The Bellevue City Council narrowly voted April 17 to move forward with a low-barrier men’s shelter at the urging of nonprofit partners who warned that they would lose funding if the project was delayed any further. Nearby residents opposed the location.
The City Council — in a 4-to-3 vote — instructed Congregations for the Homeless, Imagine Housing and city staff to move forward with next steps on the 100-bed men’s shelter and affordable housing project at Eastgate near Bellevue Community College, a medical center and the Bellevue Park and Ride. That includes applying for funding from King County and embarking on project design and environmental studies that are necessary before construction begins.
Councilmembers also left room to pivot to a different location, approving a 45-day investigation period to explore two alternative sites: the Lincoln Center, where a temporary shelter is currently located, and a property owned by Sound Transit adjacent to a future light rail stop set for completion in 2023.
“I think Eastgate could work, I just don’t know if it’s the best place for it to work,” said Ernie Simas, the newest councilmember and ultimately the swing vote that carried the motion.
The move appeased neither community members opposed to the proposed shelter location nor the nonprofits that need a final location to move forward.
Members of the public stayed after the vote to chastise council members for continuing to move forward with analysis on the Eastgate site.
Villette Nolon, interim executive director of Imagine Housing, said the day after the meeting that it would be impossible for Congregations for the Homeless and Imagine Housing to create a feasible plan without a specific site.
Uncertainty with the city has already hurt the project, she said.
“When you apply for funding, you have to show a significant amount of work that’s already been done,” she said. “You need to have architecture plans in place, EPA studies done, traffic and feasibility studies that have already been done. Funding isn’t given to a project that you say, ‘Hey, isn’t this a great idea, wouldn’t you want to fund it?’”
David Bowling, executive director of Congregations for the Homeless, said he’d been involved in vetting no fewer than six sites for the project. The other locations lacked sufficient access to public transportation. In the case of the Lincoln Center site, men have to walk up the shoulder of a busy road to get to the nearest bus, causing safety concerns and difficulty for people in wheelchairs or on crutches.
Vetting these locations again is time-consuming and backs the two nonprofit organizations up against a tight deadline to apply for money from the state and county. The organizations behind the shelter already missed out on a $700,000 grant that they thought was “in the bag” because they didn’t have a site-specific agreement with the city, and another $1.4 million is at stake, Bowling said.
“There’s a ton of work that’s gone into this,” Bowling said. “If we have to start over, it delays it quite a long time.”
Opponents of the Eastgate location, who arrived dressed in purple in contrast to proponents dressed in red, argued that the site was too close to residences and that the process, which began in August, was too short and treated the site as a done deal.
The Bellevue City Council gave time for five people to speak for the proposal and five to speak against. The five opponents cited safety as their primary concern because of the low-barrier nature of the shelter and its proximity to homes and a wooded area with poor visibility.
“Homeless people do have trouble with drugs and alcohol addiction,” said Kathryn Kitchen, a Bellevue resident who fears that the shelter will bring drugs and crime to the neighborhood. “So where will the drug use occur? ... Where will they go when they want to do those things?”
Putting a permanent men’s shelter on the Eastside is important to strengthen the network of services for homeless people in King County outside of Seattle, said Kira Zylstra, assistant director of All Home King County, the organization that coordinates services for people experiencing homelessness in the county.
Eastside cities share in the responsibility to combat homelessness. With a shelter for youth and young adults in Redmond and plans for a shelter for women and families in Kirkland, the men’s shelter in Bellevue fills out the triad.
“The need is really urgent,” Zylstra said, commenting that All Home was supportive of the Eastgate site.
Bellevue Mayor John Stokes, who voted for the project, believes the vocal opposition is a byproduct of the rapid changes that have come to the area in recent years, such as spillover traffic from Seattle and the visible nature of the region’s homelessness crisis.
“People on the Eastside are reacting negatively to what they perceive as traffic, street congestion and homelessness,” Stokes said. “And all the homeless camps along the freeways haven’t helped. They think that’s going to happen over here.”
Although the shelter was at the heart of the discussion, the proposal included a commitment to ban safe-injection sites for drug users from coming to Bellevue and tighten up regulations on unauthorized tent encampments.
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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. Twitter @AshleyA_RC