Tag: homelessness

Hepatitis A Spreads Among Ballard Homeless Population, As Hygiene Stations and Restrooms Remain in Short Supply

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A new outbreak of new Hepatitis A cases among people experiencing homelessness in Ballard could get worse if people are unable to access sinks and showers, both of which remain in short supply in the neighborhood and across the city.

King County Public Health confirmed 11 new Hep A cases among people who self-identified as living homeless in Ballard this week, of 25 new confirmed cases in March. In January, when it became clear that the city was experiencing an outbreak but before COVID-19 shut down libraries and businesses open to the public where homeless people typically access restrooms, public health spokesman James Apa noted that “People who are living homeless or who are using drugs are more likely to have underlying health conditions that can be worsened by hepatitis A.”

Dr. Richard Waters, the medical director of homeless and housing programs for the Neighborcare Health clinic network, says that hepatitis A cases during the last two outbreaks, in 2018 and 2019, “were predominantly among people experiencing homelessness, in large part because of the lack fo sanitation facilities.” Now that there are even fewer places for people to wash their hands because of restroom closures, he worries that the virus will spread. “People use the bathroom who don’t, or are unable to, perform adequate hand hygiene, touch things that other people may touch … and it spreads. Hand hygiene is key,” Waters says.

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During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you.

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Today, Apa said that the health department’s environmental health team is “connecting with Seattle Parks & Recreation to confirm best practice sanitation procedures of the Portland Loo at the Seattle Commons as a precaution.” The Portland Loo—a $550,000 public restroom designed to deter illicit behavior that was set up at the park last year—could be a vector for disease if people use the toilet and do not, or are unable to, use the handwashing station on the outside of the unit.

The Loo remained locked this afternoon, and several Honey Bucket port-a-potties——which the city refers to as “comfort stations”— had been set up nearby. Will Lemke, a spokesman for the city’s Human Services Department, says the restroom was closed “to ensure that staff were prepared and equipped to do the appropriate deep cleaning of the facility. The loo will reopen in the near future.”

Neither of the sinks at a temporary handwashing station adjacent to the portable toilets were working this afternoon, although the station was stocked with soap and paper towels.

Lemke also said that the Navigation Team was out in Ballard this morning handing out hygiene kits and information, and providing information about vaccinations. King County Public Health and Neighborcare provide hepatitis vaccinations to people experiencing homelessness. The area outside the Ballard library and the perimeter around the Ballard Commons, which is ordinarily cleared by the Navigation Team or Seattle police, has been crowded with tents ever since the library closed its doors on March 13. Much of the park was fenced off.

Earlier this week, the city released a map of the six new handwashing stations it is providing in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. An HSD blog post on hygiene services that was updated yesterday says that “at least four” mobile hygiene trailers, with showers, sinks, and toilets, will be coming online “soon” and are “under procurement.” As I reported yesterday, the city budget passed last year included $1.3 million to buy these units, but the city did not start looking for them in earnest until after the COVID-19 epidemic was underway. By that point, the trailers were in high demand, and the city has been unable to procure them.

Currently, the city’s plan is to rent two trailers from out of state, with the contract going through Seattle Public Utilities (SPU recently took charge of finding the trailers, which was previously the responsibility of HSD.) A spokesman for the city’s Emergency Operations Center said Thursday that the trailers “are being delivered this week,” but that “we are still working through logistical and operational approaches including staffing. SPU needs to consider all public health guidelines to ensure the health and safety of employees and clients.”

The City Funded Hygiene Trailers Last Year, But Never Bought Them. Now It May be Too Late. Plus More COVID News

 

1. The city of Seattle has been unable to procure the four hygiene trailers promised by the Human Services Department in mid-March because the trailers are in short supply nationwide due to the coronavirus epidemic, according to multiple sources. The trailers were added to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2020 budget by the City Council last November, but were not purchased by the time the COVID-19 epidemic hit Seattle full force starting in late February. The trailers, known as “mobile pit stops,” would give unsheltered people access to showers, restrooms, and needle disposal. There is a possibility that the city could rent trailers in the short term, but whether and when that might happen remains unclear.

The city did not immediately respond to questions about the delay sent early Wednesday afternoon.

Other cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have recently deployed additional mobile hygiene trailers to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness. (The addition of new hygiene services has been offset by the closure of mobile showers run by the nonprofit Lava Mae, which just announced it was suspending all hygiene services in San Francisco, Berkeley, and, LA because of the pandemic, saying that the company is “not equipped or trained to handle a pandemic.”)

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King County, whose epidemic response has been running parallel to the city’s, began purchasing mobile shower/restroom facilities between late February and early March, according to the director of the county’s Facilities Management Division, Tony Wright. The county has purchased at least a dozen of the mobile units, five of which were on display at a field hospital in Shoreline that the county has set up for groups of non-emergency COVID patients. The others are being deployed at hospitals and isolation sites on Harbor Island, at Harborview Hall on First Hill, in Bellevue, and at the King County Airport.

“It really was a case of, we’ve been through enough emergencies to know that we need to grab them early, so we grabbed them early,” Wright told me during a press tour of the Shoreline facility this morning.

