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Urban Politics #188: Providing A Downtown Center For Homeless People

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata. With assistance from my LA Lisa Herbold

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.


Providing A Downtown Center For Homeless People

In the 2005 – 2006 budget, the Mayor included $3.2 million in funding for a new City-owned hygiene and homeless services facility co-located with Fire Station 10, the Fire Alarm Center and Emergency Operations Center at 4th or 5th, Yesler and Washington (“proposed site”). $1.9 million in funding is provided in 2005.

I am a strong proponent of obtaining a downtown hygiene and homeless services facility, and I believe that this project is our best chance for providing one. Please see my previous Urban Politics Issue(s)# 19, 25, 26, 164 where I’ve written about the need and the past efforts to establish a downtown Hygiene Center:

I feel that there is a value in having this type community center, just like other community centers in the City, owned by the City. See here for a similar facility in Vancouver, BC:

Other Councilmembers criticized this proposal for a number of reasons. One concern is that the location is too close to the Chinatown/International District and should be located in another downtown location. The facility is outside the historic district and the planning area for the Chinatown/International District, nevertheless it will occupy an area that some in the community had hoped would be developed for housing. Unfortunately, as the Council was informed by the Mayor’s Office, this property was not up to sale and therefore was not slated for development any time in the foreseeable future. The City had to condemn the land for the new Fire Alarm Center and Emergency Operations Center.

I am committed to working with the Chinatown/International District to mitigate any negative impacts this development may have. And to that end, I wrote and got legislation passed forming a Citizens Advisory Committee consisting of residents from the Chinatown/International District and Pioneer Square to monitor and influence the project’s construction, design and operations. I believe with this citizen oversight, impacts will be minimal. And the experience of other neighborhoods hosting similar facilities like the Urban Reststop, Angeline’s, and the Compass Center further reinforces that belief. Further, this facility will be in a City-owned building adjoining our new Fire Alarm Center which has 24-hour a day presence.

Some others said the projected construction costs were too high. The project does require extensive commercial plumbing to accommodate multiple showers, dryers and washers. I know from personal experience remodeling of a home’s plumbing is an expensive proposition. And in this instance, this building will have to meet commercial standards to address the constant use it will be receiving from the hundreds of weekly users.

In addition, it will have a small kitchen and a meeting room to provide a community center for homeless people. A director of another facility providing similar services said the City was better off with new construction than trying to do a remodeling effort on an older downtown building because new construction offered better design efficiencies and therefore I would expect lower operational costs.

Although, the per square footage costs are “high end contingency costs,” the actual per square footage cost for the construction of this facility are approximately half of what is budgeted. In the final analysis, the City will do everything it can to contain those cost because our dollars are limited and there is no incentive for going over budget.

Finally, some Councilmembers said that the service model has not been well thought out. I disagree. The service model is patterned upon other similar facilities in Seattle and other cities. The mix of services include a feeding program, a winter response shelter for homeless people in cold weather, clothing washers and dryers, showers and a place for people without homes to spend some time during the day to watch television, read a book, or chat with friends–much like a community center. This is a project that will help reconnect homeless people to the greater urban community by helping them gain some self-respect and I believe that is the first step in helping turn one’s life around.

Last week, the City Council unanimously voted to proceed with funding a city-owned facility at the proposed site unless, by February 28, 2005, Council approves an alternative site. The legislation allows making the $3.2 million earmarked in the Mayor’s budget for capital costs available to one or more nonprofit developers to be used at different sites yet to be identified. I’ve requested that representatives from all of the downtown communities be represented in this new search effort.

If Council takes no action on an alternative site, the proposed site shall be the location of the hygiene and homeless service center. Council will adopt an ordinance releasing the funds restricted by this proviso no later than February 28, 2005.

To determine whether a more preferable alternative site exists, Council and Executive staff shall expeditiously evaluate alternative options as described here. The Council and Human Services Department shall form a joint staff working- group by November 29th, 2005, to conduct an analysis of alternatives to the proposed site. This analysis will focus on the feasibility of providing hygiene and homeless services to single adults with an emphasis on single men in Downtown Seattle at a site or sites different than the proposed site.

In completing this analysis, the Council and HSD shall solicit input and best advice from interested stakeholders, community groups, homeless service providers, homeless advocates, the business community, and the Committee to End Homelessness (or its successor group). This analysis shall evaluate the following: the types of homeless services that are needed/desired which shall be consistent with our community’s 10 year plan to end homelessness and available needs data, including consideration of the new/expanded hygiene and day center services that will be available in 2005; population to be served by proposed services; assessment of potential options for the provision of desired services, including expansion of existing facilities owned by non-profit providers and/or inclusion of desired services within a future, planned non-profit housing or services facility; and potential funding sources, including federal, state, private sources, available for construction an! d/or operation of a facility or facilities.

The types of homeless services that will be evaluated include but are not limited to: hygiene services, day center services, meal services, centralized intake, assessment and referral services, supportive services, and shelter. The staff working-group shall complete their review and provide recommendations to the Housing, Human Services and Health Committee by January 31, 2005.

Below is the preliminary schedule that has been proposed for this effort.


Week of November 14 – 20

– Email/Communicate with homeless service providers and obtain preliminary information regarding their interest in and capacity for expanding hygiene/day center operations in Downtown Seattle.

– Council Staff and HSD meet to identify list of stakeholders to invite to participate in review process. Discuss details and process going forward. Review work conducted to date by HSD to review site alternatives.

The next two weeks (November 21 – December 4)

– Begin reviewing all information provided by service providers and format/prepare for stakeholder roundtable discussion in early December. Ask any follow-up questions to providers for more information about possible expansion/development.

– Invite stakeholders to first of two roundtable discussions.

– Council Staff and HSD meet to review information provided by homeless service providers on possible alternatives to 4th and Yesler.

Week of December 5 – 11

– Convene first of two roundtable discussions. Topics: Who is the population we intend to serve? What are the services desired for this target population? Expansion of multiple sites versus development of centralized point of service (pros/cons). Outline parameters of our review process: $3.2 million budget, services must be on-line within 2 years, etc. Begin sharing information learned by Council and HSD staff to date – identify any possible additional questions that need to be answered and issues that need to be explored. (Possibly facilitated by consultant)

The next few weeks (December 12 – January 8 )

– HSD and Council Staff continue research into possible alternative sites with any additional direction/feedback provided by stakeholder roundtable discussion from the week before. Gather specifics on costs, locations, timelines, services specifically provided (i.e. how many showers, washers/dryers, support services, etc. would be provided, per day, for how much).

– Schedule and invite stakeholder panel for second of two roundtable meetings on review of alternative sites.

Week of January 2 – 8 or 9 – 15

– Convene second of two roundtable discussion. Topics: Review staff findings and discuss how reasonable various alternatives are to 4th & Yesler site. Stakeholder group ranks alternatives based on criteria established from previous roundtable discussion.

The next few weeks (January 9 – 31)

– Final report prepared for Council Housing, Human Services and Health Committee meeting in early February.

Keep in touch…

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