Residents and business owners in Seattle’s Chinatown are protesting almost daily in hopes of blocking what they call a mega-plex homeless shelter on the outskirts of their neighborhood. They march to the King County Board meeting and to the shelter site carrying signs that read “Stop Asian Hatred” and “Systemic Racism Again.” They are battling a large expansion of a 270-bed homeless shelter which has attracted a large unauthorized tent camp. It is one of 15 homeless shelters within a mile of Chinatown. Locals say enough is enough.
“We felt the negative impacts of these shelters,” said Tanya Woo, a Chinatown business owner, “all these problems in terms of public safety just exploded with the encampments, the open-air drug markets “.
Despite opposition, King County is moving forward with plans to renew the lease on the existing shelter and continue operating it for another 5 years. In addition, the county plans to add 150 shelter beds by creating a small village of houses, an RV park, a sobering center and a shelter in a currently vacant building that will house and treat homeless people suffering from drug addiction and mental illness. The county has budgeted $66.5 million for the project, with much of the money coming from federal Covid relief funds.
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Leo Flor, director of the King County Department of Social Services, says 750 people live on the streets in and around Chinatown. Getting some of them back inside, including many hard-to-house homeless people, is a priority that cannot wait.”
Downtown Seattle for this particular shelter has more homeless homeless people than any other part of the county,” Flor said, “and what we’re seeing is people don’t tend to s away from where they became homeless. They want to stay in their community. »
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Other cities are struggling with the same problem. With a sharp increase in the number of people living in tents over the past two years, elected officials are looking to dramatically add accommodation space, buying hotels and leasing large commercial buildings. When adding shelter beds, the tricky questions are always “how big?” ” and or?’ Often, cities reduce the shelters provided in the face of opposition. San Francisco drastically reduced the size of a shelter along Embarcadero, and New York City pulled two of three planned new shelters in its Chinatown neighborhood after large protests.
But Seattle is moving forward with a promise to work with Chinatown residents on some of the particular plans that are causing the most concern. But it’s already too late for some business owners who feel they’ve already carried too much of the burden of homelessness. This week, the Viet Wah Market closed after 34 years in Seattle’s Chinatown international district. Leeching Tran was only two years old when her father started the Vietnamese store. Now, as vice president, she is sad to close.
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“Crime has increased in the neighborhood,” Tran said, “People don’t feel safe coming to the area anymore, our customers don’t feel safe coming, our staff don’t feel safe coming work.”