The city council added $1.3 million in funding for mobile hygiene trailers to last year’s budget after a February 2019 audit found that the city provided far too few restrooms, handwashing stations, and showers for the thousands of unsheltered homeless people in Seattle. In early March, the city council approved the mayor’s declaration of civil emergency with a resolution urging the mayor to invest emergency funds specifically in mobile pit stops and handwashing stations.

Durkan announced last week that the city would place port-a-potties with handwashing stations in six locations, four of them in parks that already have public restrooms. The city of Los Angeles, in contrast, has 360 portable handwashing sites.

 

Locked restrooms at Little Brook Park in north Seattle.

2. In a press release touting the city’s actions on behalf of homeless people during the COVID crisis , Durkan’s office said that there are 128 restrooms open in city parks and community centers. So far, of 28 restrooms on this list that I have checked personally, and three that readers have checked (and verified by sending photos), 21 are open, and 13 are closed. These include not just restrooms in small parks in far-flung parts of the city but large community centers right in its heart.

The city must know, for example, that Garfield and Miller Community Centers—facilities that are being used as redistribution sites for existing shelter beds—are not open to the general public; the city is responsible for these sites, and the prominent “NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS” signs on every door were put there by the Seattle Parks Department. So it’s unclear why they have not updated their list of “open” restrooms—or, for that matter, unlocked the ones that remain inaccessible, like those at Little Brook Park in Northeast Seattle, Northacres Park near Aurora Ave. N., Salmon Bay Park in Ballard, Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill, or Brighton Park in southeast Seattle.

3. During this morning’s tour of the Shoreline facility, King County Executive Dow Constantine rebuffed questions about whether the county would effectively wall off the field hospitals and other facilities the county is standing up and surround them with security to ensure that no one can leave. (TV reporters, in particular, have been exercised over the idea that homeless people with COVID symptoms will “escape” from hospitals and isolation facilities, after a man left a motel in Kent that was being used as an isolation site.)

“There is going to be security at each facility,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “Each facility is not going to be surrounded by barbed wire. This is not how this works.” 

Constantine said the county was also working to add more “de-intensification” space for homeless shelters where people are still sleeping inches apart. The new locations, where people already staying in shelters are being moved so that they can sleep further apart, are still congregate spaces, raising the question of why—if the guidelines for housed people say we should all be isolating—the county couldn’t just put people who are capable of staying on their own in vacant hotel rooms.

Flor said the county has considered purchasing a motel for this purpose, but said that the county was relying on shelter providers such as Union Gospel Mission, and advocates such as Health Care for the Homeless, to do assessments and decide the best course of action for shelter clients. There is some debate among groups that provide shelter about whether most clients could live independently or need, in effect, supervision. This debate could come to a head as shelter capacity is stretched to its limit, and as more City of Seattle employees are asked to work in shelters.

A primary reason that the city says it has been unable to move many shelter residents out of their current crowded conditions is a lack of staffing—that is, there aren’t enough people to supervise shelter residents. Allowing people who are assessed and found capable of living independently to self-isolate in their own hotel rooms could help solve the overcrowding problem, but it would mean abandoning the idea that every person staying in a shelter needs to be watched over by a supervisor while they sleep.

State Buys Central District Nursing Home for Hospital Relief, City Hall Shelter Clients Still Sleeping Inches Apart, and More COVID News

1. The Washington Department of Social and Health Services has purchased the former Paramount Rehabilitation and Nursing Home in Seattle’s Central District to serve as a hospital for people without COVID-19, at a cost of $13.5 million, The C Is for Crank has learned. The 165-bed nursing home closed down last month, after an analysis by the US Department of Health and Human Services called it one of the worst-performing nursing homes in the country.

Chris Wright, a spokesman for the state COVID Joint Information Center, said the goal of the purchase is “to free up beds in hospitals during the crisis by finding patients who are currently in hospitals, but could receive the same level of care in this nursing home.” He says the state is “trying to find a contractor to run the facility and hope to open by the end of April.” The facility will create about 100 job openings, for nurses, food service workers, maintenance workers, and supervisors, Wright says.

2. As homeless shelters run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center, Salvation Army, and other nonprofit groups “de-intensified” their existing shelters by moving some clients to new locations, people are still sleeping inches apart at the nighttime-only shelter at City Hall, which is run by the Salvation Army’s William Booth Center. Staffing is apparently an issue; expanding the shelter to the red-glass lobby on Fourth Avenue (as has been discussed) or moving some shelter clients elsewhere would require additional Salvation Army employees or other staff.

A spokesman for the city’s Emergency Operations Center said that “Many shelter operators, including the operator at the City Hall shelters, are facing staffing capacity constraints that make it challenging to split operations between multiple sites quickly. City staff have been stepping in to help staff shelters to meet this need, and we are working with the service provider to identify solutions.” A spokeswoman for the Salvation Army said the group had nothing new to announce about the shelter.

The basic shelter at City Hall consists of 75 mats on the floor inside the Fifth Avenue lobby, which is open daily from 7pm until 7 in the morning.

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During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before.

