Renton leaders publicly asked that King County move around 200 homeless people, who have been staying in a Red Lion Hotel near Interstate 405 to stay safe from the spread of COVID-19, out of the city in July.
The mayor, council president, police chief and other officials all spoke Tuesday before a remote meeting of the county council, saying the move-in had tripled the city’s homeless population overnight, strained their first responders’ capacity, and spread anxiety in nearby businesses.
“Today is also a plea for you to realize the enormity of the emergency task Renton has taken on,” said newly elected Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone. “We respectfully urge that you honor the verbal commitment to make our significant sheltering job a temporary one, and to work with us on an exit strategy.”
Renton officials are asking that after the original hotel lease is up 90 days from their move-in date on April 9, the county not renew the lease and move the residents somewhere else.
King County Executive Dow Constantine and officials for the King County Department of Community and Human Services, who made the decision for the move under emergency powers, had yet to comment as of press time.
The roughly 200 hotel residents largely came from Downtown Emergency Services Center’s (DESC) main shelter in downtown Seattle. The shelter doesn’t just work with people from downtown, though, said Dan Malone, executive director of DESC — it accepts referrals from hospitals all over the county.
“In the end, all these folks have to be somewhere,” Malone said. “And we as a region ought to come together and figure out where people can be, and then wherever that is, make sure there’s adequate amount of service being brought to them.”
Some of the shelter’s residents have serious mental illnesses, and Malone said with access to phones at the hotel, some have made 911 calls describing things that were “delusional.” Renton police Chief Ed VanValey told the council there had been a 79% increase in calls from the hotel’s location — sometimes nine to 12 calls in a single day, and Renton Regional Fire Authority Chief Rick Marshall told the council the fire department fielded 30 calls in the last month, whereas over the same period last year it fielded one.
“Renton’s share of this job shouldn’t last forever,” VanValey said.
Renton has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections in the county, higher than Seattle’s at 505 cases per 100,000 residents, according to data from King County. The city’s council president, Ruth Perez, pointed out that the city is less white than the county average, and COVID-19 has infected more people in communities of color. Hotel residents have been seen going into businesses and approaching others without masks on, Perez added.
Most King County council members at Tuesday’s meeting said they felt Renton leaders were justified in their concerns.
During discussion of a broader emergency COVID-19 funding proposal, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove sponsored an amendment that would require the executive’s office to provide a report justifying why the site should stay open once the current 90-day period ends. That amendment passed with six yes votes.
“I believe there is tremendous open hotel space in Seattle, and some even within walking space of the shelter,” said Upthegrove, whose district includes the hotel. “We ought to at least allow ourselves the ability to have that discussion in a few months.”