OPINION: Proposed White Center shelter ‘an opportunity for collaboration and problem-solving,’ say county and city councilmembers

By King County Councilmember Joe McDermott
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold
Special to White Center Now

There’s a lot of conflict and confusion around what to do about homelessness and how it can best be addressed. The debate has become polarizing for our region – let’s ensure it doesn’t become paralyzing. Many of our constituents express understandable frustration that people are camping in West Seattle, White Center, and elsewhere. There are also plenty of passionate voices who express compassion for people who experience homelessness.

But the biggest concerns seem to be in reaction to broken policies, not the people themselves. For the last few years, the City and County have heard from many residents that there are many people who are unsheltered in White Center. They ask that local government take necessary steps to ensure homelessness is a brief and one-time event.

We know we need resources to divert people from homelessness, resources to get people into housing quickly after becoming homeless, and resources to help re-stabilize families after experiencing homeless so they don’t become homeless again. For those living unsheltered, the need for low-barrier shelter is vital.

There are as many stories as there are people living unsheltered. No one is perfect, but many of the stereotypes of people who are homeless are simply that: stereotypes. As a community we must stop perpetuating the myth that people live unsheltered by choice. Most people we’ve talked to or heard about are not making a choice to live outside because they prefer it. Rather, it is because shelters are full, rental housing is unaffordable, and mental health and drug treatment services are unavailable. Those who are homeless are faced with a lack of real choices that can help people get and stay housed. And it falls to us, as a community, to provide them an opportunity for better choices.

It is incredibly disturbing to hear comments that repeat harmful stereotypes about the identity of people who are homeless, and the dangers that they pose to community safety. These comments have been made in response to not just the proposed shelter for White Center, but for those in other areas as well. This creates a sense of fear, and doesn’t allow us to have a productive conversation about how to address this situation.

The annual One Night Count last January confirmed more than 3,000 people living unsheltered, with over 100 of our neighbors counted sleeping outside in White Center in particular. There are very limited options for emergency shelter in this area, and new approaches and different policies might move some of these very same people to an indoor space. A current plan to open a shelter in White Center for people experiencing homelessness could fulfill the need for such a space.

The county’s Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) has proposed transforming a county-owned building, the site of the former Public Health clinic, into a temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness. The original proposal included a 70-bed shelter facility that would be open from early evening through morning, to be located next to the White Center Food Bank. In response to community comments and the continuing engagement of a neighborhood workgroup, the proposal is being refined. We are especially supportive of efforts to work with clients to connect them with needed services, such as employment, health care, and permanent housing.

Long-term, this site is being considered as the future location of a community hub that can provide centralized access to needed services and permanent housing. However, it will be several years before such a development is realized. In the meantime, we have the opportunity to use this building, a public resource, to address one of the most pressing challenges facing our community.

We view this as an opportunity for collaboration and problem-solving between Seattle, King County, and the community. We appreciate that people have shared their perspectives on this strategy, from those with concerns to those expressing strong support. Working together, we must help people experiencing homelessness become more stable, because when they have some form of safe shelter, rather than sleeping outside in our neighborhoods, green belts, and on the sidewalk, they are able to secure housing more successfully. Providing low barrier shelter provides some improved stability for all. We have an obligation to act.

People are needlessly living unsheltered every day. We can and we must find more places where people can move out of the cold to a warm place where they can begin their journey to permanent housing. To those who say we must focus on long term solutions, we say we agree but no one should sleep outdoors, and we need solutions that will serve people today. Where can these people sleep this winter? And in the absence of a safe location, when we turn a blind eye to opportunities like the one in White Center, we risk making everyone’s situation worse — not better.

Councilmember Joe McDermott represents King County District 8, which includes White Center. Councilmember Lisa Herbold represents Seattle District 1, which includes neighboring West Seattle and South Park.

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12 Responses to “OPINION: Proposed White Center shelter ‘an opportunity for collaboration and problem-solving,’ say county and city councilmembers”

  1. King County seems pretty certain that there is no danger to community safety. Would they be willing to put it in writing by agreeing that if there are any 911 calls in the neighborhood related to the shelter then the shelter will be immediately shut down?

  2. Sounds like progress is being made. When is the next open public meeting scheduled for review of the revised plan? Lack of communication by King County on its intent to set up this homeless shelter has been a real problem.

  3. What opportunities have been found in West Seattle and Highland Park?

  4. There continue to be many concerns:
    -This “opinion” does not support the citizens of unincorporated White Center.
    -White Center has a significant preponderance of existing subsidized and low income housing, provided by KCHA, Navos, etc. This concentration of poverty is overwhelming with no supporting municipal services in place. There is a patched together network in place to help navigate the lack.
    -King County needs to have the conversation with the neighbor to the south that has an empty fire station with both kitchen and shower facilities, access to a transit center, etc as an alternative site.
    -Close proximity to schools, lack of good access to services and transit should disqualify this site. Creative conversations with municipalities should identify better locations.

  5. “with over 100 of our neighbors counted sleeping outside in White Center” what percentage said that they would like to stay in a publicly provided shelter when they have been asked by representatives of King County and Seattle?

