As King County has turned the Red Lion Inn in Renton into a de-intensification shelter, Renton city officials have outlined specific requests in a recent letter to county leaders.
King County announced plans April 2 for three local hotels to become temporary shelters for the homeless populationin an effort to reduce shelter concentrations and prevent the transmission of illness.
These temporary sites, deemed “de-intensification” shelters, are located in Bellevue, SeaTac and Renton, providing beds for nearly 400 people experiencing homelessness.
Hotel locations are open 24/7. Meals will be provided, along with onsite services, and oversight will be provided by the shelter operators. The hotels will not be open to additional guests during this time.
Individuals at the short-term shelter sites will be free to come and go because the hotels are not isolation or quarantine locations.
In Renton, the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) has moved 200 people from its Seattle shelters to the Red Lion Inn at 1 South Grady Way.
Social distancing was achieved in some shelters by spreading out mats or bunks, although the move to hotel rooms creates an even greater distance and effectiveness at slowing or preventing the virus transmission, said Sherry Hamilton, Communications Director for the King County Department of Community and Human Services.
King County Facilities Management Division negotiated a 90-day lease with the three hotels and the negotiated rates range from $39 to $59 per room per night, depending on the hotel, Hamilton said.
Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) moved 200 into the hotel in Renton, the Sophia Way moved 100 into the Bellevue hotel, and Catholic Community Services moved 90 people into the hotel in SeaTac.
With the site serving a new purpose, the city of Renton is working on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with King County, said Preeti Shridhar, the Deputy Public Affairs Administrator and spokesperson for the City of Renton.
The hotel is not zoned for a shelter and cannot be used as one, except under a public health emergency, Shridhar said. As soon as the health emergency ends, the Red Lion Inn will revert back to its use as a hotel.
On April 2, Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone sent a letter to King County Executive Dow Constantine stating that while the city is ready to rally behind and support each other during this public health crisis, there are also clear expectations for the county’s use of the Red Lion Inn.
Noting his hope for the county to mitigate the impact of the temporary shelter facilities on the communities where they are located, Pavone outlined Renton’s request for adequate security, safe behaviors, relocation efforts after the crisis and county-provided support services at the hotel.
The highest priority is the safety of the residents, hotel staff and the Renton community.
“If we end up with new obligations being placed on Renton police officers because of this facility, we would also want to work with the county on FEMA or CARES Act reimbursement funding to help offset those additional costs,” Pavone wrote.
Renton’s police force is already feeling the stress of the pandemic, and the department has made a significant effort to establish relationships with the local community, Shridhar said.
“Instead of police seen as a threat, or unapproachable, our police are members of the community,” she said.
Safety for all also includes the expectation of daily communication to shelter residents about conducting themselves in ways that do not result in unsafe, destructive or criminal behavior, Pavone said in the letter.
Upon the expiration of the lease, Renton city officials are requesting the relocated individuals return to their original shelters, or find more permanent or transitional housing options.
“We want to avoid a resultant increase in the long-term homeless population when the county closes this temporary shelter at the end of this crisis,” Pavone wrote. “An increase would unfairly overwhelm the city’s existing programs and resources.”
City officials are asking for the county’s plan for relocating the individuals when the pandemic is over.
In addition, Pavone noted the county’s duty to provide supportive onsite services to the population staying at the Red Lion Inn.
Renton is not receiving any payment for the lease. However, the city has asked King County to provide resources for homeless services for Renton through the REACH program and specifically those who are at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The request includes 25 rooms to be available at Red Lion, including the placement of two caseworkers at the REACH meal program for the duration of this emergency, costing about $3,200 per month, Shridhar said.
Renton is asking for funding for additional staff to avail other services in Renton because volunteer numbers have declined. The cost of additional staffing for one full time and one part time worker at REACH service locations about $4,100 per month. The city is also requesting long-term diversion funding for those who need wrap-around services at a one-time cost of $15,000.
“We want to make sure the impact to Renton is minimal while also being a good partner,” Shridhar said. “The bigger picture is that we do not want the virus to spread … we want everyone to be safe.”
As of April 17, the city of Renton is still waiting for a reply from King County officials.