**Update: September 14: Our emergency smoke relief shelter created last Friday to bring people experiencing homelessness inside will remain open until Wednesday morning as continuing wildfire smoke continues to choke the Puget Sound region.
The City of Seattle and King County are opening a temporary shelter to provide respite from unhealthy air conditions. King County is providing the building (1045 6th Ave South in SoDo) and the City’s Human Services Department (HSD) will support services via a partnership with Salvation Army. The shelter will serve people experiencing homelessness and living unsheltered. Salvation Army and King County Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) will staff the shelter.
The doors will open today at 3:00 pm on Friday, September 11, and are scheduled to remain open until 8:00 am on Monday, September 14th. The days and time of operation may change based on environmental conditions.
In previous years, the region’s smoke and unhealthy air quality response has relied on people minimizing time outdoors and informing people of available facilities that have air filtration. Public Health – Seattle & King County has advised that agencies should open facilities only if they possess high-quality air filtration systems and if they can comply with public health guidance as it relates to temperature, screening, social distancing, capacity restrictions, face coverings, and other health and hygiene measures. The SoDo facility is in compliance with these dual smoke and COVID-19 public health requirements and available to be set up and staffed quickly.
Other City facilities either do not have the proper air filtration systems or are not available due to other uses such as childcare programming.
The City of Seattle currently operates two other shelters that possess the air filtration system necessary to comply with smoke and COVID-19 public health protocols. Those shelters are Fisher Pavilion, which has capacity for 80 people, and Exhibition Hall, which has capacity for 130 people.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is this facility and who owns it?
This site was set-up by King County as an Assessment and Recovery Center (AC/RC) for emergency COVID response, particularly to respond to a surge in COVID infection and the need for emergency space for groups of people in need. Nursing stations are located throughout, as well as no-touch hand washing stations.
The City of Seattle is providing services to the site through the Salvation Army, which is a contracted service provider of HSD.
Why open this site now?
As a region, we have been successful in keeping our rates of infection sufficiently low so as not to need this site, yet, for its intended purpose: an assessment and recovery center for people sick with COVID-19. It has not opened and we have saved the cost of staffing the site 24/7 because it has not been needed up to now. We have seen in other countries like Italy and other states like New York how quickly hospitals can be overwhelmed in a surge of cases, and we have been resolved to maintain enough emergency COVID capacity to avoid swamping our local hospitals if possible.
Varying levels of smoke have been present in the air over the past week, and a forecast for additional smoke starting on Friday afternoon presents an elevated hazard for unsheltered persons. Cumulative recent smoke exposure and new elevated level of smoke led to Public Health advising opening a smoke shelter for use by unsheltered persons from Friday afternoon through Monday morning.
What is the purpose of the site?
To provide an environment offering reduced smoke exposure while also implementing AC/RC lessons learned to reduce likelihood of COVID-19 transmission. Masks and PPE will be provided to reduce risk of harm from COVID transmission while staff and guests are onsite. We will help guests meet basic needs while onsite, but recognize that the facility is not an intense services site because it will only be in operation while the risk of smoke is elevated (48 to 60 hours). If few people utilize the facility, we will reduce staffing proportionately. Use of this site is voluntary. Target audience for smoke shelter use is unsheltered persons, particularly unsheltered persons at elevated risk due to prolonged smoke exposure.
How will people get there?
HSD, DCHS and Public Health will work with their partners and the homeless shelter service system to get the word out about the availability of indoor space and respite from the smoke. King County Metro will assist with transportation from outlying areas as needed.
Is there a staffing plan and security on site?
King County will arrange onsite security 24/7. The Salvation Army and county staff will also be on site throughout the duration of the emergency use. Under a contract with the City of Seattle, Salvation Army will provide two operators onsite 24/7. Public Health Reserve Corps will provide operational staff and a nurse onsite from 8 AM to 6 PM each day of operation. Facilities will provide onsite security and facility support services. DCHS will provide a site director, onsite support, and material support as needed, including water and nutrition and other supplies. Metro will assist with transportation to the smoke shelter from outlying County locations as needed. King County Office of Emergency Management is standing by to assist with any larger scale material support as needed.
How long will this smoke shelter operate?
King County and the City are exercising an emergency deployment of this resource in light of the emergency situation Seattle is experiencing due to dangerous air quality conditions. That emergency action is for a period of approximately three days. Should we decide to change the intended use of the building from emergency COVID response to a different use for a longer-term period, we would do so in discussion with the local area businesses and residents in advance of taking action.
Residents should regularly check Puget Sound Clean Air Agency for updates on air quality.