The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

3. Staff at the city’s Human Services, Parks, and Seattle Center departments are being reassigned to front-line positions working in some of the new shelter spaces that have been opened for residents at  as part of the city’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic, and distributing food through HSD’s division of Youth and Family Empowerment. These reassignments apply not just to the approximately 70 workers who have been specially trained to work in shelters, but also to other staffers who will be reassigned as part of the departments’ Continuity of Operations Plans (COOPs), which shut down certain city facilities and functions while defining others as “mission essential.”

It’s unclear what, if any, long-term plan exists for city employees who would ordinarily be reassigned to front-line jobs but are in a high-risk group for COVID exposure. The mayor’s order authorizes departments to provide “full or partial compensation” to these workers, but the city did not provide any specific details about what that will look like, or whether some employees may eventually have to be furloughed until front-line services can open again.

4. Governor Jay Inslee confirmed on Saturday that the state is using prison labor to make hospital gowns during the COVID crisis. According to the Washington Department of Corrections, the gowns are being produced by inmates at the Coyote Ridge medium-security prison in Franklin County. Inslee said Saturday that the prisoners were “very eager for this job, and we’re eager for their success in this regard.” Prisoners in Washington State make a fraction of the state minimum wage.

Prison reform advocates across the country, including in Washington State, have argued that state prison systems should release many incarcerated people to protect their health during the COVID crisis. Inslee said Saturday that “we have a commitment … to keeping these incarcerated individuals as safe as humanly possible” during the pandemic.

5. The Seattle City Council adopted a nonbinding resolution this afternoon asking Gov. Inslee to use his emergency powers to implement a moratorium on all residential and commercial rent and mortgage payments in the state, and to forgive any debt accumulated by renters and property owners after the COVID crisis has passed. The resolution, which also calls on the federal government to enact a similar policy nationwide, passed unanimously, though not without a bit of incredulous guffawing from council member Debora Juarez, who (along with her colleague Alex Pedersen) seemed skeptical about the idea of effectively canceling all rent and mortgage payments for the indefinite future.

“So you’re saying that a commercial [landlord] that owns 20-plus units, or apartments, who also has a mortgage to pay … that we are lobbying for them as well, under this administration and to our governor, that they too don’t have to pay their mortgage to the bank?” Juarez asked.

“That’s right,” the resolution’s sponsor, council member Tammy Morales, responded.

Pedersen expressed doubt about the legality of preemptively forgiving all rent and mortgage debt, and seemed to question whether renters would really need the help. “I’m concerned that [if] people are getting other relief, why would we want to then suspend the payments that are due when they’re getting relief from other angles?” he said. On the other hand, Pedersen said, “I have received lots of emails from constituents who are expressing their major concern and fear and pain that they’re suffering during this crisis, so I wish we had more time to think this through.”

Seattle’s Public Restroom Crisis: Many “Comfort Stations That Remain Open” Are Closed

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is big into numbers—numbers that show continual improvement, numbers that get bigger (or smaller, if the number is the number of homeless people counted on one night in January), numbers that show that the city acts on the basis of data, not assumptions. The numbers out of the city, under the Durkan administration, bring to mind a graph that only goes up. The mayor has tried to maintain this aura of constant progress even during the COVID epidemic, a time when thousands of homeless people in Seattle are still crammed into congregate shelters (many of them overcrowded) or living in tents in the forest, hoping not to be noticed.

Last week, for example, the mayor’s office claimed that there were 180 public restrooms in the city—a number the mayor’s office later amended to 133, then “more than 128 Seattle Parks comfort stations that remain open for hygiene needs.” Because every previous map produced by the city showed fewer than 100 public restrooms in city parks and community centers combined, I was skeptical about the new numbers and asked for a list. The mayor’s office provided a spreadsheet, and I started checking.

I started by eliminating the redundancies—parks with multiple restrooms, for example, that were previously counted as single restroom sites but that the mayor’s office is now counting two, three, or five times, such as Judkins, Woodland, and Seward Parks.  Removing these “extra” facilities and restoring the city’s previous standard lowers the total number to around 100.

But that doesn’t account for the fact that despite the city’s insistence that all of these restrooms “remain open” to the public, many of them are actually locked or sit, inaccessible, behind construction fencing. Of 27 of the locations on the city’s list (chosen by their geographic proximity rather than any characteristic common to the facilities), eight that I visited personally were closed. Those included restrooms in fairly large urban parks (Cal Anderson); restrooms serving play fields and playgrounds (Brighton Playfield; Madrona Playground); and smaller neighborhood parks (Dr. Blanche Lavizzo). Extrapolating to the rest of the city, it seems likely that far fewer than the 85 or so restrooms the city claimed prior to the COVID epidemic are actually open to the public.

The mayor engaged in a similar sleight of hand with homeless shelters last week, when she claimed that the city and county had opened 1,900 new “temporary housing” spots for “people experiencing homelessness.” I covered this magic trick already—in short, it involves counting existing shelter beds that have been relocated as “new”, counting beds in field hospitals and COVID isolation tents as “temporary housing,” and ignoring any shelter beds that have been lost as some smaller shelters close down—but I want to linger for a moment on why these faulty numbers matter.

