Seattle plans hygene centers for homeless people: editorial FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 13 Aug 1998 09:41:22 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Seattle Times, August 6, 1998 Editorial


The planned hygiene center in downtown Seattle for homeless men is a
welcome project after years of bickering and NIMBYism among businesses,
city officials and homeless advocates. The center demonstrates Seattle's
need to keep refining its strategy for helping the scores of different
people who lack a place to sleep, eat or keep clean.

A boom in homeless working people and families is a jolt of reality to
those who pretend all homeless people are drunks who choose life on the
street. Many are chronically homeless with drug problems or mental
illnesses, but a growing numbe are gainfully employed in jobs that don't
pay enough to pay the rent. Last year, the number of employed people in
city shelters nearly doubled; today, 20 percent of the people in shelters
have jobs.

Those who can't find room in shelters are left to wash up in fits and
starts. Since the doors of currently operating day shelters typically close
at 6 p.m., homeless people with jobs are particularly out of luck. This has
turned Green Lake Community Center into a second-shift hygiene center, with
its late hours and hot showers luring as many as 100 homeless people a day.

The new center will open next April on Ninth Avenue between Stewart and
Virginia - a polite distance from Benaroya Symphony Hall and the Seattle
Art Museum, where an original center was planned, canceled, resurrected,
then booed down by business owners who felt rightfully betrayed by the
city's waffling. A small center for women will open downtown early next

Hygiene centers are part of increasingly sophisticated local strategies to
help different populations of homeless people. The newly opened Harbor
House Dutch Shisler Center will serve as both a sobering center and a
transitional home for the mentally ill. State social workers in Belltown
are trying to get downtown businesses to employ homeless people in closely
supervised jobs. The city of Seattle allocated an extra $300,000 earlier
this summer in emergency assistance for homeless families and single women,
bumping annual city spending on homeless services to $7.8 million.

One-size-fits-all shelters won't work. Much more effective, it seems, are
pockets of assistance that close the gap between not enough help and too
much help. One giant gap is the early closing time of currently operating
day centers. If a few of them could stay open late, the working homeless -
many of whom are day laborers - could be better employees.

Shelter, safety, independence, pride, cleanliness - all are intertwined.
King County families and seniors getting squeezed by high rent, federal
cutbacks and welfare reform know that, as they look over their shoulders at


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