Help Chinatown stop King County’s hush-hush plans for a homeless megaplex
September 14, 2022
A lack of accountability for public officials is one of the many problems contributing to the homelessness crisis in the region. For that to change, residents and voters must hold officials’ feet to the fire and make their own voice heard.
That is what the people of Seattle’s Chinatown did last week when they protested King County Executive Dow Constantine’s plan to create a homeless megaplex in their neighborhood. Under the county’s plan, they will spend $65.5 million to expand an existing shelter so it can accommodate up to five hundred people. The people of Chinatown want a moratorium on the project.
There are many good reasons residents in that neighborhood should be concerned.
The Chinatown-International District is already dealing with a crime wave that has forced out many of its businesses. According to the neighborhood’s public safety council’s 2021 annual report, the community “suffers from a negative ecosystem of interrelated and reinforcing criminal activities and disruptive behaviors. Vandalism, break-ins, drug dealing, addiction, shoplifting, electronic bank transfer (EBT) fraud, car prowls, sales of stolen goods and other activities all connect and reinforce each other.”
While the homeless themselves may not cause crime, as one resident told local media “it’s not the unhoused, but those that prey on them, citing drug dealers and sex workers.”
Considering that both Seattle police and King County Sheriff’s Office are understaffed, this is not the time to add a further potential burden to them, or to a community already facing an existing crisis.
Make Your Voice Heard!
Contact the entire King County Council and tell them you’re opposed to a homeless megaplex in Chinatown!
Contact Mayor Harrell and tell him not to support the county’s plans!
The other problem is accountability, as Jonathan Choe with the Discovery Institute has documented extensively. Constantine announced plans on the county’s website in March, but according to Chinatown advocates there was little to no outreach until several weeks ago. When the King County budget committee approved the proposed introduced by Councilmember Joe McDermott in April, so few knew about it that just one person testified.
There are also questions about how the spending will be handled. One the groups involved in the project is the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is already struggling to work with Mayor Bruce Harrell on his own homelessness plan. Meanwhile, the King County Council – at Constantine’s request – removed the competitive bid process for the shelter’s construction.
But aside from some basic facts very little is known about the project. The King County Council approved it in May, but there is no estimated construction start date or who will be providing some of the services, such as the shelter’s “sobering center.”
The lack of meaningful community input on this project by elected officials is without excuse. No one involved in this project thinks or ever thought for a moment it wouldn’t draw controversy or elicit legitimate concerns. For them to avoid outreach constitutes gross negligence on their part. It’s obvious they knew it would get criticized and they chose to avoid hearing from their constituents.
Unfortunately, as Choe put it on Twitter, this is history repeating itself.”
Five years ago the city of Seattle announced plans for a 24-hour living “Navigation Center” in Chinatown, which drew protests by the community in part due to their lack of involvement. Seattle’s then “homeless czar” George Scarola told residents at a 2017 meeting regarding the center that it’s construction and location were not negotiable.
This habit of making plans on homelessness and telling local residents afterwards has occurred elsewhere in the region, where King County has secretly attempted to use former hotels in cities like Redmond and Kirkland as homeless shelters, only to draw outrage from residents who find out at the last minute.
The lack of government accountability is not just contributing to the homelessness crisis, but it is a systemic crisis in and of itself.
It is imperative that Harrell publicly side with the people of Chinatown and insist the county put the plan on hold, at the very least until further community outreach is done. If the county will not, the city should withdraw its involvement.
Public outreach must include the city and county collaborating with Chinatown’s public safety council to develop the following:
- A coordination/response plan between shelter workers and law enforcement concerning public safety incidents.
- Rules for those living in the shelter and grounds for their removal.
- Proper vetting for shelter workers
- A plan outlining desired short-term and long-term goals for the shelter.
- Contingencies for closing the shelter in response to increased drug/crime activity.
- Total transparency regarding the allocation and spending of public funds.
This is how it should have been done in the first place, but there is still opportunity for the issues to be addressed.
A strong message needs to be sent to local and regional elected officials that this kind of shenanigans needs to end, now. Any proposals that impact public safety need to involve affected communities from the start, not after the fact.
Ultimately if public officials won’t do that, voters need to decide if they deserve better.