‘My rule is compassion': Shelter opens doors, offers cold weather refuge in Seattle

Winter is approaching, and the temperatures are already unbearably cold for those without shelter. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) has already activated tier-2 weather response protocols.

Keith Huges believes everyone deserves to have a warm place to escape the cold. He opened the doors to Westside Neighbors the week of Thanksgiving, preparing for what was to come. Hughes, or "Commander" as many call him, runs the private shelter. 

"My rule is compassion, if they come to the door, they get in," Hughes said. 

"It's his way of life. For the last six years, Keith Huges has been leading by example, lending a helping hand. Westside Neighbors is the only shelter in the southwest corridor, extending up to Burien.

"If this wasn't here, the 25 people that are in here tonight would be out there and Lincoln Park under a tree somewhere," Hughes said.

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He opens the doors to the shelter when the temperatures drop to 40 or less for more than one night. A place some were lucky to call home for Thanksgiving. 

The shelter grew out of need during the winter years ago. The building is also the American Legion Hall. He says as he was opening the door a few times a week he noticed anywhere from five to 10 people sleeping under the overhang. He says instead of making a fuss about it, he opened the doors to them, offered them coffee and a warm place to dry off.

"So I've been letting people come in and warm up and dry off and have coffee in the morning ever since all year round," Hughes said, 

Through community donations, the place has grown. The Commander tiled the kitchen, there's a fully stocked pantry, warm blankets and extra clothes to go around, but there's limited space. 

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"I’ve got the walls lined up, but we still have space down the middle to put a double row of cots down the center of the building and if I need to, I will," Hughes said.

He’s never turned anyone away, and he says he won’t start now. However, he says the need is growing with calls coming in from Mount Vernon, Bremerton, Rainier Valley, Virginia Mason, and Harborview just Friday. 

"The need is greater because there are less facilities," Hughes said. "The problem is not getting smaller. It's getting bigger. The county is not doing any better this year than they were last year at dealing with it. I think they're doing worse."

While food donations are expected to get him and the unsheltered residents through the winter months, what’s desperately needed is cash.

"If the donations don't add up to enough, it comes out of my 401k, I have about $30,000 invested in this place in the last five years because the electric bill has to be paid," Hughes said. 

Capacity is expected to be reached daily. He doesn’t make tough decisions but says it costs over 3 thousand dollars a month to keep the lights on and people out of the cold. 

"Help, be a help not a hindrance," Hughes said. "Do what you can. You may not be able to do the same thing that your neighbor can; so if you can help, please help."

Westside Neighbors is hosting a fundraising concert on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Kenyon Hall. They'll have live performances from local musicians. Tickets are $25. Anyone who would like to make a donation can click here.