Police release data regarding Eastgate homeless shelter

As the city moves forward with its public input process regarding the Eastgate men’s homeless shelter, the volume of feedback for all sides has increased.

At the Nov. 28 city council meeting, residents provided additional feedback regarding the shelter and council listened to a lengthy presentation regarding the proposed 100-bed shelter and ancillary housing adjacent to the shelter on Eastgate Way.

Council will not make a decision on the shelter until early in 2017, but residents continue to urge council members to see their side of the issue.

Grant Degginger, former mayor of Bellevue and current president-elect of Temple De Hirsch Sinai synagogue, applauded the city’s move to back the shelter and noted the significant religious support for the location.

“I’m here tonight primarily to thank you for your work on developing a coordinated, long-term response to homelessness in Bellevue,” he said during the open communications period. “And ask that you continue the efforts to be part of the partnership to site a men’s shelter in permanent support of housing facility adjacent to the public health clinic and the park and ride.”

In August of this year, police and city staff found 10 unpermitted encampments within Bellevue city limits and at least 50 vehicles being used as housing. The winter shelter had 571 clients last year, 54 percent of whom were Bellevue residents, 75 percent between the ages of 25 and 55, 68 percent white, 29 percent self-reported as having a disability and 10 percent with a military background.

Because those stats were self-reported, some could be different from reality.

Those opposed to the shelter’s proposed location were present in force at the meeting as well.

A Running Start student taking classes at Bellevue College was concerned about student safety. The college is a short walk up a hill from the proposed shelter site.

The student claimed that Bellevue College’s open campus, poor lighting and the fact a shelter would be low-barrier all made for safety concerns.

A low-barrier shelter is a homeless shelter which only turns away people for behavioral issues, referring troublesome clients to the police. David Bowling, executive director for Congregations for the Homeless, said no men would be turned away into the neighborhood.

“Safety is paramount for us,” he said. “I would encourage any of you to come down to the winter shelter, it’s open now in Lincoln Center, and see how we operate, meet our guys and join us for a meal. Or bring your own meal.”

Congregations for the Homeless would run the shelter. Imagine Housing was planning a four to five story permanent affordable housing building with 40 to 50 units adjacent to the shelter.

The turning point of the meeting was the presentation of long-awaited data from the Bellevue Police Department regarding crime rates surrounding the former winter shelter on 120th Avenue Northeast.

The final verdict was that it’s hard to tell what the impact of crime is around the shelter, as many types of crime drop to below Bellevue-wide levels, others remained similar to the period before the shelter was located on 120th and others even rose slightly.

“The location of shelters near neighborhoods have no impacted violent crimes,” said Bellevue Police Major Carl Kleinknecht. “However, it is reasonable to expect more calls for service in an area, particularly for mental/emotional calls.”

According to city data, within one mile of the men’s homeless winter shelter on 120th, rates for arson, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, trespass, drug crimes and residential burglary are all lower than the city average and in some cases lower than the same one-mile radius surrounding the proposed Eastgate shelter.

Rates which are higher in the former location include weapons charges, malicious mischief, mental/emotional calls, found property, warrants served, theft and commercial burglary. Eastgate actually has a higher rate of motor vehicle thefts, aggravated assaults and drug crimes than the shelter’s neighborhood. According to the police report, crimes of opportunity such as property theft and motor vehicle prowls are the main thing to be aware of.

Many of the 2,500 Bellevue residents who have signed a petition to move the proposed shelter have cited violent and property crime as one of the main reasons for their complaints.

Kleinknecht said it was hard to draw many conclusions one way or another, as the data reached back just seven years. The police department did have mitigation suggestions in case the shelter plan does go through, including reducing vegetation around the area, bike patrols and increased lighting on trails leading to and around Bellevue College.

King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci spoke briefly on the shelter, thanking the city council for their work and urging residents not to be put off by the term low-barrier, as successful shelters of that sort have been run in Seattle and elsewhere in the region.

Council will decide on the location early in 2017.