City of Bellevue has unclear vision on homelessness | Letter

The Eastside men’s low barrier shelter project is going to struggle to succeed because it doesn’t have a clear vision on homelessness. Bellevue has supported a temporary winter emergency men’s shelter for many years. The shelter has operated in a few different locations over the years. An emergency shelter typically just gets people out of the cold and safe for the night without providing additional social services.

Somehow it was decided to get a permanent location for the men’s emergency shelter, which is an OK thing. The issues I see are coming from adding social services with a day center and transitional housing. This changes the operational nature of the shelter from emergency to a resource hub for the homeless. So the project has snowballed from finding a permanent place for the emergency shelter to creating a resource hub for the homeless. Letting it snowball creates dependencies that create confusion.

For example, additional funding can be obtained if the shelter is operated as “low barrier.” With low barrier there is next to no screening men coming in to the shelter. So that means folks with outstanding warrants, sex offenders, intoxicated, high on drugs and people that are just down on their luck all get in. As a comparison, Tent City 4 that operates on the Eastside screens out people with outstanding warrants, sex offenders and won’t let you in if you are high or drunk. They will also accept women and couples. So, yes, the project can get “free money” but the cost is you need to operate the shelter as “low barrier.”

Another point of confusion is the good natured desire to help the homeless with building up services for men. There is a push to move forward because there is a need to help the homeless, however, the city is working with a “snowball plan” rather than a comprehensive plan. Backing up to what is the original vision for the project is, goes back to a permanent location for the emergency men’s shelter. This is why women, couples and families are excluded from the shelter project. If the city were to take a more comprehensive approach to homelessness in Bellevue it would not exclude women, youth, couples and families with the Eastside men’s low barrier shelter project.

At the June 5 council meeting, Councilmember Conrad Lee was vocal about this, saying we need to approach homeless comprehensively rather than the current confusing approach. The city will state it does have a policy for women, couples and families, which is to leverage regional cities for support. Women, families and youth are supposed to seek support from Kirkland and Redmond, while Bellevue supports the men.

The city also states it has about 240 students enrolled/tracked in the unsheltered/homeless student program. How do you, as a city, not support the mothers of those students but support the fathers? Remember the focus of the shelter is all about the men. I think this creates confusion because the city is trying to tout that it is helping the homeless but really it’s just a men’s shelter. I wish the city would actually focus on the homeless problem in Bellevue rather than just the men’s shelter.

Aside from the above, there are plans that just don’t make sense to me. For example, the shelter is planned to be in the same building as the transitional housing. (Because of funding they can’t call it transitional housing, it needs to be called permanent housing, although it’s intended to be transitional).

So the shelter on the first floor will accommodate active addicts of various substances and on the second floor will be recovery addicts in transitional housing. Typically, outcomes are better for recovering addicts when they are away from there prior lifestyle surroundings. A high percentage of these guys will all go outside to smoke cigarettes and share the same bus stop. I don’t think it is fair to the recovering folks to put them literally on top of the addicts.

If we’re going to spend money to help addicts to recover, we need to give them a fair chance. It is practically like giving someone recovery from gambling lunch vouchers at the casino. The second part that doesn’t make any sense to me is locating the shelter next to the college. There is just some underwritten rules of society and putting a bunch of dirty old men and young women (teenagers) together is one of them. The shelter will attract some men with criminal histories of violence against women.

The college will provide hundreds of provocatively dressed young women in a much higher density than what you would find in an industrial or commercial part of a city. Women’s rights, their right to their body, their right to how they dress go out the window then they are just “prey” to someone who struggles with violence against women. It’s a no-win situation for the homeless guy, college student, police, families, community when that act of violence is committed against that college girl.

Tell the council to stop the shelter work, start over and focus on homelessness in Bellevue, to come up with a comprehensive plan that makes sense.

Steve Sanchez


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