IS THE CLOSING of two downtown shelters testimony to Seattle's indifference toward the homeless, or evidence of a politically motivated advocacy group run amok? SHARE, a group of homeless people and their advocates, is mixed up in two new battles over shelters—one with the feds, the other with King County.
In the case of the first shelter, a 20-bed nighttime facility SHARE operated at the old Seattle Federal Building, bad luck and timing were mostly to blame for the shelter's shutdown following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. According to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD's "security level will no longer allow for any access [to federal buildings] without proper screening." HUD is working to find a new location for the shelter.
The second shelter, operated until this year out of the King County administration building, shut down for murkier reasons. For as long as anyone can remember, the county has allowed SHARE to set up a homeless shelter inside its downtown facility. This year, SHARE sought to reopen the King County shelter after the group was forced to leave its previous home downtown, the Safe Haven shelter at First United Methodist Church. The county, according to SHARE, ignored the group's request, instead opening a women's shelter that attracted exactly zero women. Left with "no other choice," according to a press release, SHARE set up an outdoor shelter for several dozen people on the building's outdoor plaza late Monday night and announced plans to stay there until the county agreed to open its lobby to the group.
The county spins a different tale. They say SHARE is after publicity, not protection. According to county executive Ron Sims' chief of staff, Tim Ceis, the advocacy group has done nothing but antagonize the county since last month, when SHARE had a Sani-Can delivered to the plaza of the administration building. Security guards prevented the group from occupying the plaza. Later, Ceis says, he discovered that all Safe Haven residents had been given time to find alternative housing before First United shut down the shelter. "There really wasn't any kind of emergency," Ceis says. "They were just trying to create a political-action opportunity for themselves." He says the group can continue to sleep outdoors at the building as long as they don't violate any trespassing laws, but they won't be allowed inside.
The county is now seeking another vendor to run its shelter, which the county hopes will open on Oct. 15, two weeks off schedule. "I'm hoping that folks realize that we're opening the shelter as soon as we've got a new service provider. Political demonstrations by SHARE are not going to change that," Ceis says.
Erica C. Barnett