  6. Gill, that is a great question that has not been asked by the county, however, multiple community members have asked and that number is extremely low. The plan that the small group has been working towards is a family focused shelter serving the homeless students in the Highline School District, which has the 4th highest rate of homelessness in the state. This is not set in stone and I was much more optimistic about this before I read this letter. I would like to point out that Mr. McDermott has not attended any of these smaller meetings and may not understand that we are trying our hardest to collaborate with the county. It is important that they hold up their end of the bargain as well to inform the community early on and be transparent with their communications and proposed plans.

  7. Your so disconnected with this entire process!
    Why don’t you conduct a open public meeting!
    Here the concerns! Read the petitions! Get out from behind the monitor and keyboard where you create these “heartfelt” messages, and tell all of the children, families, and hard working TAXPAYING citizens, that you will accept full responsibility for their security, property, and safety of their children.

  8. Check out this video of last week’s “work group” meeting.
    I am a member of that group. We are trying to help the County understand how misguided the original plan was.


    Other videos pertaining to the shelter can be found at Patssight on YouTube. Thank you Patssight!

  9. White Center Resident Says:

    I am a public school teacher and White Center resident. I love the diversity of our community(including our homeless residents who certainly need support and resources) and yet I am perplexed by the “official” responses I continue to read in response to valid community concerns regarding the proposed shelter. I find they are shortsighted, dismissive and often haphazardly categorize these concerns as “generalizations” and “stereotypes” about homeless members of our community. This is offensive and clearly an attempt to dismiss valid concerns within a community that you assume does not have the intellect or ability to be proactive and engaged in a conversation about how to meet the needs of all of its residents.
    Here are the facts: people are homeless due to a variety of reasons, some due to temporary circumstances, others short or long-term lifestyle choices, personal preference, drug addiction, mental illness to name a few. This proposed shelter will not screen for prior convictions or substance abuse and will only house adults. We know for a fact that it will be possible that some of the clients may be convicted criminals who are currently abusing drugs and will be allowed to come and go as they wish 24hrs a day (which is undeniably one reason that it will be an adult only shelter). We have multiple schools nearby. This type of shelter would be better suited in a business district and the current site would be more appropriate for a family shelter. There are multiple empty properties in White Center’s business district that I imagine the city could easily rent to support an adult shelter of this nature. White Center is a wonderful, diverse community of people who can and will support their fellow residents; give us the opportunity to help create positive solution for all involved.

  10. Hi I think a shelter in white center is a good idea. Some people’s are homeless by their choice other due to circumstances such as lack of employment some where to get help with homeless problem. When you sleep in the area called the jungle or a abandon building or door way and then go job hunting that.s a joke or job hunting carrying 3 backpack needing a bath and a shave. I.m not talking about seniors but male and female 16 to 45years old. Everyday is hell and all you want to do is get drunk or high no self respect peoples looking at you like you contagious. Yes you need shelter that one of the first steps. Homeless people’s were someone son father mother sister or brother and don.t do a high 5 for that lifestyle. Winter is here what if you were homeless

  11. Question Mark Says:

    Decades of ongoing local government neglect coming back to roost, from my vantage point. Representatives and their staff who don’t live here chastising those who do for their attitudes.

    Why yes, thank you, we’d *love* to be a guinea pig yet again for another local government social experiment.

    What we’ve seen from unfortunate experience that this government is particularly unwilling to listen and even less inclined to act on community concerns once their plan has already been enacted.

    In the county council just this year, the council allowed White Center to remain one of the only communities where retail marijuana stores are permitted, while continuing to prohibit them in the white majority unincorporated areas where most unincorporated residents now live. Several council members have opined that more than a couple marijuana stores in their entire district would be *too extreme* of an impact, and therefore unacceptable.

    Here’s an idea, how about we put discussion of expansion of homeless shelters in White Center on hold until the county can produce a formal report on their likely impact on the community? The marijuana report on same for the white majority areas isn’t due until 2018, and the council won’t consider even handed permitting of marijuana stores outside its white minority communities (such as White Center) until 2019.

    Seriously, where’s the equality in this picture … much less the equity?

  12. Perhaps Mr.McDermott & Ms.Herbold could watch the latest video from the Work Group meeting on YouTube, as their Opinion piece doesn’t seem like they are aware of the latest info from Ms.Quinn & Mr.Ellerbrook.
    I recently worked on Election Day at the KC Admin. Bldg. & learned alot about the downtown Low Barrier Shelters, from the lead mgr.of the Security Team working there. Men line up all afternoon, sitting on the sidewalk of 4th Ave., waiting to be allowed in the “Room” they have in the Admin.Bldg. for up to 50 Men, at 7 pm. The Security Lead was there to stay with us for Closing the Election Drop Box at 8 pm, but he had two Guards reporting to him about the count in the Men’s shelter. He told me that he knows many of the men, who have been coming there for years, they do NOT want Housing, nor services. A FEW of them go & work at downtown Construction Sites & send the $$ to families they are supporting. He told me that we would NOT want those men in our proposed WC Shelter. Plus, Women are housed overnite at a shelter at City Hall, a block or 2 away. Perhaps those in WC could be bused downtown to those shelters, which could be expanded. Interesting: that nothing was ever mentioned of having some of that Security Dept. available for our proposed shelter, yet I was told of the large # of cameras they monitor in a Command Center in the KC Courthouse for ALL KC properties. Never were cameras mentioned for the proposed WC Shelter.