FOLLOWUP: Why King County wants to open a White Center shelter for people experiencing homelessness, how it will work, and who it’s for

(WCN/WSB photo)

By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor

At least 100 people are sleeping outside in White Center on any given night, it’s estimated.

But there’s no official shelter anywhere nearby.

King County hopes to change that before winter, by converting the former Public Health building at 8th SW/SW 108th into a shelter for 70 people.

We first reported this after finding out about it while covering the September 1st North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting, where president Liz Giba mentioned an upcoming community meeting to discuss it. We subsequently obtained and published notice of the meeting, which is set for this Thursday night (September 15th).

When we contacted the King County division in charge of the project, Housing and Community Development, we were offered the chance to talk with its manager Mark Ellerbrook about the project.

Here’s what we learned in a conversation with him on Monday:

Ellerbrook reiterated that County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared homelessness to be “an emergency” as of last November. The annual countywide One Night Count two months later found more than 300 people sleeping outside in Southwest King County alone, the “highest number of unsheltered homeless people outside Seattle,” according to Ellerbrook, with at least 100 of them estimated to be in White Center. The three zip codes that include parts of White Center, meantime, had 1,300 calls last year for homelessness-related assistance.

That indicates a high “level of need,” Ellerbrook observed, not that the county needed the numbers to be aware, since they’ve long been hearing at community meetings about people camping and/or sleeping in doorways and along streets.

But the White Center area has had no shelter to address the need – nothing between an 8-person shelter for women at a West Seattle church and a 9-person shelter for women in Burien. “A pretty high level of need, with almost no shelter services.”

So as the county assessed its resources, with the mission of deploying them toward helping with the homelessness emergency, this building came up. It also was transferred between county departments, making it more easily available for this new use.

It will operate as an “enhanced shelter,” Ellerbrook said, noting that this type of shelter was recommended by some of the reports released last week focusing on the regional crisis, one that operates without some of the restrictions that “are often barriers to people seeking shelter.”

He confirmed that the Salvation Army will operate the shelter, as part of an existing contract with the county, offering case management and other services. We asked about the cost, and he said that hadn’t been finalized yet. (We will check back.) The SA already operates some shelters in county buildings, according to Ellerbrook, and does “a really good job of managing a challenging population”; in addition, it already is involved in the area, with a facility in South Delridge.

The shelter will accept single adults and couples, 18 and over – no children.

The hours will be longer than many “overnight” shelters – opening at 5 pm, offering dinner and breakfast, and closing at 8 am, “so that folks will have more time indoors, with case management connecting in the evening and the morning.” Extra “transportation services” will be offered too, Ellerbrook said; while the location is close to three bus routes serving downtown, “the Salvation Army is going to work to provide van transportation services” so that shelter users can get to appointments, interviews, doctors, something “not typically offered.”

One question asked at this month’s NHUAC meeting – will the shelter be serving just people found to be unsheltered in this area? Ellerbrook says “all of our shelters operate regionally” – so that, for example, someone can show up at a shelter in Bellevue and say they’re from Seattle, and they will still be allowed in.

But, he added, “we’re going to actively do outreach with the Salvation Army and Sound Mental Health to the folks who are homeless in White Center, to make sure they are aware of the shelter, that they can bring their belongings and leave them (at the shelter) even when it’s closed during the day, that it’s OK for couples and pets.” The county already has outreach “in this community,” he said, including at the White Center Food Bank next to the planned shelter site, and at areas where people experiencing homelessness are known to be camping, such as along Myers Way.

Shelter users will not be screened for criminal backgrounds. “These are people who are in the community now – whether they are a felon, or someone just down on their luck, they’re camping in green spaces … our hope is to bring them into a known location like (this) so we can get them connected to services and housing and make them more of a known quantity to all the service providers.”

Also: Alcohol and drug use will not be allowed in the shelter, but if people are under the influence when they arrive, that will not keep them out. “What we find is that most folks who come in are quite tired,” Ellerbrook said.

There will be no limit on nights that people can stay in this shelter. “We often find people might come in for a short period of time, some for a long time … we really hope to move people through the system” and get them into housing, says Ellerbrook.

