How big is this storm?
Big. The storm is expected to impact all of western Washington, dumping an average of 4 to 6 inches of snow in the Seattle area, with winds up to 45 miles per hour. Temperatures are at or below freezing and could drop further. “We’re not even seeing the coldest air,” Kirby Cook, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Real Change.
What has been the impact of the storm on people who are sleeping outside?
People experiencing homelessness are going to indoor shelters in larger numbers than usual. On Feb. 7, the Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall was 30 percent over its usual capacity.
Downtown Emergency Service Center shelters began reporting an increase in the number of people seeking overnight services after the first snow on Feb. 4, an indication that people who might usually avoid traditional shelter for reasons of safety and cleanliness want to come inside to avoid the cold.
St. Martin de Porres, located near the stadiums, which normally has space for 212 men over the age of 45, closed down recreation rooms to make space for additional mats, said Eric Meissner, floor monitor at the shelter.
At an Interbay encampment called Tiny Cabin’s Safe Harbor, resident Chrissy told Real Change that people living in tents did not have enough blankets to go around. Those living in tiny houses — small, insulated units equipped with electricity — were coping well, she said. Water in the camp’s five-gallon water jugs is frozen solid, so campers put them in sheds with heaters to thaw them.
Residents of Camp Second Chance, located in West Seattle on Myers Way, are doing well, said Eric Davis, the resident camp manager. The encampment has eliminated camping tents, replacing them with tiny homes and ShelterLogic tents, which are more resistant to the elements, with multiple radiators keeping them warm.
The storm has already proven to be deadly. Derek C. Johnson, 59, was found at the light rail station in SODO on Feb. 7. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office said the cause of death was hypothermia.
People exposed to the elements can contract hypothermia in temperatures as high as 50 degrees, depending on conditions, according to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts temperatures in the Seattle area dipping into the 20s and even the teens over the weekend.
How are governments, nonprofits and other institutions responding?
At last count, there were 6,320 people living unsheltered in King County. The existing shelter network runs at roughly 90 percent capacity, but government officials say they’re trying to help people move indoors.
King County has three shelters in Seattle with 200 spots for men split evenly between the Jefferson Day Center and the County Administration Building. Another 100 beds are open at a co-ed shelter in Harborview Hall. (Pets are allowed at the Jefferson Day Center and Harborview hall locations.)
The city of Seattle opened two severe weather shelters, one at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall and a second in the Garfield Community Center in the Central District.
The Seattle Center location was meant to fit between 90 and 100 people, but served 134 people on the night of Feb. 7, said Will Lemke, a spokesperson for the city. No one will be turned away, he said.
The Garfield Community Center location is prioritizing families and vehicle residents and has a 138-cot capacity, said Christopher Williams, interim superintendent of the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation.
The Navigation Team, a group of police officers and outreach workers, is doing outreach during the storm. They will not remove encampments, Lemke said. The team did not go out early last week, when too few members could get through the initial snowfall and ice, but conducted outreach the rest of the week trying to spread the word about shelter openings.
The city is working with shelter providers that normally close during the day to keep their doors open around the clock. Mary’s Place, a nonprofit that operates family shelters, has expanded shelter options and is opening an additional new shelter downtown to add capacity. That shelter still has space, Linda Mitchell, spokesperson for Mary’s Place, told Real Change on Feb. 11. Families who want access to that shelter should call the King County Coordinated Family Intake Line at 206-245-1026.
What’s happening in smaller cities outside of Seattle?
Smaller cities have less capacity to open new shelters.
In Burien, a severe weather shelter operated by the Ecumenical Leadership Circle, Transform Burien and Union Gospel Mission will operate at Highline United Methodist Church from Feb. 7 through Feb. 17. The shelter is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and there are 40 spaces for men and 20 for women.
Shoreline is working with its contractor, Lake City Partners, to partially fund the overnight shelter located in North Seattle. They are seeing a 30 percent increase in people, putting them above capacity, said Eric Bratton, spokesperson for the city.
“We currently do not have the resources or capacity to do much more than that,” Bratton said.
Bellevue and Redmond are operating their usual shelters for youth, families, women and men. Only Friends of the Youth in Redmond is over capacity, said Brad Harwood, spokesperson for the City of Bellevue, in an email.
Each shelter has its own protocols to help people after they hit capacity. Two of them — Catholic Community Services and Congregations for the Homeless — “specifically stated that they will not turn people away. They will provide them with a warm place to sit, even if they can’t provide them with a bed,” Harwood said.
Auburn, to the south, has two shelters open and is considering an additional warming center next week during the day.
The National Weather Service predicted more snowfall between the evening of Feb. 10 through Feb. 13.
Speaking from West Seattle, Eric Davis said Camp Second Chance residents are prepared and in high spirits.
“We have fun when the snow comes down,” Davis said. “We’ve got security guard snowmen. We don’t get all down.”
Davis knows that there are unsheltered people in the region who lack the material comforts and companionship that the camp provides. He said their camp is ready to help.
“If someone stops by here and needs a bus ticket or a blanket, we’ll give it to them,” Davis said. “That’s just who we are.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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