Update: Since the story has published, the city has opened additional severe weather shelters and day warming centers that you can find on our map.
With snow and freezing temperatures expected to hit Seattle and the Puget Sound region starting this weekend, two severe weather shelters are preparing to open in Seattle in an effort to get more unsheltered homeless people indoors before the extreme weather hits. Snohomish County is also expected to have all five of its winter weather shelters open as well.
The timing of the storm adds an extra layer of danger to the region’s unhoused population as many indoor public spaces will be closed Christmas Day and many service providers that conduct outreach are limited in staffing or off work altogether for the holiday weekend.
The lack of staff means that the Seattle shelters will only be open overnight, a change from previous years when people could escape weather conditions for 24 hours if they desired.
The new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is spreading faster and more efficiently and is causing case numbers in Washington to surge, has also caused officials concern because it could deter people from seeking a congregate shelter space.
Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Thursday that the city of Seattle will stand up two nighttime severe weather shelters opening at 7 p.m. Saturday:
- 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 located 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.
Both emergency shelters will open nightly at 7 p.m. and will close at 7 a.m. They are expected to close down fully on Dec. 29, but city officials said that could be extended depending on the forecast.
People staying at either shelter will not be allowed to store their belongings there during the daytime.
For people staying in the emergency shelters, the city is recommending they go to the Seattle Center Armory, next to Exhibition Hall, in the daytime. The Armory is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., but it will be closed Christmas Day.
Compass Housing operates a day center out of the same location as the emergency shelter, but that space will be closed Saturday and Sunday, which is when the region is expected to get anywhere from 1 to 4 inches of snow. City officials are currently trying to work with Compass Housing to open its day center this weekend, but could not confirm by Thursday evening.
Snow is expected to start falling Saturday night through Sunday. Temperatures are likely to dip into the 20s and stay in the teens overnight starting Sunday evening and running through Wednesday morning, according to Logan Johnson, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Seattle.
“Honestly, for people who are outside and don’t have adequate shelter, I think the cold is going to be more of a concern than the snow,” Johnson said.
Dying of hypothermia and exposure is a serious risk for the nearly 4,000 people who are living outside in Seattle at last count.
Karen Salinas, the director of Outreach for REACH, a street outreach provider, said that she first learned of the city’s plans to stand up severe weather shelters Wednesday afternoon, and she’s worried that it didn’t leave enough time for members of her staff and other service providers to properly notify people living outside.
“We just blasted it out to our entire organization, like ‘Please talk to your clients,’” Salinas said. “But for this weekend, people really aren’t going to know.”
“People could really die this weekend.”
Seattle has already seen an above-average number of homeless deaths this year — at least 159 people have died as of November — and many service providers expressed worry earlier this month that a particularly cold and wetter winter could prove deadly to people living in tents, under tarps, in vehicles and RVs.
In addition to emergency shelters, the city of Seattle has put together a list of places where people can get out of the elements. You can find a full list of day centers at the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s site and you can find open hygiene centers on the city’s map.
The city said it is also working to stand up more warming centers, but those spaces have yet to be formally announced.
In Snohomish County, all five of its winter weather shelters are expected to be open starting Friday evening. Snohomish’s winter weather shelters (located in Everett, Lynnwood, Monroe and Snohomish) operate throughout the winter months, starting in November. Winter shelters typically open when overnight temperatures are expected to be below 34 degrees F.
To find out if a shelter is open, visit Snohomish County’s website at st.news/SnohomishShelter.
To find the full list of emergency shelters in Pierce County, visit st.news/PierceShelter. The site updates daily with what shelters are currently open or closed and the capacity at each.
If you are homeless in Seattle or King County and trying to get inside, call 211 or 877-211-9274.