We asked if the building will be undergoing any major alterations to transform it into a shelter. No, said Ellerbrook, but after the community meeting, they will be applying for a permit that he says is required for “change of building use.” They hope to be able to open by November 1st, while realizing that’s a “tight timeline.”

The meeting notice also promises a discussion of the site’s future, potentially a mixed-use project with affordable housing and offices for service providers. Steve Daschle of West Seattle-based Southwest Youth and Family Services talked about this at last xx’s NHUAC meeting, and he and White Center Community Development Association executive director Sili Savusa will be at this Thursday’s meeting to discuss it.

In the meantime, Ellerbrook says the shelter could be in operation for three years.

Is the county looking at any additional potential shelter sites in White Center?

“We’re not planning anything beyond this right now,” Ellerbrook replied. “Our hope is that we will be able to get people connected and move them out” into real housing. “We hope we can move the needle on homelessness in this particular region.”

And if they can … “we might be able to re-evaluate the need for this facility.”

The community meeting on Thursday (September 15th) is at the Bethaday Community Learning Space in Dick Thurnau Memorial Park (635 SW 108th), 6:30 pm.

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36 Responses to “FOLLOWUP: Why King County wants to open a White Center shelter for people experiencing homelessness, how it will work, and who it’s for”

  1. Stephanie Palmquist Says:

    I sincerely hope that all concerned neighbors will attend the meeting to present a unified voice that this location is NOT appropriate for the use they are proposing! This building is right in the middle of four schools, and students from kindergarten through high school have to walk past this building on their way to and from school! There is a wooded park adjacent to the building on a dead end street. Who will be held accountable when our children are harassed and/or possibly dragged into the woods and attacked or raped on their way to school? Will King County’s already overtaxed sherif provide an escort to the thousand some students enrolled at these four neighborhood schools? The Salvation Army already says it won’t screen anyone for criminal records or arrest warrents or even turn them away if they are under the influence of drugs! Who will keep our children safe?

  2. I think this is an amazing idea. It makes use of space that is already there and not in use. Also it is next to the food bank, close to bus lines and for the most part is fairly wooded around it.

  3. Thank you for the information.

  4. This whole thing makes me sick. We have become a magnet for homeless all across this country. We need to find solutions, but not in a place children are because of schools and park. What is wrong with these politicians? I think when they declared homelessness “an emergency” it was to do three things: 1. Raise taxes 2. Get federal money 3. Pressure White Center to become Seattle.

  5. I have serious concerns about placing this shelter so far from the business district, in the middle of a residential neighborhood and right next to a park that abuts two public schools. Will anything be done to avoid turning Dick Thurnau Park into a daytime hangout and nighttime campout site for people drawn from downtown White Center and other areas?
    Was the extensive vacant space under the DSHS office (the old Safeway building) even considered? It does not sit in the middle of a residential neighborhood, does not abut a park or schools, and has much better access to bus routes and services.

  6. Does the county own that building? (I don’t have time to dive into Parcel Viewer right this sec. I vaguely recall it being for sale some time back?) Please note that one impetus for all this is the county trying to maximize its facilities (as they’ve done downtown). But also note that the invitation to the meeting does say that citizens are invited to bring their ideas for where shelter could be found, and Mark Ellerbrook reiterated that during our conversation.

  7. Gwen Elliott Woodruff Says:

    I was aggressively verbally harassed by two men in a gold SUV by the bus stop at 8th and 108th. I was so shaken up I actually reported it to the police. The police officer who followed up with me said a high concentration of sex offenders live in the area (don’t take my word for it, just look it up. It’s also common hearsay I’ve heard volunteering at the food bank). White Center is one of the last places in the Seattle area where most people can afford to live, and most do, in homes they’ve long owned. With homelessness not much of a problem here (though we have our share of other problems), seems to me this is a way to exploit an already troubled area in the hopes that no one will put up much of a fight (like so many “incorporated” Seattle residents have done about the homeless in their backyards) and relocate a lot of Seattle’s downtown homeless here.

  8. Jerry, that’s a great idea!

  9. Wow Stephanie. +1 on the hysteria. “…our children harassed and/or possibly dragged into the woods and attacked or raped on their way to school?” You are way out of line here. People are homeless everywhere, especially in White Center and West Seattle. Just look at ANY park or open green space right now. I am 100% for this to help folks out there. I just wish we could also get one for homeless families as well. Shame on you and your fear mongering.

