Neighbors in White Center concerned about planned ‘low-barrier’ homeless center

KING COUNTY, Wash. -- Neighbors in one south King County neighborhood are reeling over a new emergency homeless shelter that’s expected to open in a matter of weeks.

County planners said the new shelter will admit almost anyone, even if they had been drinking or using drugs.

King County health officials said they plan to use a building that once housed a clinic in White Center at 10821 8th Ave SW. The building could house up to 70 homeless people each night.

Neighbor Helen Langei lives right across the street and she is not happy about the county’s plan.

“I don’t like it a bit,” she said. “It was a clinic for years, what’s the matter with making it a clinic again?”

The clinic has moved to another location and since colder weather is on the way King County Department of Human Services said the empty building could be the difference between life and death for dozens of homeless people living on the streets.

But critics complain the shelter is located near least four schools. That’s something area neighborhood council vice president Barbara Dobkin said should be a deal breaker.

“We just don’t think that is the best siting for it,” she said.

The county also said the shelter will have what’s called a low-barrier for entry, meaning officials won’t be checking criminal backgrounds. Alcohol and drug consumption will not be allowed on the property but health officials will not bar entry for people under the influence.

Kym Arrington said she already faces harassment during her walks with her children. She thinks the proposed shelter should go somewhere else.

“Thinking about walking is just terrible, because they don’t stop,” she said.

Officials said the facility will be open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and offer dinner, breakfast and outreach services to homeless.

Local business leaders worry the nearby shopping district could see problems if the county sticks with a low-barrier entry policy.

“We’re worried about burglary, we’re worried about graffiti, trash on the streets, car prowling,” said Robert Beeman, president of the White Center Chamber of Commerce.

County officials told Q13 News they are willing to hear from the community about alternative locations but time is running out. The health department said housing the homeless during the coming cold weather is a matter of life and death.

Once the permitting process is complete,the shelter could open November 1. County officials said the Salvation Army would operate the temporary shelter.