Snohomish County turns to Everett for homeless shelter turned hotel

EVERETT, Washington, December 10, 2021 – In response to affordability, behavioral health and homelessness issues exacerbated by the pandemic, Snohomish County is seeking a hotel in Everett to convert to a shelter / bridge accommodation following in the footsteps of neighboring jurisdictions.

At the Everett City Council meeting on November 24, Michael Fong of the Snohomish County Recovery and Resilience Office and Mary Jane “MJ” Brell Vujovic, Director of the Snohomish County Social Services Department, presented to the advice on solutions to cope with these increased levels of homelessness with 150 new shelters / deck beds by 2023. These new housing units and services would include the expansion of the housing unit project in pallets of 20 units. ‘Everett by 40 additional units and the purchase of at least one hotel / motel in Snohomish County to provide one-year shelter and services in an effort to stabilize the chronically homeless.

Everett was the site chosen to purchase this hotel after discovering that it had 44% of the county’s entire homeless population, along with an extensive network of service providers and accessibility to public transport. Snohomish County also said it would pursue options elsewhere depending on the response from available partners and the scale of the needs.

“Our intention is to purchase this first hotel in Everett, but we intend to pursue other options elsewhere in the county if we can find jurisdictions with which to partner and there is a need. The data shows that this strategy is very effective in getting people off the streets and directing them to permanent housing, ”Kelsey Nyland, communications director for the Snohomish County Office of Recovery and Resilience, told the Lynnwood Times.

The hotel would operate 24/7 and provide services including but not limited to meals, hygiene, storage and staff to support a transition to permanent accommodation, ideally with a partner organization . The hotel is said to house 100 to 150 people at a time, bringing 30 to 50 percent (according to the 2020 PIT tally) of Everett’s unhedged homeless population in a single facility, based on a financial analysis conducted by the Department of Social Services.

“The facility will have at least one partner organization that will operate the facility and administer the on-site services. Ideally, we’ll also have a partner organization that can provide behavioral health services on-site, ”Nyland told the Lynnwood Times. “ARPA and other state and local funds will cover the entire initial cost of purchasing and operating the facility. “

Snohomish County officials added that purchasing a pre-existing facility would be much cheaper than building new rooms, costing an initial investment of $ 5-10 million in ARPA dollars. Plus, buying a facility instead of leasing, the county said, would be more cost effective and a better use of taxpayer dollars.

Snohomish County began considering the strategy of providing non-accommodated people with vouchers for hotels / motels as early as 2017 in an accommodation report that was handed over to County Council. The idea of ​​buying a hotel / motel took shape earlier in 2021 when the county identified the extent and potential uses of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Snohomish County Council has voted in favor of this accommodation project three times:

  • October 6, 2021: Vote to appropriate the first installment of ARPA dollars, which includes investments for the accommodation project
  • November 8, 2021: Vote to hire a broker to support the project
  • November 9, 2021: Vote for the adoption of the 2022 budget, which includes investments for this accommodation project

At the November 8 meeting, Snohomish County Council approved Kidder Mathews as a broker to define a site that would have at least 125 rooms. Under the agreement, $ 220,000 of ARPA funds will be used to pay Kidder Mathews and any potential future subcontractors.

Kidder Mathews is the West Coast’s largest independent commercial real estate company and helped King County purchase three hotels under the Health Through Housing initiative earlier this year, providing up to 313 units to homeless people. King County Chronicles.

The vote for the deal went 4-1, with the only council member voting no being County Council member Sam Low. During the vote, Low proposed an amendment stating that the county would not buy a hotel in a city without a letter of support from Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin or Everett City Council to maintain transparency with the city of the potential site. Low’s amendment was rejected 2-3.

“I think buying hotels is not a core function of county government,” Low told the Lynnwood Times.

At the Everett City Council meeting where the project was presented, it was voiced by Everett Council Member Scott Murphy and Everett Council Chairperson Brenda Stonecipher that the council had not been put aware of this project and many board members learned of the project from a local newspaper.

“I was not at all aware that this was happening imminently and would happen in this city,” said council member Scott Murphy.

Despite the lack of transparency, the council was overwhelmingly in favor of moving the project forward, on condition that the county put in place a series of ‘guardrails’ that would protect neighboring communities and offer services that would provide mental health assistance. to hotel residents within their stay limited to 90 days or less.

“This hotel could be a good idea, especially if we don’t do what King County is doing, and I’ve heard a lot of controversy about it. If we limit it to residents of Everett, I think it might work if we need treatment, assuming they need drug or mental health treatment, ”Council member Scott said. Bader.

Almost 50 percent of all homeless suffer from some sort of mental illness. Through several attempts at community outreach, Snohomish County has found a clear theme that an increase in behavioral health services is needed to meet the needs of chronically homeless people to prevent them from repeatedly stepping through the system.

Over the past five years, Snohomish County has invested $ 89 million in behavioral health services through the Chemical Addiction and Mental Health Sales Tax Fund. The county is investing an additional $ 2.5 million in behavioral health efforts using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). All of these dollars will be allocated by July 2022.

The county’s next steps with the hotel project are to identify a location and make an initial agreement with vendors, maintain community engagement with neighboring residents and businesses, publicly notify residents of the purchase agreement, and proposed sale, to hold a final vote on the buy and sell agreement with Snohomish County Council, and finally find service providers and start outreach to homeless residents before shelter operations begin during in the first quarter of 2022.

So far, the county broker has started to visit potential facilities, but has not set up shop at a site.

“We must face the urgency and scale of this crisis, or we will undoubtedly see a continued sharp increase in homelessness in the months and years to come. Without action, the problem will only get worse, ”Nyland told the Lynnwood Times.

Controversy over hotels to homeless shelters

Bloomberg reported that the Seattle area’s roughly $ 350 million to convert hotels into long-term housing for the homeless is “one of the boldest” in the country.

King County’s efforts were not without controversy, however. After King County paid to move homeless people from a crowded downtown Seattle shelter to a Renton Red Lion hotel last year, a worried Renton city council voted in effect, 5-2 , an emergency law that would oblige people staying at the hotel from by January. 2022.

“The consequences will affect people living in a Red Lion hotel in the short term and could impact the region’s homelessness strategy in the long term,” Seattle Times reporter Scott Greenstone wrote in his report. from last year.

The community surrounding the Seattle area has participated in public forums to share their views on King County’s efforts, which are widely divided.

“These ‘hotels’ become unattended drug haunts and increase crime in surrounding areas,” said one Reddit user.

“Once you put the homeless in the houses, the homelessness is fixed,” replied another Reddit user.

The Homelessness Problem in Snohomish County

The number of homeless people has steadily increased over the years. PIT 2020 identified a total of 1,132 homeless people with a significant increase in the number of homeless homeless skyrocketing from 2018 to 2020, increasing by 58% in 2019 and 12% in 2020. In the Snohomish County, Everett experienced the highest homeless homeless population at 300.

There are currently 646 year-round shelter beds and 88 seasonal shelter beds in Snohomish County, including hotels / motels. The difference between the number of accommodation beds per year and the number of homeless people is 486.

Affordable housing

Snohomish County leaders have reported to Everett City Council that the county has an estimated rental vacancy rate of 1.9% and the supply of housing does not match current population growth. For no household to spend more than 30% of its income on shelter, the county would need an additional 127,215 affordable housing units by 2040. In addition, 67.1% of Snohomish County residents are homeowners and 32, 9% of county residents are renters.

Over the past five years, Snohomish County has contributed resources to the construction of 222 affordable housing units and expects an additional 200 new units to come into service over the next five years.

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