County Rents Hygiene Trailers for a Fraction of What the City Is Paying

Hygiene trailers at King County’s COVID assessment and recovery site in Shoreline.

King County, which has opened isolation, assessment, and recovery sites in several locations in and outside Seattle, will pay a fraction of what the city of Seattle is paying to provide mobile toilet and shower trailers to people staying at these locations, The C Is for Crank has learned.

Between March and April, the county is spending, on average, $60,000 a week on to provide 36 shower stalls at three locations, including staffing, maintenance, cleaning, supplies, and other costs, while the city will spend as much as $43,000 a week plus staffing, security, maintenance, cleaning, supplies and other costs, to provide six shower stalls at two locations. 

As I’ve reported, the city council added $1.3 million to the city budget last November to purchase five shower and hygiene trailers, but the city’s Human Services Department did not begin trying to procure them until mid-March, after the COVID-19 epidemic forced the closure of private businesses and public buildings with restrooms and showers. By that time, according to the city, there were no shower trailers available locally, and the original plan to buy trailers rather than rent them had to be scrapped.

Between March and April, the county is spending, on average, $60,000 a week on to provide 36 shower stalls at three locations, including staffing, maintenance, cleaning, and other costs, while the city will spend as much as $43,000 a week plus staffing, maintenance, cleaning, and other costs to provide six shower stalls at two locations. 

The city eventually found two trailers available for rent from a company in California, at a cost of $36,000 per month, plus $14,000 in hauling costs, between $5,700 and $34,200 a week to pump out wastewater, an unknown amount for supplies, and a “significant” but unknown amount to hire additional staff to provide security, cleaning, and maintenance. The city is currently paying a private contractor $90 an hour for each of the guards who patrol its homeless shelters at community centers, so it’s likely that even if maintenance, cleaning, and direct-service staff receive minimum wage, the additional staffing costs will add thousands more to the weekly cost of each site.

None of the six city-funded shower stalls are technically ADA-compliant. A spokesman for the city said that one shower at each location will accommodate people who “need a larger stall.”

Again, these are rough estimates—the city did not provide any information about how much it will cost to staff, patrol, maintain, clean, and supply the trailers, so none of this information is exact—but the costs are sure to be substantial, and substantially more than what the county is paying.

Now let’s look at the county’s numbers, which are more inclusive of all costs and therefore more exact. According to a spokesman for the King County Department of Executive Services, King County has paid three companies a total of $270,000, over a period of about one month, to provide 20 hygiene trailers, including 36 showers, six of which are fully ADA-compliant.

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Like the city’s, these are rental units, and (also like the city’s) they are not all up and running yet, but the cost, according to the county, includes supplies, maintenance, cleaning, and pump-out services. Because the showers are at existing facilities, they don’t come with extra security (security costs are rolled in to the cost of the larger sites), but otherwise, the trailers are comparable to those provided by the city.

To break it down in a bit more detail, here is what the county has gotten for its $270,000:

Seven trailers at an assessment and recovery site in Shoreline, including 17 showers, one of them ADA-compliant. (Effective date: March 13)

Nine trailers at an assessment and recovery site in Eastgate, including 17 showers, one of them ADA-compliant. (Effective dates: March 20 and April 2)

Two trailers at a not-yet-opened assessment and recovery site in SoDo, including 2 ADA-compliant showers, with more likely to come when the site gets up and running, according to the county. (Effective date: March 27).

Assessment and recovery sites are for people who have COVID-19 and do not require hospitalization, but do not have the ability to shelter in place at home. This includes people experiencing homelessness as well as anyone who can’t go home safely because, for example, they live with someone who is immunocompromised or in another vulnerable category.

The county has declined to speculate on why they are paying so much less for hygiene trailers than the city, but one reason could be that the companies they are using—Snohomish-based OK’s Cascade and Seattle-based United Site Services—are local. The company the city is using, VIP Restrooms, is based in California.

One thought on “County Rents Hygiene Trailers for a Fraction of What the City Is Paying”

  1. I wonder if the prices on these hygiene trailers could be submitted to AG Ferguson to ensure there is no price gouging going on here.

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