by Paul Faruq Kiefer
(This article previously appeared on PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
In his State of the County Address Tuesday, May 11, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that the County would purchase the Inn at Queen Anne, which has been serving as a temporary shelter operated by Catholic Community Services (CCS) since April of last year.
The 80-room hotel, which CCS will continue to operate, will cost the county $16.5 million; the money will come from the new “health through housing” sales tax that the County Council passed — with some notable abstentions from suburban cities — late last year. The County plans to purchase “several more properties in several more cities … in the coming weeks,” Constantine said in his address.
In an interview on Monday, Constantine said he saw the hotels as “stops on the way to permanent supportive housing or independent housing, including affordable housing — places where you could live for a while and stabilize and take advantage of services.” Traditional, congregate shelters, including “enhanced shelters” like Seattle’s Navigation Center, don’t offer the kind of privacy and stability hotel rooms provide; “the difference between being able to come inside for the night and having a place of your own with a lock on the door seems to be everything,” Constantine said.
Even as the County moves to buy hotels, the City of Seattle is pushing in the opposite direction. Between now and June, Seattle plans to close down a temporary shelter at Exhibition Hall and relocate the people living there into shelters whose populations were “redistributed” last year, including the Navigation Center. After resisting calls to move Seattle’s homeless population into hotel-based shelters, the City finally rented about 200 hotel rooms this spring — a temporary solution (the rooms will be occupied for 10 months) and one that represents a fraction of the need. At the same time, Seattle is ramping up homeless encampment sweeps.
Asked about the apparent contrast between the County’s approach and Seattle’s, Constantine said, “First off, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If people need a place to be inside at night, we have to figure out a way to make that happen.” However, he added, “If you’re going to move people out of an encampment, at a bare minimum, you can’t just chase people from one street corner to another or one park to another. That is tremendously unhelpful.”
Constantine is up for reelection this year; his challenger, state Sen. Joe Nguyen, told PubliCola he supports the regional homelessness authority that the County is setting up but thinks the County has failed to forge partnerships with the leaders of cities within the county.
Paul Faruq Kiefer is a journalist, historian, and born-and-bred Seattleite. He has published work with KUOW, North Carolina Public Radio, and The Progressive magazine, and he is currently working on a podcast for KUAF in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Paul reports on police accountability for PubliCola.
📸 Featured Image: King County announced it will purchase the Inn at Queen Anne, which provides 80 rooms to those without shelter. Photo courtesy of King County, as a screenshot from King County Executive Dow Constantine’s 2021 State of the County Address.
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