Seattle expands City Hall homeless shelter to 160 beds

SEATTLE -- The city of Seattle in implementing the mayor’s $13 million plan to get 500 people off the streets.

Starting Tuesday night, up to 160 people can sleep in City Hall now.

The mayor’s plan is to include the City hall shelter expansion, 50 more beds at the King County Administration Building, 50 beds at 420 Fourth Avenue, and an additional 316 beds at three different Salvation Army locations in the city.

The new shelter expansion at City Hall is for both men and women and is considered low-barrier housing, meaning they don’t check for sobriety and they don’t check bags.

It’s all under Mayor Jenny Durkan’s new plan doubling how many people can call City Hall home – at least overnight.

“I don’t sleep outside, not in Seattle, no,” said Bill Lester who sleeps at City Hall at night.

But thousands sleep outside curled up on the sidewalks and benches.  For others, there’s a better option inside City Hall off Fourth Avenue.  That’s where you’ll find Lynne Sprague.

“Come in, get on your mat, put your blanket down, no yelling, no screaming,” said Sprague.

Mats cover the floor.  They’re numbered so repeat campers can find their spot from the night before.  Men are put on one side of the room and women on the other side.  Even service animals or therapy pets like Wiggles is allowed, too.

“They love her. Precious calls her the shelter dog,” said Sprague.

There’s more beds available now off the Fifth Avenue entrance starting Tuesday night.  The newest addition is the lobby during the day and now a shelter at night.

“If we’re going to ask every part of the city to step up and help get people off the streets, it starts with city hall,” said Durkan.

After a failed attempt to implement a head tax to pay for homeless programs, Durkan promised a 25% increase in bridge housing, getting 500 people off the streets. The City Hall shelter expansion is part of that plan.

“People want to know that every one of their elected officials are working as hard as they can to solve the problems that they see in our city,” said Durkan.

But not everyone is convinced.

“Action. Stop with the lip service and give us action. There are too many of us out on the street and more coming every day,” said Sprague.

The city took action right next to the Space Needle by clearing out what used to be a growing homeless encampment and expanding in City Hall.  It’s all a welcomed improvement to Bill Lester, who sleeps at City Hall.

“It’s a safe environment and, besides, who else can say they live in the mayor’s basement?” asked Lester.

He’s optimistic the city will help him find housing now that he’s a working man and off drugs.

“One of them little tiny houses, that’s all I want a place to live,” said Lester.

The Salvation Army says it will keep this extended shelter space open all year round on a walk-in basis.  The Fourth Avenue shelter entrance closes at 7 a.m. and the new one off Fifth Avenue closes at 6 a.m.  Salvation Army volunteers are supposed to clean up after the shelters close.  The mayor argues it will be a seamless transition into the workday.