It isn’t just that the mayor’s cheerful press releases—the graphs with lines that only go up—paint an inaccurately rosy picture of what’s happening to homeless and unstably housed people during the pandemic. It’s also that the numbers obscure the fact that the city has promised just 95 actual new shelter beds (none of which are “housing”), all of them announced back in early March.  In this way, the displacement of 85 people from the Harborview Hall shelter to make way for a 45-bed COVID recovery site becomes 130 new “temporary housing” units that are counted as part of the 1,900 total.The mayor’s graphs only go up, and her calculator only has a “plus” sign.

The mayor’s office doesn’t just play fast and loose with numbers. They also use words to mislead and obfuscate. Take, for example, the word “options”—as in, “1,900 New Temporary Housing Options,” from the headline of last week’s press release. Field hospitals, emergency isolation tents in suburban parking lots, and shelter beds relocated from downtown Seattle to the King County Airport are not “options.” They are desperate measures appropriate to an increasingly desperate time.

I get the political impulse to “look on the bright side,” create cutesy hashtags and encourage people to meaninglessly bang pots and pans to show their appreciation for the health care workers left vulnerable and unprotected by federal failures to provide protective equipment and tests  But no one would blame the mayor if she provided an honest assessment of the crisis in Seattle, shorn of platitudes and flowery appeals to the Seattle spirit. Some voters might even applaud her for it.

City of Seattle Rents Out Downtown Hotel for First Responders at $280 a Night, Potty Plan Scaled Back, and Fuzzy Math Adds Up to “1,900 New Temporary Housing Spots”

 

The restrooms at Cal Anderson Park have been closed for some time due to a “maintenance issue,” according to the mayor’s office. The park will soon get new portable toilets and a hand washing station.

1. The city budget office has inked a deal with the Executive Pacific Hotel downtown to rent out all of the hotel’s 155 rooms for three months, at a cost of $3.9 million, to provide spaces for first responders who need to be in isolation or quarantine after exposure to the COVID-19 virus, The C Is for Crank has learned. The contract went into effect on March 23. The cost, which the city hopes will be partially reimbursed by the federal government, works out to $280 per room, per night.

A representative for the Executive Pacific Hotel declined to comment on the arrangement. Rooms at the hotel were going for less than $70 a night earlier this week. 

The city did not directly respond to a question about whether any first responders are currently living in the hotel. A spokeswoman with the city’s Emergency Operations Center said, “We currently have dozens of first responders who are in isolation or quarantine.” Even if all of those people were staying at the hotel, that would still leave most of the rooms sitting empty for now.

City Council member Andrew Lewis, whose district includes downtown, has been talking about making hotel space available for first responders or people experiencing homelessness. He said deals with hotels could help an industry that has seen “a massive falloff of business,” but added that he had personally received a quote of $95 a night for a different downtown hotel that offered to make rooms available. Lewis says he plans to introduce a resolution asking the mayor to keep a “roster of these investments and report back … and one of the things that I’m going to ask for is cost, to make sure that we are a getting good deals.”

The contract reportedly includes the cost of food for people who will stay at the hotel. It does not appear to include modifications to the hotel’s HVAC system, which might have been a necessary cost if the rooms were connected by internal ventilation—that is, if they all shared the same air. According to the EOC, each room has its own individual heating and cooling units and vents its exhaust to the outside; the rooms also have windows that open, allowing additional ventilation.

Hotel workers, including cleaning staff, who come into contact with people who have contracted or been exposed to COVID could be at risk of contracting the virus themselves. Stefan Moritz from UNITE HERE Local 8, which represents hotel workers, said he was still getting details on the kind of conditions hotel staff will be working under at hotels that are turned into quarantine and isolation sites.

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job.

Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

2. This morning, nearly two weeks after announcing the city would be opening portable toilets “across the city,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a truncated list of port-a-potty locations that is both significantly shorter, and significantly less “citywide,” than a draft list that included more than 20 new sites, including five hygiene trailers that were funded last year. According to the press release, the six new sites, which will have a total of 14 toilets, are “in in addition to the 133 locations in parks throughout the City, available to all residents, and are currently being serviced by Seattle Parks and Recreation.” Initially, the release said that there were “more than 180 [restroom] locations in parks throughout the City, available to all residents.” (UPDATE: This morning, the city said that the correct number is not 133 but 128.)

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said the earlier number included community centers that have closed.

For example, 85 people who had been staying at the Harborview Hall shelter run by the Salvation Army have been displaced so that the  a 45-bed coronavirus recovery site. The shelter is being moved a few blocks away. Because of the way the city and county are counting “new” beds, the shelter and recovery site now account for a total of 130 “new” beds as part of the 1,900 total.

Just one of the six new portable toilet sites and handwashing stations that made the cut will be located in North Seattle. The rest (represented by yellow dots on this map) are scattered in a rough line paralleling I-5 and SR-99, with one site each in Capitol Hill, downtown, Judkins Park, Beacon Hill, and Highland Park (in West Seattle). Some of the locations that were on the preliminary list, but did not make the cut for today’s announcement, include locations on Alki Beach, Gas Works Park in Fremont, Kinnear Park on Queen Anne, the Arboretum near Montlake,  Ravenna Park, and Woodland Park. I’ve asked the mayor’s office whether any of these sites will be considered for portable toilets in the future if the six new locations prove inadequate to meet the need.

