Cold weather heightens state of emergency for Seattle’s homeless

As temperatures descend into the 30s and 40s, spending the night outside is increasingly dangerous – but according to last January’s Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness’ 2015 One Night Count, over 3,500 people in King County have no other option. While more than 3,000 are able to stay in the winter shelters that open around the county every year, shelters are only temporary solutions for the growing number of people experiencing homelessness.iStock_000015579554_Large_homeless adult and child on street

Beginning in October or November and ending in March, April or May, several winter shelters are available either every night or a few nights per week. Most are designated as men’s, women’s or family shelters. King County Crisis Clinic’s Resource Talk website keeps an updated and detailed list of the shelters that are available throughout the season.

At least five shelters in the area also open during nights of severe (below freezing) weather, including the Rainier Room at Seattle Center (305 Harrison St), which has been open in recent weeks. Most of these shelters do not require referrals of any kind, and the Resource Talk website also keeps an updated list of their availability.

The King County Homeless Winter Shelter, located at the King County Administration Building, has operated regularly for two decades. Last year, after the One Night Count, combined funds from the City of Seattle and King County allowed the shelter to open an hour and a half earlier, and to increase the number of beds available from 50 to 100 for the rest of the season.

This winter, further steps have been taken. As of Monday, November 2, Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared that Seattle is in a state of emergency due to homelessness, calling for more funds and services. In response, the City of Seattle allocated one-time funds of $5 million on November 3 and an additional $2.3 million on November 17. These will allow the King County Administration Building to provide 100 extra beds this year (for a total of 150) as well as prevention and outreach measures. Some of the specific plans are outlined in the City Council’s “Green Sheet.”

Though 100 extra beds and an extra $7.3 million will certainly be beneficial, these measures won’t provide a complete solution, let alone a permanent one. This coming January 28, the Coalition on Homelessness will conduct their annual One Night Count, assessing how many people are currently in transitional housing, in shelters, and surviving outside. The count will hopefully show improvement from last year, and it will definitely clarify how much still needs to be done.

For updated information about shelters in the area, visit the King County Crisis Clinic’s  Resource Talk http://resourcetalk.crisisclinic.org/winter-shelters-201415/ website, or call 2-1-1.

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