By Aziza Jackson
SEATTLE — King County officials recently announced that they will operate a temporary 24-hour enhanced emergency shelter in the west wing of the King County Correctional Facility.
Approximately $2 million in capital improvement costs is expected to prepare space at the correctional facility, and approximately $2 million is expected for 24/7 operating costs each year.
“Throughout King County government, we are constantly asking: what resources can we leverage to help people off the streets? What innovations can we deploy? What new approach can we try? These questions become all the more urgent as the days become shorter and colder,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “These actions will help bring more people inside for the winter, and provide more outreach to those living on sidewalks, and in doorways, and parks.”
Until 2012, the space at 5th Avenue and Jefferson Street was used to house inmate workers and work release clients with 435 beds. It is currently used for staff education and training with classroom, training and physical fitness space, as well as equipment and records storage.
Under oversight by the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), the space would be converted to house between 125-150 single adults. Anyone without shelter would be welcome, including those exiting the justice system, a population identified by One Table as vulnerable to housing insecurity.
The facility offers three floors of available space, with office space for case management available on the first floor. Cots or bunks will be provided for sleeping, individual lockers will be available for personal belongings, and bathrooms and showers will be provided for use.
Once a service provider is selected, the county said that they would work together to develop infrastructure improvements and an onsite service plan that will include case management, employment, health and behavioral health, and housing navigation.
As with every other shelter in the King County system, all stays are strictly voluntary, and those with historical trauma related to incarceration may choose to receive services at another location.
“I am concerned about people sleeping outdoors while a building with heat, beds, bathrooms, showers, and space for services sits empty,” said Constantine. “If I have the opportunity to ensure a warm, safe place for even one additional person, I have a moral obligation to act, and I will.”