I was unable to immediately confirm the basis for either the 180 or 133 figure cited in the initial and amended versions of the press release. (UPDATE: The same questions apply to the new number of 128.) The city’s current restroom map shows public restrooms in a total of 85 parks and 11 community centers combined, which is unchanged since the city did an analysis of public restrooms two years ago. At that time, the city’s Human Services Department listed a total of 117 public restrooms in city-owned facilities, a list that also included libraries (which are now closed) and a handful of portable toilets that were then available at King County Metro’s bus driver relief stops.

Claiming that the city and county have created “1,900 new sites across the City to help individuals experiencing homelessness” is misleading.

3. The mayor’s press release also claims that the city and county have created “1,900 new temporary housing options” for “people experiencing homelessness.”

This description is misleading. First, under the definition used by the city itself, “housing” is a place where someone is housed. Cots in shelters, tiny houses in encampments, and beds in a hospital do not count as housing, “temporary” or otherwise.

Second, fewer than half of the 1,900 beds are reserved for people experiencing homelessness, and only a handful of those are actually “new.” About 700 of the 1,900 are existing shelter beds that are being redistributed to allow more spacing between cots. Only about 50 shelter beds, and 45 spots in tiny house villages, are actually new—and these, under federal definitions, are temporary shelter, not “housing.” For example, 85 people who had been staying at the Harborview Hall shelter run by the Salvation Army have been displaced so that the  a 45-bed coronavirus recovery site. The shelter is being moved a few blocks away. Because of the way the city and county are counting “new” beds, the shelter and recovery site now account for a total of 130 “new” beds as part of the 1,900 total.

Most of the remaining spots are beds in isolation and recovery sites that are not exclusively reserved for people experiencing homelessness. They include 200 beds in a field hospital set up on a soccer field in Shoreline; an unknown number of spots in a large isolation and recovery tent for COVID-19 sufferers in a Bellevue parking lot; previously announced motel rooms in Issaquah and Kent; and “up to 612 beds” for “people who do not require emergent care” to recover after they’ve been sick, according to the county.

Third, some shelters are closing because of the COVID crisis, reducing the total number of beds available to people in need. The city has not factored these lost beds into its calculations; that is, while counting hospital beds for COVID victims as “housing for the homeless” and double-counting some shelter beds, the city and county have failed to subtract the beds that are being lost.

This may seem like nitpicking, but a casual reader of a press release announcing “1,900 new sites across the City to help individuals experiencing homelessness,” as this morning’s announcement puts it, might be misled to believe that the city and county have created 1,900 new housing, or even shelter, spots for people experiencing homelessness, when this simply is not the case.

More “De-Intensifying” Shelter Space, More Port-a-Potties, In Seattle

 

1. The city of Seattle and King County are  continuing to spread out shelter spaces so that people experiencing homelessness can sleep six feet apart—a solution that still leaves thousands of vulnerable people sharing close quarters in large, congregate settings, but is considered safer than the cheek-to-jowl sleeping arrangements in shelters under ordinary conditions.

The new “de-intensification” spaces will mostly be located in Seattle. In addition to 80 spaces at the the King County Airport and 100 spaces at the Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center that were announced weeks ago, the new shelter locations include:

• 79 additional spots for DESC shelter residents at Exhibition Hall, for a total of 179;

• 146 spots at Fisher Pavilion, to be run by the Salvation Army;

• 50 spots at a women’s shelter run by Catholic Community Services, the YWCA, and WHEEL at the Garfield Community Center; and

• 50 spots at the Miller Park Community Center, to be operated by Compass Housing.

Two more “de-intensification” spaces, with room for 50 people each, will open in April at the Loyal Heights Community Center and the Southwest Teen Center. The city has not identified a provider for either of these spaces yet.

In addition, the Congregation for the Homeless in Bellevue is providing space for 80 people, and a new space for 24 people is supposed to open on Harbor Island in April.

Although the new spaces will create more physical distance between shelter residents’ cots, they are not new shelter spots; they’re being added specifically to redistribute people staying in existing shelters into larger spaces so that they can sleep further apart. So far, Mayor Jenny Durkan has announced 50 new shelter spaces in North Seattle and a total of 45 new spots (down from the previously announced 50) in tiny house villages.

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job.

Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

2.The city announced plans more than a week ago to add portable toilets, and to get four of five hygiene trailers that were funded last November up and rolling, to serve the thousands of homeless people in Seattle whose access to indoor or private toilets has been diminished drastically because of COVID-related closures. The mayor’s office has declined to say when any of these new facilities will be up and running; last Friday, Durkan’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas, said “We should have a more detailed update next week.”

However, an internal list, which appears to be preliminary, indicates that there will be more than 20 portable toilet locations around the city, with a total of about 36 new port-a-potties citywide.

Most of the portable toilet locations on the list are in public parks, which already have restrooms with sinks and running water. The JIC spokesman was unable to say whether this meant that parks restrooms, which have remained open so far, will be closing, or if the extra portable toilets would be in addition to the ones that are already there.

