New hotel spaces fuel 132% increase in Seattle homeless shelter referrals

Aug 20, 2021, 7:39 AM | Updated: 10:56 am

Kings Inn, homeless hotel shelters...

Belltown's Kings Inn. (Mayor Jenny Durkan, Twitter)

(Mayor Jenny Durkan, Twitter)

In recent years, homeless outreach workers in Seattle have frequently encountered difficulties in placing the city’s unhoused individuals into shelters. But over the last few months, there have been significant improvements, thanks in large part to newly-available hotel spaces.

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According to data released this week by Seattle’s Homelessness Outreach and Provider Ecosystem Team (or HOPE Team for short), the city saw a 132% increase in shelter referrals in Q2 over the previous quarter, totaling over 1,000 recommendations across 17 provider partners. Ninety-five percent of those were to round-the-clock enhanced shelters or tiny homes, but perhaps most notably, nearly half were referrals to hotels.

“We’ve seen growing success in the last quarter, where we recorded some of the highest numbers that we’ve seen since we’ve been able to record this data,” Will Lemke with Seattle’s Human Service’s Department told KIRO Radio. “We’re really encouraged by that.”

While the city’s Navigation Team reported just a 24% acceptance rate for shelter referrals early in 2020, the availability of hotel shelters appears to be yielding positive results.

In Seattle, early data from University of Washington researchers has indicated that homeless individuals living in hotels over a 12-month period saw across-the-board improvements to their lives. Participants in the UW’s study were shaving and showering regularly, getting three meals a day, and were more frequently attending medical appointments.

City leaders opened two new hotel shelter spaces in early April, housed within Belltown’s Kings Inn and downtown Seattle’s Executive Hotel Pacific. That came on the heels of a larger effort to focus on providing stable shelter spaces in unoccupied rooms of hotels across King County. By the end of the year, the county plans to buy a series of hotels to permanently house up to 45% of its homeless population.

Since they opened, Lemke says that the new hotel shelters have been the city’s “most popular options” for shelter referrals.

“Those filled up within a couple of weeks — if not months — from when we opened them,” he noted.

King County reducing shelter concentrations, moving people to hotels

During a mid-April clearance of a homeless camp near Seattle’s Meany Middle School, all but one of the 41 accepted shelter referrals were to the newly-opened Executive Hotel Pacific space. A subsequent effort to clear Third Avenue in downtown Seattle saw roughly half of the 33 people living on the street in the area voluntarily relocated to hotels.

The city plans to operate the hotels for about a year, supported by one-time COVID relief funds issued by the federal government. But after that, Seattle “will have to ramp down” the program unless another funding source is identified within the city budget, while ensuring that residents of the shelter spaces are moved to an appropriate alternative.

“If there’s another option that’s figured out by then, we’ll transition those folks,” he explained. “Our goal is to make sure that no one exits directly back onto the street, and that either people have another hotel to go to, or a different program to go to for housing.”

From there, efforts will be handed off to the nascent King County Regional Homelessness Authority “to continue to make sure people have a safe place to be.”

You can read the HOPE Team’s full Q2 report here.

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New hotel spaces fuel 132% increase in Seattle homeless shelter referrals