Bellevue council refines homeless shelter parameters

Two weeks ago, the Bellevue City Council voted 4-3 to move forward with the siting of the proposed permanent men’s homeless shelter at the King County-owned Eastgate site.

To get that tie-breaking vote, the council compromised on looking at two other potential sites for the shelter, one at the Sound Transit Operations and Maintenance Facility: East site near the Spring District and the other in the Lincoln Center site which is already being used for the winter homeless shelter.

The council voted to allow a 45 day exploratory period to look at those two sites, but was vague on what exactly would be looked at.

At Monday’s extended study session, councilmembers were able to see what city staff had cooked up.

A spreadsheet-like document has two columns for the sites, with the parameters being analyzed as a third column. Topics for Sound Transit’s site and the Lincoln Center include obvious ones like the site’s size, existing zoning laws, and land costs. Other facets include proximity to transit and services, construction factors and the estimated site availability date along with safety factors.

The currently proposed shelter would be located next to the Eastgate Park and Ride location, sharing 4.3 acres with a King County Health Department building. The proposal calls for 100 emergency beds and potential affordable housing for 60 more at a cost of $23 million in 2016 dollars. A host of services, including medical, dental, case management and addiction counseling would be on site as well. The facility will be built by Imagine Housing and run by Congregations for the Homeless. The plan has the shelter opening by winter of 2019.

This project has run into considerable controversy by residents of the city and of the Eastgate area. Many feel the process decided to place a low-barrier homeless shelter in their neighborhood without even doing public outreach.

Councilmember Kevin Wallace wondered if the site at Eastgate could be used as a “medium-barrier” shelter with affordable housing.

“We have to keep our criteria objective,” he said. “I’d be interested in exploring the possibility of having a low-barrier shelter in another site.”

The low-barrier shelter would not require identification and would accept those men with active drug and alcohol addictions. However, as Congregations for the Homeless Executive Director David Bowling has said previously, the shelter would work with police to identify criminals and those with behavioral issues would be sent to police or to a psychiatric check.

At the April 17 meeting with the 4-3 vote, council agreed to move forward with a letter of agreement with King County regarding the Eastgate site. Either party can back out if it is not a good fit, as many residents of the area suggest.

The proposed homeless shelter site is near condominiums, a five-story park and ride, Bellevue College and several automotive dealerships. While Bellevue Police Department data seems to suggest that violent and drug-related crime actually goes down in an area with a well-monitored shelter, residents are worried about a bump in property crime near a low-barrier shelter. Car prowls and theft were seen at higher levels in the police data.

The proposed shelter in Eastgate would have a day center serving breakfast and lunch, and men could come and go as they pleased for services, with a curfew at 10 p.m.

By June 5, the city staff hopes to have answered the above questions about the two alternate sites and Mary Kate Berens, deputy city manager, said staff will work toward a “road map” which will show a timeline for the Eastgate location.

Councilmember Lynne Robinson asked staff to look for a similar situation elsewhere to compare.

“We need an example of a low-barrier shelter with supportive services and housing near a residential neighborhood,” she said. “We need to find one and see how they implemented it and if it was successful or not.”