King County’s purchase of a Federal Way hotel is expected to close next week, and county representatives recently provided additional details about the incoming Health Through Housing site.
Health Through Housing is a countywide public health program aimed at providing housing and resources for individuals who are dealing with chronic homelessness, or are at risk of it. So far, King County has secured five properties in various cities throughout the county for Health Through Housing facilities.
On July 29, purchase agreements for three additional sites were announced, including the Federal Way Extended Stay America location, 1400 S. 320th Street.
King County’s purchase of the Federal Way Extended Stay is expected to close Aug. 24, said Chase Gallagher, interim communications director for King County. The purchase price is $23.25 million.
The county is seeking three more buildings in north and east King County, according to county representatives on Aug. 10 at a Federal Way City Council special meeting.
“Homelessness is everywhere in King County right now,” said Leo Flor, director of community and human services for Public Health — Seattle & King County.
Federal Way is no different in facing this regional issue, Flor said: “Thousands of people will sleep outside in King County tonight … and that number is going to grow unless we do something different.”
The strategy of something different has sparked fury among some members of the Federal Way community. At a town hall meeting on July 15, Flor presented an outline of the project and fielded questions from upset attendees, some of whom compared the supportive housing as rebranded safe injection sites.
On Aug. 10, Flor and Mark Ellerbrook, King County housing and community development division director, offered more details about the incoming program during the city council study session.
“This is an opportunity to house people immediately,” Flor said. Usually from funding to fruition, a homelessness housing project can take 3 to 5 years at a rough estimate cost of $425,000 per unit, he said.
By purchasing hotels or other developed buildings to quickly rehouse those in need, Health Through Housing is averaging about $270,000 per unit, Flor said.
The Federal Way Extended Stay has 101 units, and will be purchased for approximately $23 million, which averages to about $237,000 per unit.
The Federal Way site is for single adults or couples facing chronic homelessness; it is not the county’s practice to mix minors or unaccompanied homelessness youth in facilities with adults, Flor said.
“The folks who have the greatest need are prioritized for housing,” Ellerbrook added.
By providing housing — not temporary shelter — the county’s goal is to assist more than 1,600 individuals into permanent housing or independent living with the inclusion of on-site resources at each Health Through Housing location, Flor said.
Individuals will not be background checked, nor will they be required to be sober before being provided housing, Flor said.
“Not everybody who is homeless uses drugs, not everybody who will receive housing through the Health Through Housing program uses drugs, and some people do,” he said.
However if someone cannot comply with the building regulations, they may be removed from the program, he added.
“If it is illegal outside, it is illegal once you come inside of the building,” Flor said in response to drug use questions from the community.
The City of Federal Way will have a role in selecting the service providers for the site of the more than 30 options, Ellerbrook said.
State statutes require that of these units, at least 15 rooms must be occupied by local referrals, meaning people from or residing in Federal Way, or those who have a connection to Federal Way. Several community members who spoke at the meeting urged for more rooms to be occupied by local individuals in need.
“Because of the large number of units available through the Health Through Housing Program, King County expects to exceed the state minimum requirement,” said Sherry Hamilton, communications director for the King County Department of Community and Human Services.
Staffing for this type of facility is typically a 12-hour shift with generally 4-6 people on site at all times, according to the county. Overnight staffing is at least two people at all times, although it is typically closer to 4-6 people, she added.
Individual assessments will be conducted for each potential resident to gauge if the particular location is an appropriate fit, Hamilton said.
“This is no longer a hotel and no one can just walk up and reserve a room. Every resident will be enrolled in the King County Homeless Management Information System,” she said. “Any applicable laws with respect to housing for offenders will be adhered to in Health Through Housing sites.”
In the coming weeks, a Good Neighbor Agreement will be created and agreed upon between the county, the service providers, city officials, and community members and groups. The agreement outlines each agency’s role and includes contact information for any issues that arise. Code of Conduct agreements will also be required for residency.