DESC’s West Wing Shelter

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Photo provided by DESC

For much of my Council tenure I’ve worked with housing providers, funders, case managers, police, judges, city attorneys, business and labor leaders, our King County Prosecuting Attorney, Nav Team members, LEAD leaders and many more to pull the system together.  FINALLY we are coming to consensus, we know what works and these strategies are being embraced.

Nearly everyone who is involved in actively addressing the need for housing/services/criminal justice reform agrees that Housing First is a data driven strategy that works.  Adding 24/7 shelter, case managers, supportive housing and jail-diversion strategies like LEAD are strategies that will make the big jump forward to solve problems we see on the street. 

The number one objective is to get people inside and provide a stabilizing environment. Survival isn’t enough. Supporting ways for all to thrive –to move up and on — is what the system can accomplish with places to sleep, healthy food, health care, medically assisted treatment and case managers on site. And now we can point to models that work.   

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the West Wing Shelter, located in a repurposed floor of the King County Correctional Facility, kitty-corner from City Hall. My office team members Lena Tebeau and Trevor Press met with DESC’s Daniel Malone, Noah Fay, and Erik Anderson on site.

The West Wing Shelter is the collaborative effort of the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) King County, and the City of Seattle. It provides 24/7 housing to 40 formerly homeless men and is one of the best options I have seen for ways to assist people who are living on our streets.

As we entered the building, we were greeted not only by one of DESC’s senior managers, but also by a large sign that reads “Welcome — Come as you are.” With a separate entrance away from the main jail, the West Wing Shelter is bright, colorful, and welcoming. We were immediately struck by how peaceful it feels. The space is quiet and inviting, making it is easy to forget that the site used to be part of the correctional facility above. We would never have known we were in the first floor of the King County Jail.

In designing the shelter and its programs, DESC reached out to people with lived experience to help define what was needed to best support those who would be using the shelter. The result is a completely full shelter with a waiting list. In fact, DESC has identified this as their most in-demand shelter.

Each resident has his own bed, storage space and a personal locker 24/7. Showers, clean bathrooms, an ADA accessible restroom and washers/dryers are available on site. Operation Sack Lunch provides two meals a day, fruit and granola bars are available for snacks, and on-site Medically Assisted Treatment and case managers are there too. One DESC manager told me that because people can get a good night’s sleep, clean up and have healthy meals during the day, the crankiness and volatile tempers present at other facilities are virtually eliminated.

The West Wing Shelter offers a place to live in dignity and get stabilized by giving individuals their own dedicated bed and locker while allowing residents to come and go as they please. This freedom allows residents to work, look for work, or attend other healthful community options on their own schedule. Need a nap? You can access your bed anytime. Need to leave for work at an odd hour? You are free to come and go as needed. This has led to a quiet and respectful atmosphere where residents get the rest they need and simply get better.

We were told that only two 911 calls have been made from the shelter since it opened in March. Clearly, this is a model that works!

After King County and the City pay the capital costs for an outside staircase and making the necessary tenant improvements, the shelter is expected to expand to the second floor, adding space for 60 more people and bringing the total number of residents up to 100.

During this budget cycle I am seeking support to add more of these 24/7 shelters and designated beds for LEAD-identified clients to have in their portfolio.  The Municipal Court judges want these dedicated beds as well.  As Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg has said, we need to fund what works, and what works is at capacity at this point.

The operating cost for this fully operational facility for 100 people is estimated to be over a million annually. This is a significant sum, but substantially less than the societal costs for the same number of people living on the streets. We need more 24/7 sites like this, and of course additional permanent housing options where the residents can go after becoming stabilized. The West Wing is an approach that is part of the solution for a healthier, safer community for all of us.

–Sally Bagshaw,
with legislative aides Lena Tebeau and Trevor Press

Article first published in the Queen Anne & Magnolia News