The proposal to site a permanent men’s homeless shelter in Bellevue has touched off an uproar from neighbors who worry about crime, public safety and unanswered questions about how the shelter would be funded and operated.
There’s a sliver of common ground in Bellevue over a proposal to build a permanent men’s homeless shelter in the Eastgate neighborhood. Residents and city leaders agree that the Eastside needs emergency beds and services for men experiencing homelessness. And they strongly agree that Bellevue needs solutions that don’t resemble Seattle’s, from sprawling tent encampments to big asks from taxpayers for uncertain strategies.
But five months of city outreach, visits to similar shelter facilities in the region and reassurance from the police about crime haven’t changed many Eastgate neighbors’ adamant opposition.
During public testimony before the City Council on Tuesday night, many in the audience of more than a hundred silently raised and waved their hands to express agreement with residents and council members who said there were too many unanswered questions about the current proposal for the city to go forward.
“We’re not fighting the need for a homeless shelter. We’re asking the council to find an appropriate site not near a college, not near three preschools and idle cars sitting in a park-and-ride lot,” said resident Tuli Davenport.
City Councilmember Kevin Wallace raised similar concerns: “We want to make sure the scourge that is on Seattle’s doorstep does not come over here.”
The City Council plans to meet again April 17 and could make a decision then about whether to select the Eastgate location and develop detailed plans for the shelter’s funding and operations, or potentially start the search for a new location again, likely delaying any construction for several years.
Bellevue city leaders in August announced that they would explore locating a permanent men’s shelter for 100 men, a day center for 125 and 50 to 60 units of supportive housing at a 4-acre site owned by King County and adjacent to a clinic for Public Health – Seattle & King County. The site is next to Metro’s Eastgate Park-and- Ride lot and down the hill from Bellevue College.
The shelter would be operated by Congregations for the Homeless, which has run an emergency shelter at several locations in the city during the winter months for the past eight years. The permanent housing would be built and staffed by Imagine Housing, a Kirkland nonprofit that develops and manages affordable apartments on the Eastside.
Congregations for the Homeless has also operated a permanent men’s shelter since 1993 that rotates monthly through a dozen Eastside churches. According to King County officials, the group’s track record of moving men into permanent housing is in the top 10 percent of county shelter providers.
The current proposal calls for offices for social-service providers, such as drug-and-alcohol treatment, employment assistance, legal help and housing placement.
“We’ve operated the emergency shelter for the past eight years with no major issues,” said Steve Roberts, managing director for Congregations for the Homeless, at a council study session Tuesday.
He said shelter staff members have worked closely with police and with the neighbors at all of their locations, and that at each, “the initial fear subsides.”
Entry criteria a concern
Neighbors are particularly concerned about the shelter’s low-barrier entry criteria that allow men with addiction problems and criminal records into the shelter, as long as they follow the rules.
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Bellevue police last year analyzed a one-mile radius around the winter shelter that operated in the Bel-Red neighborhood from November 2013 through April 2016. Maj. CarlKleinknecht said police found no increase in major crime. He said there were more calls for police help or intervention.
But in a memo to his commander obtained by some of the shelter opponents through a public-records request, Kleinknecht in March 2016 outlined public-safety concerns, including that some men expelled from the shelter for behavior issues remained in the neighborhood without support. He said there were inadequate community resources for dealing with service-resistant populations.
In the memo, Kleinknecht also said he didn’t consider the issue a “deal breaker.” He said any location would require good shelter management, collaboration with police and the development of “real solutions” to the expected challenges.
Bellevue College officials say they don’t oppose the Eastgate location and are involved in discussions with the city about potential shelter partnerships. Ray White, vice president for administrative services, said the college takes seriously neighbors’ concerns about security and places a high priority on campus safety.
White noted that the college itself is a no-barrier institution open to everyone, and that about 7,500 people come and go on campus every day.
“Every element of society is represented in our classrooms. These men are sitting next to their sons and daughters now,” he said.
Information in this article, originally published April 5, 2017, was corrected April 5, 2017. A previous version of this story misspelled the name Tuli Davenport.