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LIHI director: Giant tent idea would be terrible for Seattle homeless

Verna Vasbinder prepares her her new bunk in the city's new Temporary Bridge Shelter for the homeless as her dog, Lucy Lui, looks on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, in San Diego. The first of three shelters opened Friday, which will eventually provide beds for up to 700 people, as the city struggles to control a homeless crisis gripping the region. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Seattle is moving forward with new ideas to ease the homelessness crisis. Among them are tiny house villages and sanctioned encampments. One idea that is garnering interest is a giant tent that can house dozens of people at once.

“Winter is coming, the rain is coming,” Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda told KING 5.

Mosqueda recently returned from a trip to Los Angeles where she took a look at that city’s giant tent shelters.

“What I saw in LA was partitions between beds, the ability to have your loved ones there, pets, lockers, showers, case management on site,” she said.

But that is currently just an idea under consideration. Meanwhile in Seattle, a tiny house village in South Lake Union has opened up. It is managed by the Low Income Housing Institute. KTTH Radio’s Jason Rantz was at the opening. The villages, encampments, and LIHI itself have been controversial in town. Rantz has been openly critical of all of them. So it came as a surprise that he and Sharon Lee, executive director of LIHI, agreed on one issue — giant tent shelters are a bad idea.

Lee says that theft, safety, and security are issues at such giant tent shelters. Of course, she promotes tiny homes with doors that lock. They can also have plumbing and can be cleaned easily. The tents, on the other hand, have poor air quality, Lee argues. She is concerned that pushing so many people off the streets and into giant tents will result in outbreaks and other issues.

“I’ve seen a situation where disease gets spread, it smells bad ….” she said. “I was just in LA and there is a typhus outbreak. Typhus outbreak is when you have all these people together, and rats with louse bite people and that’s how it spreads. Last year in San Diego, they had 16 people who died from Hepatitis A, and they had 500 people who were infected. They had too many people close together with inadequate hygiene.”

In shelters in places like churches, the numbers are generally smaller. And they have people leave during the day so volunteers can clean the place. Having large numbers of people in a space 24/7 presents a different scenario.

Lee said she has written to the city council expressing her concerns about the giant tent idea. She has also met with council members Sally Bagshaw, Lisa Herbold, and Mike O’Brien to warn them. She was told that the giant tent idea is not a done deal, and that the city intends to study the option. But she has yet to discuss the matter with Councilmember Mosqueda.

“I think she should talk to some infectious disease experts,” Lee said. “Maybe if you want to go and vaccinate everyone, but there are some things you can’t vaccinate against. It’s true that there are some shelters here, where there was a TB outbreak. I think the health department reported an HIV outbreak. It’s a serious concern for people whose health is compromised or they are frail. Do you really want to be in a place with 100 people and someone is coughing and someone is really sick. You don’t want that situation.”

“We think the tiny houses have been shown to work. because people get into housing and get into employment … and it’s less expensive,” she said.

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