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Opinion: Bid to evict homeless from Renton hotel is laughably cruel

The Red Lion Hotel in Renton has been serving as a homeless shelter since April. (Red Lion Hotel, Facebook)

Renton City Council appears poised to pass a bill that will effectively evict the residents of a homeless shelter housed inside a Red Lion Hotel, a move with serious implications for the region’s unhoused population.

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The legislation currently being considered in Renton would require the Red Lion to kick out half of its homeless residents by the end of May 2021, and then the remaining half by the end of that same year. It also includes a baffling 100-person cap on the number of people any of the city’s homeless service locations can render aid to.

The debate over homelessness in King County is one that has frequently seen neighborhood residents complain about encampments in parks and on streets ruining their otherwise peaceful suburban existence. That’s often paired with claims that they merely want those people compassionately moved into shelter spaces.

A similar sentiment has reared its head during this saga involving the Red Lion Hotel, with people voicing their so-called “concerns” for the state of their neighborhood if the shelter is allowed to remain.

During a public comment session on the Renton council’s recent bill, one homeowner alleged that the homeless residents sheltered at the Red Lion have turned “a nice street into a nightmare” since they moved in. That person went on to claim that he apparently has “empathy for these people, [but] the location is not a good location.”

“It’s right next to all our neighborhoods,” he complained. “It needs to be in an industrial setting where people are not living that are paying for our homes.”

Translation: The unhoused need to be sheltered somewhere, just not anywhere near me. Given that fact, it’s fairly obvious that this is less about “empathy,” and more a thinly-veiled attempt to get the local homeless population out of sight and out of mind.

What’s even more infuriating about this whole situation is that long-term hotel shelters might actually be one of our best available tools to help mitigate King County’s homeless crisis. Early research out of the University of Washington indicates that the stability offered by those shelters leads to across-the-board improvements to the lives of those they house.

“What this setting allows them to do is start to think — instead of just, ‘how am I going to get through today, I’m going to start thinking about what my life looks like a month, or six months, or a year from now,’” UW researcher Gregg Colburn told KIRO Radio in October.

That’s a conclusion backed up by Mark Royal, a man currently being sheltered at the Renton Red Lion, who called the hotel a “blessing” in a recent editorial featured by Crosscut.

“I look around and see so many people doing so much better than when they came in, taking up exercise, eating well, feeling safe, having dignity restored and becoming part of the Renton community,” he wrote. “Where will we go if this place is shut down? Where will I go? This hotel has been so important to me and the people I know.”

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To take all of that away just because people in a Renton suburb don’t like the idea of living near a homeless shelter is laughably cruel at best, and at worst, directly exacerbates an already out-of-control homeless crisis.

If the Red Lion’s occupants are evicted, there’s a high likelihood they’ll be forced back out onto the streets, occupying tents resident NIMBYs will continue to complain about until we inevitably send our homeless somewhere where no one has to be reminded that there are people less fortunate than us in need of our help.

This all really highlights the difference in stakes between two parties: On one side, we have people pleading for a chance to maintain their livelihood and dignity. On the other, well-off homeowners don’t want to see or live near their city’s homeless population because it makes them feel bad. Or more simply, it’s a decision between empathy and cruelty. Which will you choose?

Questions, comments, or feedback? Follow Nick Bowman on Twitter at @NickNorthwest to weigh in, or reach him by email at [email protected]

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