Amid a civil emergency and the coldest temperatures in years, outreach to people living in encampments is underway. The city of Seattle also has added four nighttime severe weather shelters, totaling six shelters. 

The city previously announced last week space for around 200 people at the Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center and the Compass Center in Pioneer Square. While some of the shelters were open on Sunday evening, all six will be open Monday evening through Wednesday.

Opening additional shelter space has been made difficult by a lack of staffing, by spacing requirements to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and by the necessity to have locations accessible by public transit, said Jenna Franklin, a spokesperson for the Seattle Human Services Department.

Members of the city’s HOPE Team, which conducts homelessness outreach, have been visiting encampments and coordinating transportation to nighttime shelters since Saturday afternoon, Franklin said. The Compass Center and Seattle Exhibition Hall locations hosted around 90 people on Christmas evening, Franklin said.

Hypothermia is not the only concern during severe weather, Franklin said. Smoke inhalation and fire also are risks, especially since fires can destroy people’s existing belongings and shelter in encampments. 

221 homeless people have died in Seattle since last winter, one of the highest numbers on record
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Public Health – Seattle & King County said in a briefing call that it has determined the risk associated with hypothermia and cold weather is higher than the risk of contracting COVID-19, Franklin said.

People in encampments can be hesitant to leave behind a community and their belongings even in cold weather. Franklin declined to speculate on whether the six shelters will be enough to meet demand from the freezing temperatures. The city of Seattle also will fund around 2,800 shelter spaces by the end of 2021, and there are additional beds available through private companies and King County, she said. 

Keith Hughes, the commander of the West Seattle American Legion Post 160, has been managing a shelter with limited space for the local homeless population. The staffing shortage has not spared his operation, which is being run entirely through the help of volunteers, he said.

Local people have paid for hot meals and offered to take shifts watching over the shelter, he said.

“I hope that in the future, the awareness with the city and the county will include all areas of Seattle, not just the downtown core,” he said.

Around eight people, a mix of regulars and newcomers, stayed at his shelter on Christmas evening. One woman arrived at the shelter after someone in a car spotted her walking around wrapped in a blanket and drove her to the shelter, he said.

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Hughes expects that number to increase as the week continues.

“That’s the way it works,” he said. “Last year as the weather got colder, more and more people came.”

Winter weather shelters to open in Seattle, Snohomish County

Warming centers and overnight shelters in Seattle

An interactive map of day centers, shelters and warming spaces can be found through the city of Seattle’s website.

Emergency nighttime shelters will be open Monday evening through Wednesday, Dec. 29. They include:

  • Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center, 301 Mercer St. This shelter will be operated by The Salvation Army and is open to adults 18 and older. Pets will be accepted as well, but they need to be nonaggressive and on a leash. The site will be able to hold around 100 people, according to the city.
  • Compass Center in Pioneer Square, 210 Alaskan Way S. Open to adults 18 and older. Only service animals will be allowed at this site run by Compass Housing Alliance. The entrance is at the corner of South Washington Street and Alaskan Way, across from the downtown ferry terminal. The shelter will be able to hold around 80 people.
  • The Bertha Knight Landes Room at Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave. This shelter will be operated by the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. The site will be able to hold around 16 adults, according to the Seattle Human Services Department.
  •  American Legion Post 160 in West Seattle at 3618 S.W. Alaska St. has enough space for about 16 adults. The shelter is intended for the local homeless population, Cmdr. Keith Hughes said.
  • God’s Lil Acre at 12517 33rd Ave N.E. The shelter is operated by Lake City Partners and opens at 9 p.m. The location also has a day center starting at 9 a.m.
  • Seattle Mennonite Church at 3120 N.E. 125th St. The space is also operated by Lake City Partners. This night shelter opens at 9 p.m.

The original version of this story incorrectly stated when people stayed at the Compass Center and Seattle Exhibition Hall shelters. People stayed there on Christmas evening, not Christmas Eve.