  10. Danielle Slota Says:

    I fully support this! Especially when you read the facts about how many homeless neighbors we have in White Center. If executed properly, this would not bring homeless neighbors into White Center (as some of the replies are suggesting) but rather take the folks who are already there, sleeping on the street, and bring them inside. If anything, I think this has the potential for making the neighborhood safer.

  11. Are there alternatives on the other side of Roxbury?

    Mark Ellerbrook’s explanation of why they chose this location is very interesting. I wonder if this an example of how King County uses its “Equity Impact Tool.

    Does it go like this?

    (1) There are only two shelters between somewhere in Burien and somewhere in West Seattle.

    (2) Both are women’s shelters.

    (3) Together they can shelter 17 women.

    So, let’s:

    [1] Put a homeless shelter for 70 adult men and women in White Center (aka Top Hat, Lake Hicks, etc.)

    Next to a park,
    which is next to Cascade Middle School,
    which is next to Evergreen High School and a short walk to:
    Mt. View Elementary School,
    Technology Access Foundation (TAF) and
    the Head Start at Seola Gardens.

    [2] Because it is one of the poorest communities in King County.

    (North Highline’s area median income is nearly $30,000 a year BELOW King County’s. White Center’s poverty rate is almost 25%. Beverly Park’s is even higher.)

    [3] Because it is one of the most unhealthy communities in King County.

    (If in doubt, King County Public Health’s community profiles are very informational about things ranging from levels of education to lifespans.)

    [4] Because it’s an area of “concentrated poverty,” felons and druggies are already here.

    [5] So…what’s a few more? No screening necessary.

    [6] So…we’ll accept people who are under the influence of whatever, but not their drugs. They’ll have to be stashed somewhere in the neighborhood, but there are plenty of places in the parks.

    [7] The list goes on and on…

    Equity? Social Justice? Not in North Highline. The politicians and bureaucrats who are trying to push this shelter on this neighborhood need to reassess the location. Homeless people need safe lodgings in neighborhoods with opportunities to offer. That’s not North Highline.

  12. I am seriously disappointed in some of my White Center neighbors. You are assuming that because these people are homeless that they are all on drugs, are crazy or are criminals. My family was homeless for about 5 years. We were just not able to afford a home and our credit sucked. Luckily we had some great family that we could stay with for a while and then we were able to “live” in a motel along the Aurora Corridor. Not one of us were on drugs nor are we alcoholics or criminals. And as some of you say “we shouldn’t relocate homeless to North Highline”. Are you kidding me? There are already homeless in North Highline. That is part of the problem. I live just up the street from the tent city on Myers Way. You are saying that they should put the homeless in Downtown WC. If they did that you would complain just as much. Children and familys walk through that area too. You don’t think that just because they are in a more urban setting doesn’t make them any more or any less dangerous.And don’t you think it is already dangerous to have that building sitting empty? At least this way there are going to be people on site making sure that crime is kept at a minimum. Please think about your fellow human beings.

  13. Stephanie Palmquist Says:

    Liz, thank you for breaking down the points so concisely. Gwen, I’m sorry for your experience. Jerry, thank you for your suggestions for alternative locations.
    I’m glad that so many are now aware of the county plans and will hopefully attend the meeting. My goal was to raise awareness of this plan, which I was never notified of by the county, despite living nearby. If one reads the full article above, the Salvation Army has already stated that the shelter is for adults only, it will not screen the adults, that it will not turn them away if they are under the influence of drugs / alcohol, and it will provide transportation to White Center from downtown as far as Bellevue. That means those lical homeless who coukd benefit from this shelter will have to compete for spaces with those being bussed in. Those who say I’m scare mongering, I invite you to volunteer to walk with the kids to and from school every day. Good night all, see you at the meeting.

  14. Stephanie Palmquist Says:

    Correction, local homeless

  15. Stephanie Palmquist Says:

    Correction, could benefit

  16. Do you honestly believe you are the only person walking your child to school encountering homeless folks? There is No Shelter for people in this area. And when you are homeless, there is no city boarder. Only the struggle for a safe place to sleep and your next meal.

