KING COUNTY'S winter emergency shelter opened last week, but as many as 50 homeless men will be out in the cold come Jan. 12, when funding for the annual indoor shelter dries up along with $5.3 million in county social service funds.
The shelter has weathered a flurry of controversy already, starting when homeless advocacy organization SHARE, which ran the shelter until this year, began camping out on the building's plaza in early October. Last Friday, six SHARE members were arrested when they crossed a police barricade to seek shelter from the rain.
And now this: The newly released county budget, which also included cuts in public health, parks, and open space acquisition, does not include money for the shelter, which is now run by the Salvation Army at a cost of around $13,000 a month. Laurie Peterson, housing and community development program manager for the county, believes a reprieve in next year's budget is highly unlikely. "King County has a more than $40 million shortfall, and this was one of the projects that we just couldn't maintain," Peterson says. "We've tried as much as we can not to cut programs that serve the homeless and really vulnerable populations."
In the short term, that means the county will focus more on long-term homeless services and preventive measures, a move Salvation Army spokesman Mike Seely says he can understand. "If their resources are tight, the question is, would they rather pour them into those more comprehensive services, or into more short-term [initiatives] like this?" SHARE members tend to see it differently, pointing out that the hundreds of homeless men and women on the streets of Seattle still need a place to go at night.
Peterson says the county had hoped that the city of Seattle would be able to take over control of the shelter, but they're facing a budget crisis of their own. For now, Seely says, the Salvation Army will do everything it can to make up the shortfall. "The Salvation Army is always ready to improvise. If we know there are people on the streets, we'll do whatever we can to help them."
Erica C. Barnett