Over the course of a nine-day severe weather shelter activation that ended January 3 in response to prolonged cold temperatures and snowy conditions, the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD), in partnership with service providers, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA), volunteers, and City departments, provided a total of 2,116 overnight stays across six emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
At their peak capacity, the shelters at Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center, Compass Housing Alliance, City Hall, Seattle Mennonite Church, God’s Little Acre, and American Legion Post 160 of West Seattle, could provide up to 379 shelter spaces per night, serving adults of all genders. The activation, which began on December 25, provided 283 overnight guests protection from the elements during its highest point of usage on the night of December 30.
“For almost two years, the impacts from COVID-19 have put incredible strain on our human service providers. Despite these compounding challenges, HSD staff, contracted providers, other community organizations, the KCRHA, and City employees, came together to quickly stand up and operate six emergency shelters to keep hundreds of people safe and warm during an extended stretch of extreme winter weather,” said Acting Director Tanya Kim. “I want to thank both Mayor Durkan and Mayor Harrell for their leadership, the Office of Emergency Management for their collaboration, Seattle Parks and Recreation and Finance and Administrative Services for directly supporting the shelters, and all those who played a part in supporting our most vulnerable during their time of need.”
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Exhibition Hall, operated by The Salvation Army, opened on December 25 and was the most utilized temporary shelter, providing 1,121 overnight stays over the course of its activation. Initially, the shelter had capacity for 100 guests, but expanded capacity to 130 on December 26 and then was expanded to 150 spaces on December 28 to meet the need. The Compass Housing Alliance shelter also opened on December 25 with a capacity for 80 guests and provided 416 overnight stays while also serving as a day center.
City Hall shelter, operated by Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and supported by City employee volunteers, opened as a 24-hour shelter on December 27 and provided 397 overnight stays during its weeklong activation. Through coordination with KCRHA, the HOPE Team provided direct transportation for 27 individuals exiting City Hall on January 3 to hotel placements and permanent shelter locations.
Starting December 26, Lake City Partners operated two severe weather shelter locations in Lake City at the Seattle Mennonite Church and God’s Little Acre. The West Seattle shelter opened on December 27 and was operated by American Legion Post 160 and a faith-based network of volunteers.
To support staffing shortages and operational constraints for shelter providers due to COVID-19, Mayor Durkan signed an emergency order on December 24 to provide monetary incentives for frontline workers and human service providers staffing emergency shelters and warming centers. In response to the Mayor’s call for added staff support, 171 City employees opted into this surge staffing effort, with 18 employees eventually deployed in support of warming shelters and centers or assisting with transportation efforts over seven days.
Emergency shelter spaces followed Public Health—Seattle & King County COVID-19 safety and screening protocols for guests, including added air filtration, physical distancing, and increased sanitation and hygiene. Providers also followed Public Health isolation protocols for any symptomatic guests.
During the inclement weather, HSD’s HOPE Team coordinated outreach and shelter referrals into the City’s temporary severe weather shelters, and other City-funded shelters, in partnership with our contracted outreach providers. The HOPE Team, in coordination with Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) Seattle Fire Department’s Health One and Seattle Police Department’s Community Service Officers, conducted welfare visits, sharing information on emergency shelters, provided transportation to warming centers and shelter, and supported efforts to distribute weather supplies including handwarmers, socks, emergency blankets, hats, and gloves.
Over the course of the winter weather response, the HOPE Team and SPR outreach to unsheltered neighbors resulted in at least:
- 319 conversations about severe weather shelters
- 189 people receiving winter weather supplies
- 30 rides to warming shelters
- 51 referrals to temporary severe weather shelters
- 34 referrals to permanent shelters (December 21 – January 3)
Neighborhoods visited included Ballard, SODO, Georgetown, Rainer Valley, Beacon Hill, Downtown, Belltown, Queen Anne, Lake City, University District, Central District, Capitol Hill, Chinatown-International District, Delridge, West Seattle, and Pioneer Square.
This fall, the City and HSD brought online 350 new 24/7 non-congregate shelter spaces. Currently the City funds approximately 2,800 total shelter spaces, a 700-shelter unit increase over last year’s levels (Q4 2020). Additionally, 92% of City-funded shelter spaces are now 24/7 enhanced with wraparound onsite services – this compares to 75% pre-pandemic (Q4 2019).