    Homeless people already live close to you, they are everywhere. So this hysteria is almost laughable if the conditions humans are living in weren’t so deplorable. If there was a place on the “other side of Roxbury” I’m sure it’s been discussed. This is a reasonable use of this building for the greater good.

  17. Liz,

    The first floor of the DSHS building houses the Sea-Mar clinic and an eye clinic, but other spaces in there have been vacant for many years. It would be a good place for more services.

    Metro could help this a lot, too. By moving about half of the local bus route endpoints back to the former Metro bus hub near the old Safeway, people who need services could be connected with them more effectively. The former bus hub has lots of space, ever since nearly all of the buses went to Westwood.

    The express buses that now park alongside Roxhill Park are the routes that should be moved back to the White Center bus hub. Those are the buses that offload the bulk of the people who need services, when those bus runs end at the park, coming directly from downtown. But no services are available there, and realistically the service providers can’t operate effectively in the park itself.

    The other smaller and more local bus routes, and the Sound Transit 560 bus, that park along 25th (the street alongside the Staples store) seem to have much less of an effect on the park and could stay where they are.

    In addition to making it more feasible to help those who need it, people around Roxhill Elementary would thank you and Metro for helping to make Roxhill Park back into a safer environment for the neighborhood’s kids.

  18. Metro’s current C Line routing is controversial for a number of reasons. Modifying the C Line route, so that it would run both northbound and southbound along the same route that it now uses northbound (on Roxbury), and end up at the White Center bus hub, could have some beneficial results for Westwood and vicinity, as well as better connecting White Center. Here’s what I proposed on the West Seattle Blog, in case anyone here wants to discuss it:

    The southbound C Line buses could turn south on 35th at Barton (the same route that the northbound C Line buses use now), and stop eastbound on Roxbury at the Safeway (they now stop there westbound), but then continue on their way to 15th and Roxbury to end their route at the bus hub there.

    This would take the C Line off the residential street on 26th. The 120 could continue to run on 26th, for local people who need to shuttle between the Safeway and Westwood Village, which most express riders to downtown probably don’t need to do. The C Line already connects with the 120 at the Safeway, for those commuters who need to get to Westwood Village. And it would connect with the 120 again at 15th and Roxbury.

    Maybe this would mean a few other minor routing changes for local bus lines that connect with the C Line, too, along its route or at the White Center bus hub. But overall this could be an improvement for the Westwood area.

  19. In other words, move Seattle’s homeless people to unincorporated King County.

  20. Oh, you’ll be Seattle soon enough Liz.

  21. The devil is certainly in the details on this proposal. There are many problems with how King County makes decisions for the communities it governs. It seems clear in this case that our local government is pandering to its political interests rather than involving the community in local decisions.

    Certainly maligning the homeless population with fears that they will bring a greater danger of sex offenses or a greater degree of drug use in White Center is off-base.

    However, questions remain about the operation of this shelter, if it comes to pass. Will it be available for clients 24 hours a day? If not, what will its hours be? What other services will be available to homeless residents? What is the intended geographical service area for the shelter? Does King County intend to open other shelters in the same time frame (and where if so)? What are the sources of funding, and how sustainable is that funding in the coming years? What does the county estimate is the size of the population that needs this service in the region this shelter is intended to serve? Who will operate the shelter and who will they be accountable to? How frequently will the need for services at this location be re-evaluated and what resources will exist to add additional services should more services turn out to be necessary?

    For example, many shelters are open for bedding down only in the evening to early morning. For example, Union Gospel Mission in Seattle allows overnight occupancy between 8 PM with wake-up at 6 AM. The same space is used for meals during the day. Each persons belongings must be moved out every morning. What other amenities and services exist near the proposed shelter to handle daytime occupancy?

    Given the county’s current budget squeeze, where the county is facing $50 million in budget cuts to services funded through its general fund, the fund that covers local government services, local residents are being completely rational to question whether a regional emergency shelter with limited opening hours and few additional services in the area is the right plan for the greater White Center community.

  22. The size of the population is already mentioned in this story. And it’s not SW Seattle – it’s SW King County. They promised maps at the meeting.

  23. So Seattle can move more of its problems here? Unrestrained segregation and discrimination. Homeless people need homes, dumping them in an already struggling neighborhood is EVIL, imo.

