Lindsay Peyton
White Center residents debated Mark Ellerbrook, manager of housing and community development for King County (right), about plans for a temporary homeless shelter in the area. Also in attendance were, from left, executive director of the Church Council of Great Seattle Michael Ramos, King County housing and community development program and project manager Valerie Kendall (who was not a presenter), Salvation Army shelter program manager Scott Moorhouse and Salvation army director of social services Major Phil Smith.

Controversial homeless shelter angers White Center residents at meeting

By Lindsay Peyton

A proposed temporary emergency overnight shelter became the center of a heated debate tonight at the TAF Bethaday Community Learning Space in White Center.

The facility was packed with area residents for a special presentation by the King County department of community and human services about plans for a shelter that would be located at 10821 8th Ave SW.

The crowd could barely contain their cries against the project, while the speakers outlined their plans. Calls of “don’t open the shelter; we don’t want it here” were projected – and then echoed by several members of the audience.

During the public comment session, residents said they were worried about public safety, especially for children, as well as drugs and alcohol use by shelter guests.

Some members of the audience voiced concerns about the location of the facility, specifically its proximity to schools and parks, while others spoke against using a faith-based model for the center.

Barbara Dobkin, vice president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, was one of a number of individuals who chastised the county for not giving enough notice of their plans for the shelter.

“Nothing was said about this,” she said

Dobkin also addressed poverty in the neighborhood. “We have progressively been getting poorer in this community by design,” she said. “People are driven out of Seattle with no place to go. Why is White Center a catch-all for things that nobody else wants?”

Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Great Seattle, served as a moderator for the discussion.

He started the presentation by explaining that plans to open a shelter resulted from Mayor Edward B. Murray’s declaration of a state of emergency in response to homelessness about a year ago.

“This is an effort to humanize a situation that could befall any of us,” he said. “Many of us are in a situation where but for the grace of God go I. This center can be a place of hope and healing for the community.”

The emergency overnight shelter would be able to aid about 70 people and an operator would also provide outreach services to homeless people in White Center.

The recommended site, a former public health clinic, would operate from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., bringing homeless individuals indoors and connecting them with resources. The center would serve meals and connect homeless individuals with case managers – and would operate as part of a regional shelter system.
The facility would be operated by the Salvation Army.

Mark Ellerbrook, manager of housing and community development for King County, spoke to the direct need to address poverty in the area.

He explained that there are about 300 homeless individuals in southwest King County.

“We see the greatest prevalence of homelessness outside of Seattle in southwest King County,” he said. “We estimate over 100 people living unsheltered outdoors in this community.”

The county’s assistance line received 1,300 calls last year for homelessness in White Center zip codes, Ellerbrook added.

“The need in this community is very real,” he said. “There really are no resources in the general vicinity to help those who are homeless or living outdoors.”

Ellerbrook said that the nearest shelters are located in West Seattle and Burien – and only serve women.

“White Center is an area where there is great need and there are no shelters nearby,” he said.

The county plans to operate the shelter for three years, as plans to turn the building into a community resource center are developed.

Ellerbrook said that the county will take the residents’ concerns into consideration – and staff members wrote down all of the questions.

The progress of the permitting process for this project may be monitored by contacting the Department of Permitting and Environmental Review at www.kingcounty.gov/depts/permitting-environmental-review

For more information about the King County department of community and human services, visit www.kingcounty.gov/depts/community-human-services

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