With temperatures expected to drop below freezing this week, both King County and Seattle opened severe-weather shelters Tuesday night to people who have nowhere else to go. It was the first time this winter that they will have to open these emergency spaces.
King County opened a 25-bed shelter for men Tuesday through Saturday night, run by The Salvation Army at the county’s building at 420 Fourth Ave. in downtown Seattle. Seattle will have 80 beds Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, also operated by The Salvation Army, at Fisher Pavilion, 305 Harrison St. The city will set up another to-be-determined location for Wednesday night.
Fisher Pavilion was used previously as an emergency shelter space last year, when the city, county and homeless services organizations began moving residents out of crowded shelters to new locations in an effort to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. This time, officials will employ the same social distancing protocols, like screening for symptoms, requiring masks and keeping sleeping spaces six feet apart.
Snohomish County also opened severe weather shelters Tuesday evening at 3001 Oakes Ave. in Everett; Everett United Church of Christ Winter Shelter, 2624 Rockefeller Ave. in Everett; Maple Park Church, 17620 60th Ave W. in Lynnwood; and Evergreen State Fairgrounds Park, 14405 179th Ave SE, in Monroe.
Most years, when winter weather gets nasty, the city and county have opened additional capacity to prevent people from freezing on the streets. This year, that sometimes lifesaving measure is complicated because of the coronavirus, which prevents the ability to pack as many people as possible into one large space.
King County’s Fourth Avenue and Jefferson building, for example, can usually host 50 people when temperatures drop below freezing. This year, that number’s been halved to keep beds farther apart.
The National Weather Service predicted a low of 31 degrees Fahrenheit Tuesday night in downtown Seattle, with possible snow Wednesday through Saturday. Thursday night’s temperatures are estimated to be the coldest, dropping to 24 degrees.
Last year’s point-in-time count of homelessness during one night in January estimated 11,751 people living homeless in King County, with 5,578 people living in cars, tents or other places not designed for human habitation. Between 2019 and 2020, the estimate of people living in those spaces rose by nearly 7%.
In 2020, six people presumed to be homeless by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office died of causes involving hypothermia. More than 100 people presumed to be homeless died the same year outdoors, in encampments, vehicles, parks or on the street.