Snohomish County aims to turn motel to bridge housing in a city that banned outdoor overnight camping

A new bridge housing facility could soon open in a city that recently banned overnight outdoor camping to address homelessness.

Snohomish County Government issued a purchase proposal Monday for a motel in Edmonds to become part of its permanent shelter systems.

Americas Best Value Inn on Highway 99 in Edmonds currently operates as a motel. The City of Edmonds and other jurisdictions offer vouchers for people experiencing homelessness to stay there temporarily, as south Snohomish County is lacking in shelters.

"Most of the county’s resources, when it comes to our vulnerable residents, are in Everett. So, for us to treat and care for and support people, often we had to transport them up to Everett. And it meant taking people away from their settings where their kids may be going to school or they have jobs," said Shannon Burley, deputy director for the city’s Parks, Recreation & Human Services Department. 

Snohomish County Government proposed to buy the Americas Best motel with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. If approved, 55 units will become time-limited bridge housing to help people transition to a permanent home. Though it will be owned by the county, Burley said it would make a significant difference addressing homelessness. 

"This opportunity honestly takes it a step higher in terms of dignity. So, we’re not putting people into a congregate shelter where they may experience trauma, that was part of the reason they’re on the street in the first place," said Burley. 

The potential facility could not come at a more critical time in Edmonds. In May, the city passed the Unlawful Occupation Ordinance, making it illegal for people to camp outdoors overnight in Edmonds. The ordinance received some backlash.

"It’s unconstitutional to enforce it, if we cannot provide shelter that’s equal to or better than their current living situation. So, since the ordinance has passed we’ve had a difficult time enforcing it, because there hasn’t been available shelter," said Burley.

Snohomish County buying up hotels as transitional housing for people facing homelessness

Snohomish County is buying hotels to convert to transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness.

"Making it just illegal to be on the street—well, you’re pushing that problem somewhere else, and you’re making that individual just have to go deal with it somewhere else. So this is really creating a pathway to a really more productive, healthy future," said County Executive Dave Somers.

The county has 36 beds within its Shelter & Behavioral Health Partnership Program. Somers said with the purchase proposals for America’s Best in Edmonds and the Days Inn motel in Everett, the county could offer 165 new beds. This would increase the county’s shelter capacity by 26% this year.

"I will say there’s still a great need. We know we’ve got more work to do. Last count, we got about 1,200 people experiencing homelessness in our county that we know about. And that’s up from in 2018 [when] we had 850 people experiencing homelessness. So, it’s a big demand, there’s a lot of need. This will make a significant dent in it," said Somers.

"We have 450 people who do not have a permanent address. The vast majority of them are couch-surfing or staying with friends and what not. We’ve identified roughly 15 people who are chronically unhoused who are here and need our help," said Burley.

County council will meet Wednesday to discuss the motion to buy the motel. There will be opportunity for public comment during the meeting. Somers said, if approved, the county would begin accepting bids to contract an organization that will operate the bridge housing facility 24/7. He said acceptable candidates are organizations that are currently providing services to address homelessness in the county.

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The bridge housing facility will offer resources to support the well-being of people experiencing homelessness. Some resources include mental health, medical support, job training, legal services and connections to long-term housing.

"This is really kind of the missing puzzle piece and now that we have a place that we can really bring people that we know will offer solid care and support and really help them," said Burley.