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King County, Seattle adding spaces to help homeless shelters follow social distancing guidelines

Seattle Post-Intelligencer logo Seattle Post-Intelligencer 3/26/2020 By Becca Savransky, SeattlePI

Seattle and King County are expanding shelter spaces to reduce the number of people in high-capacity shelters and bring more people inside in attempts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus among people experiencing homelessness.

Officials said they are creating nearly 1,900 more shelter spaces -- some of which are already open and some of which they plan to have up by early April -- through using additional space in community centers and other facilities, and building new units including tiny houses and modular units.

Some of the new spaces will help shelters currently operating to reduce the number of people in one space and more closely follow social distancing guidelines. Other units will be used to serve more people currently living unsheltered and to provide isolation or quarantine spaces for people in need.

“We are determined to do all that we can to slow the spread of this virus in our communities and ensure that hospital beds are available for the most seriously ill,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. “We are committed to the proposition that no one will be left behind. Not the old, not the sick, not those who are living in homelessness. We are all in this together, and we have to get each other through it. That is what our community expects, and that is what we will do.”

The city and county are adding about 700 expansion spaces at places including Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center, Garfield Community Center, Miller Community Center, SW Teen Life Community Center and Loyal Heights Community Center to help reduce the number of people at crowded shelters. All of these spaces are opening either this week or early next month. The city is also putting up additional tiny homes for those living unsheltered, and plans to open isolation and quarantine sites at an Issaquah motel and White Center modulars in early April

To staff the new spaces, the city said at least 70 employees have been cross-trained in shelter operations.

"We know that individuals experiencing homelessness are some of the most at risk for exposure," Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement.

"Our partnership to create new shelter, de-intensify our current high capacity shelters, and create new spaces will go a long way in ensuring more people have the tools they need to stay healthy, the support they need if they are ill, and will help alleviate the growing pressures on our regional health care system."

People experiencing homelessness could be more vulnerable to infection as they are likely to be living in closer quarters with people, and could have weakened immune systems. Local officials have been working to provide additional shelter space to people in need, but, as the crisis continues, nonprofits in the area have been struggling with a lack of donations and volunteers to keep operations running.

Shelters in the area have said they have implemented enhanced cleaning measures to prevent the spread of the virus, and have started taking the temperatures of people coming into the facilities to ensure everyone is and remains healthy.

A report earlier this month said it would cost King County about $260 million to have enough shelter space to house people experiencing homelessness and those needing to be isolated or quarantined while following social distancing guidelines amid the COVID-19 outbreak.


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