King County Human Services head: Housing homeless in hotels is a ‘faster, cheaper’ solution

May 13, 2021, 11:53 AM
Homeless hotels, King County...
A hotel in Queen Anne recently purchased by King County. (Dow Constantine, Twitter)
(Dow Constantine, Twitter)

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced plans this week to have the county buy several hotels to house the region’s homeless population. But what will that look like in practice? King County Human Services Director Leo Flor spoke to KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show to provide some insight.

Seattle’s two new hotel homeless shelters are now officially open

The county plans to house 1,600 people in hotels between now and the end of 2022, having just bought the Inn at Queen Anne with “several more properties” expected to be purchased in the weeks ahead.

Flor notes that this is an approach that’s proven to be both effective in getting people off the streets, and appreciably cheaper than building new shelters from scratch.

“When we build new permanent supportive housing, that unit usually costs about $400,000 when you account for the land and the construction costs and the size of the buildings,” he described. “We have a chance here to cut that purchase price in half.”

“This is both faster and cheaper,” he added.

That’s also helped by the fact that buying a hotel right now is cheaper than it would be at any other time thanks to the pandemic, allowing the county to “create housing faster than we normally could.”

Combined with recent research from the University of Washington that demonstrated the relative success of hotel shelters, Flor sees this as a crucial piece of the region’s fight against homelessness.

“We know that the thing that works for folks who are experiencing chronic homelessness is to get them inside, and we have a moment right now where we have a hotel industry that’s been really affected by the COVID pandemic,” he said.

The hotel shelters the county plans to stand up will largely be reserved for those considered to be “chronically homeless,” including those with disabilities, and who have been living outside for “at least 12 months.”

“Those are the folks that we’re really looking to bring inside, provide the services, and we know that it works because we’ve done it,” Flor said.

King County reducing shelter concentrations, moving people to hotels

That will see the county partnering with groups like the Chief Seattle Club, the Downtown Emergency Services Center, and Catholic Community Services to provide help with Medicaid-funded behavioral health services, job placement, housing assistance, or a substance use disorder.

King County will also be coordinating with cities and local communities, with a focus on “building long term solutions” for residents of neighborhoods where these hotels are located.

“It will only succeed if we work together,” Flor said.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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King County Human Services head: Housing homeless in hotels is a ‘faster, cheaper’ solution