent years.

Without good access to sanitation and hygiene facilities, an existing issue exacerbated by COVID-19, hepatitis A can spread even easier than usual. The city’s Navigation Team began distributing hygiene kits with paper towels, soap, and water early last month.

“We know that this is happening, but to hear about folks who are unable to get into bathrooms to do something as basic as cleanup after menstruation; who are soiling themselves in the street; who are having a hard time meeting the most basic human need is really hard,” council member Tammy Morales said.

Even with these facilities going online on March 28, the overall number of toilet, handwashing, and shower resources available to people experiencing homelessness has likely decreased with public building shuttering, according to a memo from council staff. The Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation completed work to reopen access to bathrooms at many locations, but they do not stay open at all hours.

The city announced four hygiene trailers with showers, toilets, and hand-washing stations, aimed at alleviating these problems last month but they have not yet been deployed.

The city has posted a collection of COVID-19 community resources here.

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6 thoughts on “Capitol Hill ‘comfort station’ part of Seattle scramble to help homeless people get through COVID-19 crisis

  1. Initiatives like this send a shudder down my spine. We have empty hotels, AirBnBs, and apartment complexes 30% vacancy, and this is how we’re helping the homeless?

    It’s essentially street hospice, palliative care that expects the people to die. Don’t get me wrong; some sanitation stations are better than nothing, but we surely we can do better.

    • The standard American response to homelessness is to ignore until you can’t ignore it anymore, then complain until it’s a full blown crisis, then do the absolute bare minimum to get the crisis back down to the complain or ignore level. Proven solutions to get people out of homelessness are waved aside as too expensive or “encouraging people to be homeless” (I kid you not).

      It’s a travesty yes, but this is standard operating procedure.

    • Uh, the problem with just opening up other people’s homes for the homeless (80+% are addicted to drugs and/or have associated mental disorders) is that they destroy things, engage in criminal activities and steal from hosts & neighbors.

      Which is why you don’t see many of these passively-aggressive “compassionate” people practicing what they preach to take people in to their own homes or apartments.

      Not to mention the fact 80-90% of Seattle’s homeless live outside by choice: with civil commitment laws favoring addicts, there is no way to force anybody indoors, even as they endless harm themselves or others.

      • Not to mention the fact 80-90% of Seattle’s homeless live outside by choice: with civil commitment laws favoring addicts, there is no way to force anybody indoors, even as they endless harm themselves or others.

        *Citation Needed*

  2. The permanent Cal Anderson (newly renovated?) bathroom structure is closed and boarded up (to enforce social distancing, perhaps?). There are several port-a-potties on the NE corner of the playfield (and NO signs on the boarded up bathrooms to direct you there).
    The outdoor bathrooms on the lower level of Miller Community Center (19th/Republican) are now open after their “seasonal closure”. Presumably open ~ 9AM to 9 PM.
    Don’t know if the showers at Miller are still available to the public while the Center is being used as a ‘social distancing’ home for some people from downtown shelters.

  3. It does seem that homeless people would be more prone to getting infected with the virus, for several reasons, but is there any data to show that they are becoming ill/hospitalized/dying at greater rates than the general population?

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