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Wing of King County jail to be used as emergency homeless housing

Part of the King County Corrections building will now be used as temporary emergency housing for the homeless as winter is on the way.

RELATED: Seattle council debates using giant tents for homeless

The housing will be in the west wing of the jail which used to be a minimum-security section but has been closed since 2012.

It has the infrastructure to be a shelter, but the question is whether people will want to stay there.

Tents line the street across from the King County jail, and the people in them would likely say they would rather be there than inside the jail, but winter is coming, so King County Executive Dow Constantine is inviting them out of the weather and into the jail.

“We do not want people being in danger out in weather on the streets,” said Constantine.

He says after some renovations, the wing won’t look like a jail.

“I am keenly aware about the concern of the optics of offering people shelter in a place that was once a jail, but I would reframe it this way: We are taking a building that was once about incarceration and converting it to shelter. It is an expression of our values as a community,” said Constantine.

KIRO 7 got a look inside the wing that will soon be a temporary enhanced shelter for about 150 people.

“The enhanced is the part that operates 24-7, has the case management and housing navigation services. Likely there will be meals available, showers — we are going to try to determine how we can have laundry space in here,” said County Regional Housing and Community Manager Mark Ellerbrook.

The county’s proposed budget includes $2 million per year to pay an operator — likely a nonprofit — to run the facility.

There aren’t many others in the area like it. Three other shelters operated in public facilities all close every morning and don’t reopen until evening.

“We know that enhanced shelters actually have the biggest impact on connecting people to services and moving them into housing,” said Ellerbrook.

No jail staff or corrections officers will be involved in the operation of the shelter.

Constantine’s budget also includes money for modular homes — mobile units with two people per room and a bathroom.

The hope is to have those and the west wing of the jail available by the end of the year.

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