The organization, SHARE, which has a contract with the city, closed some 15 of its indoor shelters this week in light of reported financial debt.
For some 250 homeless people, this week is about finding storage for their belongings and usable transportation after leaders of a Seattle nonprofit closed its indoor homeless shelters indefinitely due to cited financial problems.
Dozens of those displaced are staying at a makeshift homeless camp in the King County Administration Building’s courtyard, a location created Thursday after the closures by the nonprofit Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, or SHARE.
Leaders of the group have rolled out mats and set up portable toilets, they say, to bring attention to their budget situation and call on county officials to help ease the group’s reported $70,000 debt.
“We took a vote, before SHARE collapsed in on itself, to have the shelters not reopen and basically apply a little bit of pressure,” SHARE representative Andrew Constantino said.
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But for Seattle and county officials, the protest and closures at some 15 shelters are unexpected and problematic, considering the nonprofit and its ally organization, WHEEL, have a contract with the city this year totaling nearly $611,000.
“It is unclear what the actual financial situation is overall,” said Adrienne Quinn, director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services. Officials question how they could be out of money in March, she said.
County public-health and outreach workers have been offering help to those camped outside the building, with hopes of connecting them with services they need, Quinn said.
In recent months, after Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared states of emergency to combat the area’s homelessness problem, SHARE applied for a grant to fund new shelter beds, county community-services spokeswoman Sherry Hamilton said. The money, however, was intended for agencies outside of Seattle, she said.
County officials run a “competitive process” every two years for giving money to such organizations, she said, and last provided funding to the nonprofit in 2012-2013.
In the fall of 2012, SHARE hosted a similar protest and temporarily closed its shelters after city and county officials declined to help the nonprofit by providing more bus tickets for residents to get around. Residents at that time said in letters to City Council members that they were told they would be denied shelter after the camp-out if they didn’t participate.
SHARE got the bus tickets and reopened its shelters about two weeks later.
Homeless people who receive help from the organization, which runs three tent encampments in addition to the indoor shelters, also manage it. That model may be the source of current “trust issues” with government officials and has led to the financial troubles, Constantino said.
The nonprofit has faced allegations of misusing public money in the past.
In a letter to a SHARE organizer, director of the city’s Human Services Department Catherine Lester urged the organization to reconsider the recent closures and find a way to keep operations going.
“It is the city’s expectation that SHARE/WHEEL shelters funded by the city remain open 365 nights a year,” she wrote, “and that individuals experiencing homelessness have access to those beds.”
Lester then added: “It is also the city’s expectation that participation in advocacy and protests are not a requirement for people to access shelter,” and at this time the city does not have additional funding for the group.
Since news of the closures surfaced this week, advocates and others have voiced both sympathy toward the organization and skepticism. One commenter on Facebook wrote:
“The most vulnerable are always the ones to pay the price.”