Responding to the regional homeless challenge isn’t easy and comes with its own set of political problems. First, it is a regional problem affecting most suburban cities, even though people want to blame it on Seattle.
King County recently announced it had purchased the La Quinta Inn and Suites in Kirkland for permanent housing for people who are chronically homeless. Starting early next year, the site will provide subsidized housing for individuals or couples who have been chronically homeless. The county identifies someone as chronically homeless if they have been homeless for a year or more and had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.
King County paid $28.7 million for the 121-room hotel in Kirkland. The building is the tenth purchased throughout the county as part of its Health Through Housing program, which uses a 0.1% sales tax to buy hotels and motels to give people emergency and permanent housing. It has a goal of creating 1,600 units to get people off the streets and out of encampments.
Other locations include two sites in Seattle, Kent, Federal Way, Auburn and Redmond. The Redmond site is at the former Silver Cloud Inn and was purchased in July 2021 for $28.25 million. The Kirkland site, as with most locations, will include 24-7 staffing, medical care and case management for residents. The county wants the support of the local city government to help respond to misinformation. Unfortunately, it has been the same misinformation in most places.
In the 2020 “point in time count” for homelessness throughout King County, 446 people were recorded as living unsheltered on the Eastside an additional 586 people were living in shelters at Kirkland Place for women and families, along with a 24-hour shelter for women and families with children about three miles from the La Quinta site.
Part of the misinformation was that people will be bused in at night from Seattle with no background checks, that the site will be a needle exchange location, and since schools are usually built in neighborhoods, there is always a concern about how close a site is to a school.
The Kirkland site is near Eastside Prep, a private school for 5th- through 12th-graders. The City of Kirkland was willing to support the program even near a school with some conditions raised by residents, including no car camping and no level 1 sex offenders living at the site. Level 1 offenders are those considered least likely to offend. Level 2 and 3 sex offenders are already blocked from living within 880 feet of public or private schools.
Kirkland residents wanted a public meeting, but Leo Flor, Director of the Department of Community and Human Services, said the county doesn’t hold public meetings until the county and the seller have agreed on a price to avoid the county paying too much. It could also be that resident turnout over the site might scare off a potential seller.
In the case of Kirkland, both the city and county are now being sued by a group “Keep Kids Safe,” which will have a negative reaction for any city that wants to help provide a solution to this regional problem. The group alleges that an insufficient public process. The group asks that the decision to house the site at La Quinta be voided. The City of Kirkland said in a statement that they are confident that all state and local laws were followed and noted that the purchase was negotiated exclusively by the county and the property owner.
This lawsuit could have a chilling effect on trying to solve homelessness as a regional problem because now the City of Kirkland will have to spend several thousand dollars defending itself against its own citizens. As we have seen in other cities, candidates for the Legislature or city council, when council seats are up in two years, candidates will have a ready-made issue that could easily be misused. Kirkland’s zip code is one of the wealthiest on the Eastside, and that chilling effect will likely extend to other Eastside cities — even though King County is trying to spread the solution around.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.