Everett officials have questions about a 125-room hotel shelter

City Council members say they weren’t aware of the county’s proposal until it made headlines.

EVERETT — As Snohomish County looks to convert a local hotel into emergency housing, some city officials are raising concerns.

The county plans to turn a yet-to-be-chosen Everett hotel into a 24/7 shelter with on-site services, a strategy mirrored in neighboring counties and states.

Around-the-clock, non-congregate shelters are “probably the most rapidly successful models in the country,” Snohomish County Human Services Director MJ Brell Vujovic told City Council members this week. About 44% of Snohomish County residents living on the street are in Everett.

But some City Council members expressed frustration Wednesday that neighboring towns aren’t doing more to address homelessness.

Bringing social services to Everett is a “vicious circle” that draws in more people who rely on them, Councilmember Scott Bader said.

“Frankly, I’d be willing to bet money that five years down the line, despite your best efforts, we won’t have any of our partner jurisdictions in the county step up and do anything similar,” Bader said.

The outgoing council member wants the facility to only serve those living in city limits. He also suggested a no-sit no-lie ordinance, like the one targeting homeless people in north Everett that the City Council adopted in March.

Councilmember Paul Roberts agreed Everett has carried a “disproportionate burden” when it comes to homelessness. But it’s not a reason to stop addressing local needs, he said.

There was a 59% increase this year in people calling 211 requesting housing and shelter resources, said Mike Fong, Snohomish County’s chief recovery and resiliency officer.

Using existing structures rather than starting from scratch “makes so much sense to me,” council President Brenda Stonecipher said.

“The idea of us getting a significant portion of our unhoused population in Everett (sheltered) … is very exciting,” she said.

Those housed in the shelter would be expected to stay an average of 180 nights. The county is looking for a hotel with about 125 beds, away from residential neighborhoods. Snohomish County already leases out motel rooms to provide emergency shelter. In those instances, Vujovic said, there haven’t been major complaints from neighbors.

Fewer people on the streets could mean fewer to law enforcement, she added, ultimately saving money.

Snohomish County will use federal COVID relief funds to buy the property, and is looking to replicate the plan in other cities.

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin has described the plan as an exciting opportunity that the city likely couldn’t afford on its own. Council members, meanwhile, only learned about the plan through media reports. Some considered asking the county to pump the brakes.

Two incoming City Council members, Mary Fosse and Paula Rhyne, said that would “send the wrong message.” In a joint letter to sitting council members, the duo said their constituents “overwhelmingly identified homelessness as their number one priority,” and that the plan shouldn’t be delayed.

The project is still in its infancy. A hotel hasn’t been chosen yet. Once that happens, the county will begin outreach to neighbors, likely in the first quarter of 2022.

To ensure transparency with city residents, Councilmember Judy Tuohy said the public should be given extra time to ask questions and make comments on the proposal.

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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