  24. Danielle Slota Says:

    I hopped on here this morning hoping to have heard from more neighbors in support of this shelter. I, along with Ms. Cooke, am sad to see that our neighborhood is AGAINST GIVING PEOPLE A WARM PLACE TO SLEEP. 100 (approximately) of our neighbors sleep outdoors in White Center every single night. 100 of our neighbors are sleeping in tents, cars, shelter made from boxes, under the awnings of local businesses, at bus stops, on park benches. 100 of our neighbors feel unsafe every night of the week. For the life of me I can’t understand why any of you would chose that for them, which is exactly what you are doing. By not supporting this shelter, you are saying that you would rather our neighbors be cold and in danger. It breaks my heart.

  25. Mr. Ellerbrook’s comment that 100 people sleep on the streets of White Center was an “estimate.” By whom? Based on what? He was clearly trying to make SW Seattle’s problem ours. It isn’t – yet. Seattle’s homeless should be treated like people IN Seattle.

  26. Liz,

    I know what you’re saying, and I’d be concerned about it too, if things would happen the way you fear they would.

    But back when all the Metro routes went to the bus hub at the old Safeway store, and many of the buses laid over near there, there were far fewer problems there of the kind that have cropped up at Roxhill Park.

    That was because it’s a business distict with the King County Sheriff’s office within a couple of blocks, well lighted streets, foot and car traffic at all hours – really not at all like the Park. The Park atracts people that the White Center bus hub did not attract and won’t attract, basically because the Park is a wildland, unlit, unwatched wooded area.

    The Park is highly attractive to people who want to hide in the trees and bushes, away from lighted areas, out of public view. The 15th and Roxbury bus hub doesn’t attract them now, and it won’t be any more attractive than it is now if some of the bus routes return to that location.

    The problem is the siren pull of the out-of-view, hidden, unpoliced woodland environment of Roxhill Park, coupled with the lack of Transit Police attention to it. Transit Police SUVs frequently guard the shiny new Burien Transit Center against a few ragged characters that turn up there, but they don’t give the same kind of attention to Roxhill Park.

    Part of what needs to happen, along with restoring Roxhill Park to being a civilized place again, is for the Transit Police to make sure that the 15th and Roxbury bus hub stays civilized, too. But that would be a lot easier than in Roxhill Park.

    Most of those who now hop off at the Park probably aren’t going to consider beautiful downtown White Center to be equivalently atractive. There are always a few homeless people around there, but it doesn’t provide a better substitute for Victor Steinbrueck Park or other such places downtown, which Roxhill Park does.

    There probably will be some more people coming to White Center, if there’s a shelter built there. The DSHS building would be a good place for it, better than some other possible nearby locations, if a shelter is going to be built in White Center somewhere.

    But I don’t expect a big deluge, if Roxhill Park is cleaned up and stops being an easy C-Line destination like it is now. The reroute that I suggested likely would lead to a return to the previous state of things at 15th and Roxbury, and that actually wasn’t so bad.

  27. It sure would be nice to know the zip codes before the meeting. Tracy? Please and thank you.

  28. Sounds like some people are not reading the article and just posting there fears.

    Here are some facts that are in the article

    It will be operated by the salvation army

    It will be a overnight shelter 5pm to 8am

    The shelter will accept single adults and couples, 18 and over – no children

    Yes they will not turn away someone for being drunk or high on drugs ( I would take a guess if someone causes a problem they leave in hand cuffs )

    They are also not be doing crimal background checks

    Which worries some people but these homeless people are already here now if there in this location at night in bed. Then if they happen to be a criminal there not out breaking in to things at night.

    Also most of these same homeless people most likely use the foodbank nextdoor. So right now the only places for them to sleep is in parks or along myers way.

    Also for the people wondering about the sex offender population in the area look at any low income area across the country. Some of these people maybe criminal’s but they are trying to rebuild there life’s. For the amount of them in the area there has not really been anything in the news or blogs about any crime activity related to them.

  29. Isn’t it bad enough we have freed psychopaths wandering in and out of Share and Care House, making the 131 Metro route one of the most harrowing and dangerous rides in the entire system? We have kids using the walks unaccompanied to and from school, largely because their parents are too busy (or poor) to escort them themselves. You REALLY think this is a good idea? I’m all for ending homelessness, but this is a TERRIBLE idea. All these junkies and their smelly mutts are going to be piling on Metro in droves, and nobody had thought yet about how this is going to impact the neighborhood. This will just bring more crime, more pain to the area, and I’m sick to death of it. The homophobic Salvation Army can kiss me where the sun doesn’t shine, too.

