Homeless shelter expansion proposed in SODO neighborhood divides community

A complex that will house hundreds of people living unsheltered, as well as treating people with drug, alcohol and behavioral health issues, is in the final stages of planning for Seattle’s SODO neighborhood.

King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) is calling it the SODO Services Hub. It will be located at the corner of 6th Ave. South and Airport Way, right on the border of the Chinatown International District. 

However, business owners and residents in the Chinatown International District (CID) expressed concern about the impacts the shelter expansion would have on their community. 

"They're concentrating poverty and crime in one location. Crime follows poverty. It’s unfortunate, but it does," said Julie Neilson, a property manager in the CID and member of the CID's public safety committee. 

The county signed a five-year lease in May for the property on both sides of 6th Ave., stretching from Airport Way to South Royal Brougham Way.

In 2020, the county opened up a 270-bed temporary COVID quarantine and recovery center after refurbishing an auto repair complex mid-block.  It has now become a permanent homeless shelter run by the Salvation Army.

The county, city of Seattle and the KCRHA are planning to add another 150 beds to the shelter, a 24/7 behavioral health facility, a lot for people living in their RVs, a tiny house village and a sobriety center that will be relocated from another location.

Concern about the proposed expansion was brought up during a King County Council Governing Board meeting on Thursday. It wasn't on the agenda, but a question from Councilmember Joe McDermott about the controversy prompted a defense by KCRHA CEO Marc Dones.

Three-quarters of the members of the KCRHA Governing board are elected politicians. The Board and Dones are supportive of the $66 million plan and showed no sign of changing its forward progress.

"I want to push back on the narrative that this is a giant homeless complex," he said.  "It (the shelter) has been there for years and at this point, the expansion of the homeless-specific resources is moderate at best." 

He said the entire community will benefit from the sobriety center and drug, alcohol and behavioral treatment centers being planned.

"Other resources for everyone that must exist in our community, are also going to go there," Dones said.

"I just feel like he downplays our concerns," says Tanya Woo said of Dones. Woo.s family owns and operates a hotel in the CID.

"No one knows this is coming-- we were so surprised. We heard about this a couple of weeks ago, we asked our friends, fellow business owners, residents and no one knows," Woo said. 

Woo and Nielsen want officials to be more transparent and engage with the CID and hear their concerns.