A spokesman for the city’s Joint Information Center said the detailed list (which includes addresses, the number of toilets at each location, the number of those toilets that will be ADA-compliant, and the number of handwashing stations) is “an early draft” and “not accurate,” and that “We hope to have something within the next day or two.”

Most of the portable toilet locations on the list are in public parks, which already have restrooms with sinks and running water. The JIC spokesman was unable to say whether this meant that parks restrooms, which have remained open so far, will be closing, or if the extra portable toilets would be in addition to the ones that are already there. “I am unable to confirm this. All of this is still being determined,” he said.

The list ranks portable toilets by priority, and includes locations in Ravenna Park, the Georgetown Playfield, the Arboretum, City Hall Park, Cal Anderson Park, the Rainier Playfield, Colman Park, the Lake City Community Center, and Genesee Park. It’s unclear whether the toilets, which will also include hand-washing facilities, will be staffed, and if so, whether they will be open all the time or just during business hours.

The list appears to show a significant gap in West Seattle.

Currently, people experiencing homelessness have access to restrooms at parks and community centers during the hours when those facilities are open. Other restroom sites listed on the city’s interactive restroom map, including all Seattle Public Library locations and some of the emergency day centers and urban rest stops, have closed down in response to the epidemic or are open only limited hours and to limited populations.

 

Selling Newspapers In a Ghost Town

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

It’s the middle of the morning on Friday, March 20, and First Avenue in Pioneer Square is, unsurprisingly, a ghost town. The only people out on the streets are people who have to be there, or with nowhere else to be—a few construction guys in vests, a restaurant staffer, and several people wrapped in blankets, sitting on the sidewalk in front of shuttered storefronts.

But around the corner on South Main St., at the offices of street newspaper and homeless advocacy group Real Change, the scene is still bustling, as vendors file in to collect papers at the walkup counter, use the restroom (one of the few that’s still open downtown), and grab paper bowls of chili from a staffer.

Shelly Cohen, a vendor and Real Change board member who can often be found testifying at city hall against homeless encampment sweeps and human-service budget cuts, is preparing to head out with a new stack of the most recent edition. The cover line: “SILENT SPRING: The City Shuts Down.”

Cohen, who sells papers at a PCC store in Bothell Canyon, says his sales are down, but contributions are up, so “my numbers per hour are pretty consistent” so far. “I’m very fortunate that way,” he says. Lately, he’s been displaying the paper upside down—“because the world is upside down right now”—and letting people grab their own papers, and make their own change, from a box underneath his chair.

Real Change director Tim Harris says the paper will keep printing, and the office will stay partially open, until or unless Gov. Jay Inslee issues an order to “shelter in place,” which would close down most nonessential businesses and make one-on-one sales impossible.  In the meantime, Real Change has set up a vendor relief fund, is allowing customers to donate to specific vendors via Venmo, and is preparing to move to online-only publication. The paper is also waiving the usual requirement that vendors buy a certain number of papers to retain the right to sell in a specific spot.

Lisa Sawyer, a vendor who usually sells papers at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Union Street downtown, recently moved to a spot in Greenwood, but sales are way down there, too. She says she’d prefer to be indoors, “taking care of my health and everything, but this is the only way that I could get by. Especially my most of my income is going towards my room that I’m renting right now.” Sawyer has lived outdoors, off and on, for the last seven years; in February, she celebrated one year in her new home.

Like Cohen, Sawyers says some customers are giving more generously, sometimes without asking for a paper in return. “I had a customer that put money in a grocery cart and pushed it [toward me] and said, ‘I don’t need a paper, I’m giving you this to support you. I’ll put it in the cart because I’m practicing my social distance.’ I totally respect that.” Sawyers says she’s been wearing gloves and sanitizing her hands after every sale. “I’m being more cautious, too.”

David, a vendor who preferred to give his first name only, had only sold a handful of papers at his spot on the Ave in the University District on Thursday, and about a dozen the day before that—a huge drop from the 40 or 50 papers per day he usually sells. He says the U District has emptied out—“there’s nothing but homeless people and business owners looking across the street at other business owners.”

The biggest problem David sees right now is that with all the stores and libraries shut down, people have no place to use the restroom. “The University Bookstore is shut down. The library is shut down. Starbucks won’t let you use the restroom.” Mayor Jenny Durkan announced last week that the Human Services Department and Seattle Public Utilities would soon deploy four mobile hygiene trailers that were funded last year and place portable toilets “at locations across Seattle.” As of Friday, according to mayoral spokeswoman Stephanie Formas, SPU was still “working on a detailed plan for locations across the city for each type of facility, budget, and staffing.”

Cohen says the city’s slow rollout of portable toilets (and shelters—so far, the city has promised just 50 new shelter spaces, plus 50 new spots in tiny house villages) shows that, as usual, people experiencing homelessness are simply not a priority for the city. “Where are our port-a-potties? Where are the trailers we fought for and won [in last year’s budget]? That’s what needs to be done, like, now. And it creates work for people [staffing the trailers]. What a concept.”

Evening Crank Part 2: Unanswered Questions

Coming soon to a sidewalk near you?