  30. Three years ago, A group of churches and Chamber members held several meetings on homelessness in downtown White Center. Participants included service providers, White Center business owners, law enforcement and other community members. What was clear is that White Center has had a serious homeless problem for years, and many of the homeless here, are here to avoid the pressures they feel in downtown Seattle to use homeless services there. Me Giba’s claim that Seattle is dumping homeless in White Center is nonsense. The discussion tonight is a King Couny iniative. From the work that we did previously, it is clear that we need a facility here and coordinated services to help get these folks back on track. The homeless are already here and have been for years. Figuring out how to give them a hand up is the right thing to do.

  31. The concentration of poverty in North Highline is well documented. 25% of us live in poverty. Our median income is about $30,000 a year LESS than that of the county as a whole. Our schools are struggling, we have to beg the county to help clean our streets, graffiti is never-ending, We have many problems, but homelessness is not one of them.

    Seattle has a homeless problem. The Top Hat neighborhood has been suffering for months because Seattle’s homeless problem has been pushed to Myers Way. (In Seattle, just north of the border.) The drug use and crime are also documented.

    Ours is a vulnerable community. Before King County directs any more vulnerable people here, it has a moral responsibility to conduct a Fair Housing analysis. It will be required by HUD in a few years anyway, why not do it now?

    Today’s Seattle Times (front page, above the fold) reads: “INCOME GAIN IN SEATTLE FAR OUTPACES OTHER CITIES…If your household earns less than $80,000 per year, you’re now in the minority in Seattle.”

    Meanwhile, our median income is about $40,000. Why should North Highline subsidize Seattle?

  32. Just a reminder, KING County is working on this project, not Seattle. Homeless people live in White Center, have been for many many years.

    Liz, as the chair of NHUAC (the area’s community council), I would hope you would be a bit more pragmatic and forward thinking in helping North Highline residents start the work it will take to make Seattle annexation successful. Your questions about Seattle and it’s policies are completely valid. However, the only way to make things better is to do the work to make things better. Your animosity towards Seattle is breathtaking.

    People on the Seattle side of the line want to work with NHUAC, but I am starting to doubt that’s possible.

  33. AmandaKH –

    As someone who has attempted to run for public office in the past, and who may do so again in the future, I would give you a reminder that our elected representatives represent ALL the people and should refrain from calling their concerns “laughable” just because they do not align with your own.

    Just a thought.

  34. One Evergreen Says:

    I am with Stephanie Palmquist worrying about the location of the proposed homeless shelter in the center of student walking zones of four schools, White Center Heights Elementary, Mount View Elementary, Cascade Middle School and Evergreen high schools. In addition, the proposed shelter is next to Lakewood Park and the Evergreen/Cascade athletic fields where certainly groups of homeless using the shelter would congregate during hours they are not allowed inside the shelter.

    After nearly 20 years of fantastic Lakewood Park renovations, the Bethaday Community Center, the Disc golf course and a playground, students can walk through these open spaces now without encountering thugs and drug deals to and from school. As a parent with kids who walked to these schools, the idea of children having to navigate past groups of homeless individuals leaving the shelter while walking to school every morning makes me uneasy.

    Yes, homeless individuals need shelter and support, but this is a school and child centric location. Some of you are calling folks who disagree with this shelter proposal selfish, yet White Center parents would have to take on the burden of worrying about the safety of their children walking to and from school.

  35. To quote Ms Giba “We don’t have a homeless problem in White Center”. Really Liz? Walk the back alley between 15th and 16th downtown. What about the camps along the ponds or at North Shorewood Park. What about the vacant lot that is now the new library (ironically, the new library that you fought to move into Burien instead of keeping it in White Center) I have been talking homeless people from White Center to shelters during our coldest weather for years and years.

    You have done some good work here, but it does not give you the right to make known false statements about our community and make your blanket declarations and be so caustic towards people who have a differing opinion. The same arguments that are being made about the homeless, are the same statements you have made about our low income housing.

  36. Westwood res: Cute, but not accurate.