Many hopeful as King County purchases Renton hotel to house those experiencing homelessness

People in Renton are hoping a new homeless shelter announced Tuesday will help return safety to their streets.

Many say safety has become a bigger issue ever since the county moved a mass shelter from downtown Seattle into a Red Lion hotel in Renton last year at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the Renton city leaders sued King County. 

On Tuesday, elected city leaders stood by King County Executive Dow Constantine to announce the $28 million purchase of the former Extended Stay America hotel to soon become Renton's new permanent housing shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

Mechelle Powell, a long-time resident of Renton says much of the city she loves has gotten worse and less safe after the Renton homeless shelter housed homeless individuals. 

"It’s actually gotten worse. I’ve been here for 30 years and I definitely see the change," said Powell. 

Others notice the changes as well, with more panhalding outside grocery stores and noticeable trash throughout city streets.

"I used to walk here all the time in the daytime, but there are so many people. I didn’t feel safe in the daytime sometimes," said Diane Casavieja.

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"I exit my place with my car keys in my left hand and my mace in my right hand…which is really sad because I’m from this area," said Chris Freis, Renton area resident.

Officials say the new property will be able to house 115 people which is about half the number able to stay at the Red Lion hotel. The Extended Stay America housing facility is expected to open in late summer or early fall. This comes as part of the county’s larger plan to buy more hotels by the end of next year to house 1,600 people facing homelessness

Renton mayor Armondo Pavon said this action is a game-changer for the city. 

"It’s the difference between shelter and housing," said Pavon. 

"We can keep pointing the finger at someone else; It’s Seattle’s fault it’s the other city’s fault, it’s King County’s fault, it’s Amazon’s fault. Or we can join hands and work together," Constantine said. 

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The county executive said the Renton Red Lion hotel was always temporary and meant to get people out of crowded community shelters and into private rooms to control the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

But this new purchase will provide permanent housing, aiming to help those without a place to get on a path toward independence.  

"It’s less expensive. It’s much, much quicker. And for people living on the streets today, the difference of a few months let alone a few years is everything," said Constantine. 

Those who have witnessed the changes in Renton say this is only a first step in solving the city homelessness crisis.  

"I think they need more intervention. It’s not always about placing them in a home because they’re still able to come out here and do what they’re doing," said Powell.

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