1. Since the COVID crisis began, it has become tougher than usual to get information directly from city departments, which now respond to pretty much any inquiry with some version of “all questions have to go through the mayor’s office.” (There is one exception, but I won’t tell you what it is.) The mayor’s office, in turn, typically responds to these requests with some version of, “We will have an announcement on that in the coming days,” which may or may not be followed by an announcement.

Things the mayor’s office was unable to tell me about in the past few days include:

When the city (specifically, Seattle Public Utilities) plans to deploy the portable toilets announced on the Human Service Department’s website one week ago; how many toilets there will be; where they will be located; and how (and how often) they will be maintained.

Where four mobile hygiene trailers funded in last year’s budget (funded last year but re-announced in the same HSD blog post) will be deployed, and on what schedule.

How, specifically, the city plans to fill the 50 new shelter beds, and 50 new spots in two tiny house villages, it plans to open in response to the COVID crisis, and how the city will choose who gets this scarce resource. Specifically, I’ve asked how many of those beds and slots will be reserved for people referred by the Navigation Team, which is providing outreach and information at unsanctioned encampments, and how many will be open to people who are contacted by other outreach workers, such as those at REACH, which is still doing encampment outreach during the pandemic.

These questions, particularly the ones about restrooms, are of critical and immediate importance to the thousands of homeless people, both unsheltered and staying in nighttime-only emergency shelters, in Seattle. Most of the city’s public restrooms, including those inside private businesses and those in libraries, hygiene centers, and social service agencies, have closed, giving people without homes few options in a city where restroom availability already fell far short of international standards.

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job.

Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

2. This afternoon (12 days ago in COVID time), the city council approved a plan to reallocate about $1 million (out of about $12 million total) in community development block grants originally designated for housing construction to pay for grants to low-income small business owners. Only council member Kshama Sawant voted against the plan, arguing that the city should dip into its “rainy day fund” instead of taking money that could have theoretically gone to housing (although it was not allocated to any particular project.)

The city has two emergency funds, the rainy day fund and the emergency subfund, which can be used to pay for unanticipated spending needs or to mitigate cuts during budget downturns. Earlier this month, city budget director Ben Noble estimated that the city could face a revenue shortfall this year of $110 million. Together, both emergency funds total about $125 million.

Council member Tammy Morales, who sponsored the legislation, raised one concern last week that she said she’ll revisit after the funds are allocated and the current crisis has abated: Online application materials for the grants were initially only in English, potentially putting small business owners who don’t speak English as their native language at a disadvantage when applying for the grants.

“When those who don’t speak English have extra barriers put in place in order to participate… [it’s] an example of how often our city government operates with blinders on to anyone who isn’t part of the dominant culture,” Morales said at a council meeting last week. But, “rather than slow down the disbursement of this particular fund, I’m asking that we hear back from the [Office of Economic Development] this summer on how these funds were distributed” to make sure that non-English-speaking business owners had equal access to the funds.

Evening Crank Part 1: Hunker Down Edition

Cracks visible in the girders supporting the West Seattle Bridge. SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe says the discolored areas visible around the damage are “a result of the preventive maintenance we’ve done over the past few years, so don’t in and of themselves illustrate all of the issues we are concerned about right now.”

1. How long has the COVID-19 epidemic been going on? Only six years, you say? Well, in the words of Gov. Jay Inslee, hunker down…

It was a big news day, and not just because Gov. Jay Inslee finally told us all to go to our rooms and not come out until he said so. (Find a list of “essential” businesses that will stay open, which includes everything from veterinarians to food banks to recreational pot stores, here). Earlier in the day, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the high West Seattle Bridge will be completely closed to traffic until further notice, due to cracks in the concrete girders that support the bridge’s weight. Durkan said the new discoveries mean that the bridge “cannot safely support vehicular traffic.”

During a press conference conducted via Skype, Seattle Department of Transportation director Sam Zimbabwe said the closure could last weeks or months. Zimbabwe said there hadn’t been a single incident or catastrophic event that led to the new damage; rather, crews inspecting the bridge last night discovered that cracks in the girders that had already allowed “incursions” of water and air had grown dramatically wider. Most of the weight of the bridge—about 80 percent—consists of the bridge itself, but heavier vehicles, and more of them, may have contributed to the damage, Zimbabwe said.

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job.

Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

Drivers hoping to use the lower West Seattle bridge are out of luck; the secondary bridge will be open only to first responders, transit, and freight. People who choose to commute by car will have to go far afield of their usual routes, using West Marginal Way, First Ave. S., or SR 509 to get off the peninsula.

The announcement was so sudden that the two city council members who live in West Seattle, Lisa Herbold (District 1) and Lorena Gonzalez (Position 9) found out about the closure just a few hours before the public did. (The same was true of King County Council member Joe McDermott, who said in an email to constituents  this evening that he just found out about the closure “this afternoon.”) Mayor Durkan did not specify exactly why the closure had to happen with so little notice.

