Fight over homeless hotel shelters arrives in Kirkland
Feb 3, 2022, 8:56 AM | Updated: 10:29 am
Homeless hotel shelters continue to be difficult sells for those living in cities outside of Seattle, with Kirkland residents now expressing concerns over the potential purchase of a vacant La Quinta Inn.
King County is reportedly considering the La Quinta Inn — located near SR 520 on the south edge of Kirkland — as the latest permanent supportive housing site for its Health Through Housing initiative. As part of that initiative, the county already has purchased at least eight former hotel facilities, spanning Auburn, Federal Way, North Seattle, Pioneer Square, Queen Anne, Redmond, and Renton.
But residents of cities where hotel shelter spaces have either been planned or considered have frequently raised objections.
In 2020, outrage from residents led to Renton City Council passing legislation that forced out over 200 homeless residents living in a former Red Lion Hotel. Redmond residents echoed those complaints the following year after King County purchased a former Silver Cloud Hotel in the city, claiming that the planned shelter would make the surrounding neighborhood unsafe.
Now, that debate has moved to Kirkland, where those same concerns are once again being raised.
“Most concerning for me is the safety of children and the La Quinta Inn site is located immediately adjacent to several schools and daycares with young children within a short walking distance,” a Kirkland parent said in a letter addressed to Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet and city councilmembers, noting the La Quinta Inn’s close proximity to Eastside Preparatory, Chestnut Montessori School, Yarrow Bay KinderCare, and Cedar Crest Academy.
“Another concern is that the property lies on the Bellevue/Kirkland border and is viewed as the ‘Gateway’ to Kirkland,” the letter continues. “As a result, this is major hub for several businesses in the area. My intent is not to argue the merits of this program but one of the concerns has been that the County believes that ‘supportive housing is non-contingent on behavior changes’ such as quitting drug use. This can result in increased crime in the area, and a drop in property values for neighboring properties.”
City officials have spoken to many of those concerns, detailing how there would be a screening and referral process for any residents that would live in the shelter, that unlawful activities would not be permitted, and that those who repeatedly break the rules would be at risk of expulsion.
“The City’s highest priority is the health and safety of our community,” Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett said in a written statement. “The City will ensure this location, if secured, is an outstanding neighbor to the surrounding businesses and residents. The City will require a robust community engagement process to ensure our community has a voice in issues related to the ongoing operations of the site.”
Triplett went on to detail how the shelter would be crucial in providing a permanent home for its residents, “including the stability of privacy, the same bed to sleep in every night, and one’s own bathroom.” That would also include 24/7 on-site staffing, case managers, and access to health and behavioral health treatment.
In Seattle, early data from University of Washington researchers 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. Other data from the city’s homelessness outreach team indicated that newly-opened hotel spaces helped fuel a 132% increase in shelter referrals.
That all being so, the sale of the La Quinta Inn in Kirkland is “not final,” according to King County Executive Dow Constantine, as work continues to “complete the necessary assessments for suitability.”