In a statement, Herbold, who represents West Seattle, questioned the decision to completely shut down the lower bridge to private auto traffic, saying she wanted  to know “how soon it can be opened for traffic given lower traffic volumes in Seattle” because of the COVID-19 epidemic and stay-at-home order. “My office has requested that SDOT appeal to the Coast Guard to make fewer bridge openings of the lower level bridge to allow for more buses and cars to cross, like they did in early 2019 when the Alaskan Way Viaduct closed and the SR99 tunnel was not yet open.”

A spokeswoman for Kimpton Hotels, which owns the Alexis and and Palladian—two hotels that have been in contact with the city—said that “neither has agreed to set up any isolation rooms nor is either equipped to do that.”

2. At a city council briefing this morning, Position 8 city council member Teresa Mosqueda expressed optimism that “downtown boutique hotels” would soon begin offering rooms to people who were healthy but needed to self-isolate because they are members of a vulnerable group. “I really want to thank some of the hotel owners, especially some of the downtown boutique hotel owners,” for offering to help house people impacted by the COVID epidemic, Mosqueda said.

Council member Andrew Lewis, whose district (7) includes downtown, also said he hoped that downtown hotels would be able to offer rooms “to get people off the street and get people inside quickly on a temporary basis,” an arrangement that could also “give a boon to our struggling hospitality industry that has suffered from a massive dropoff in tourism” because of COVID-19. Kimpton Hotels, which owns the Alexis and Palladian hotels downtown, has reportedly been in contact with city about providing rooms for this purpose.

The city’s Office of Labor Standards has seen an uptick in labor complaints this month—from 78 in the entire month March last year, to 85 in the first three weeks of this March alone.

However, it was unclear Monday whether any hotels had actually stepped up and offered rooms, either for people experiencing homelessness or for first responders and others who need to be isolated because of potential COVID-19 exposure. A spokeswoman for Kimpton Hotels, which owns the Alexis and and Palladian—two hotels that have been in contact with the city—said that “neither has agreed to set up any isolation rooms nor is either equipped to do that.” The spokeswoman, Brandyn Hull, added that the hotels “have offered to support the city with very low rates” for first responders, medical workers, and representatives of the CDC.

3. After getting reports that restaurants and other businesses that had to lay off workers during the COVID crisis had failed to pay employees for time they’d already worked, I contacted the city’s Office of Labor Standards to see what recourse people in this situation might have. After initially writing that “All media inquires must go through the Mayor’s office,” they got back to me with more specific responses  this morning.

If you’ve been laid off and your employer did not pay you for time you worked—for example, if your boss told you they couldn’t pay your last paycheck—that “may be considered administrative wage theft,” so try contacting OLS or the state Department of Labor and Industries to see if they can resolve it. If you didn’t get paid for vacation or sick time you accrued, you’re probably out of luck, unless you can prove that getting paid out was a condition of your employment.

OLS has seen an uptick in labor complaints this month—from 78 in the entire month March last year, to 85 in the first three weeks of this March alone.

 

“Shelter In Place” Means Little If You’re Homeless

This piece originally appeared at HuffPost, where you can read it in its entirety.

Thousands of elderly and immunocompromised people are experiencing homelessness in Washington state, an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, and the state isn’t giving them the option to self-isolate.

This puts them at serious risk for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. It’s also a dangerous double standard, advocates for homeless people say. At a time when officials are urging people to self-isolate to lower the likelihood of contracting the virus or spreading it, vulnerable people who are homeless are sharing sleeping quarters and restrooms.

“The city should be giving the kind of care to the homeless population that anyone would give their parents who are in their 80s,” said Rex Hohlbein, the founder of Facing Homelessness, a nonprofit that provides direct assistance to homeless Seattle residents. “Every person living outside is in the vulnerable category.”

Finding Spaces For Shelter

The state has taken some steps to protect its homeless population. The city of Seattle and King County are moving the shelter population into new, larger spaces so that they can sleep 6 feet apart. Residents who start showing symptoms are supposed to be moved into isolation units reserved for that purpose. But until then, they aren’t able to self-isolate, even if they’re vulnerable to the virus.

People experiencing homelessness who are older than 50 tend to have more underlying health problems than the general population, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, and are at higher risk for both chronic and contagious diseases.

One solution would be to offer more motel vouchers to people at high risk of infection. So far,  King County has funded about 60 motel vouchers for older and high-risk shelter residents, according to Sherry Hamilton, spokesperson for the King County Department of Human and Community Services. 

But that’s not nearly enough, advocates say. The latest one-night count of King County’s homeless population identified more than 5,200 people in shelters.

The city and county need to think long-term, said Tiffani McCoy, the lead organizer for the Seattle homeless advocacy group Real Change and a contributor to its newspaper.

“It would be better to get folks inside, where they could self-isolate, have access to hygiene services and follow public health guidelines in a way that maintains their dignity,” McCoy said.

Other people experiencing homelessness are sleeping outside, where they face other challenges as many public facilities have shut down, leaving them with no access to bathrooms or indoor spaces.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced this week that the city would deploy four hygiene trailers, along with handwashing stations and portable toilets, across the city. But with most other public restrooms shut down and just six 24-hour restrooms available citywide, it will take a lot more than a few portable toilets to meet the need.

Read the rest of this piece at HuffPost.