Weatherstripping is installed at Pallet in Everett on Jan. 21. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Weatherstripping is installed at Pallet in Everett on Jan. 21. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Everett pallet shelter plan moves forward, with key caveat

The makeshift village could be on Smith Avenue — but only if people are barred from loitering nearby.

EVERETT — The Everett City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to advance a pilot project that would house 20 to 30 people within a village of temporary, miniature dwellings coined “pallet shelters.”

But the council made a caveat with its approval.

The community, now proposed for a vacant lot behind the Everett Gospel Mission’s Smith Avenue shelter, will only be established there if the city also passes a new law prohibiting homeless people from sitting or lying on the streets, sidewalks and other public spaces surrounding the site.

Councilman Scott Bader, who suggested making the project contingent upon a “no-sit, no-lie” ordinance for the surrounding area, said the measure is intended to protect neighboring businesses and residents.

The stretch of Smith Avenue near the shelter, by I-5, has long had a visible presence of people who are homeless.

“I just think it’s necessary for us to do something to build trust with the businesses down there that have already borne the brunt of the problems as-is,” Bader said.

The agreement passed by the council stipulates that nearly $1 million in state grant funding will be used for the project, which city officials have touted as a cost-effective and innovative way to provide homeless people a safe place to stay as they seek permanent housing.

City staff, who first publicly outlined the project last year, have said the village could open in June.

Details of the plan are expected to become clearer in the coming months. The public will have chances to comment as city staffers work to obtain other approvals associated with the project.

The council will also formally consider the no-sit, no-lie ordinance, including the exact boundaries for the rule.

A high-profile court decision prohibits governments from enforcing laws that bar homeless people from sleeping or camping on public property, if those individuals have no other options such as a shelter or sanctioned encampment. But the federal court ruling, in the case of Martin v. City of Boise, notes that enforcing such an ordinance may be legal if the rule is limited to a particular time or place.

Council members Liz Vogeli and Paul Roberts opposed conditioning the project approval on the establishment of such an ordinance, though both of them voted in favor of the entire grant agreement. Roberts said that requirement was “premature,” given that the location and many other components of the project are not final.

The pilot community’s proposed site, in the 3700 block of Smith Avenue, is owned by Everett Transit.

The Everett Gospel Mission has expressed interest in running the village, said Julie Willie, Everett’s community development director.

The city would need to form an agreement with the mission spelling out how the nonprofit would operate the program while meeting safety and security needs, as well as grant requirements.

The mission would need to get land use permits, too, before the site can be prepared.

The city has proposed a cluster of 21 units, including one for a caretaker, plus a dumpster and portable toilets. The village would be surrounded by fencing and equipped with heat, electricity and basic water service, Willie has said.

The individual shelters will be purchased from Pallet, an Everett-based manufacturer that designed the composite and aluminum structures as an alternative to traditional shelter beds, offering more independence to people as they try to get back on their feet.

The dwellings would house people who are living on public land and those who have struggled to gain admission to congregate shelters.

Everett’s Community Outreach and Enforcement Team, made up of police officers and social workers, would provide referrals to fill the pallet shelters, city staff have said.

Under the terms of the grant agreement, a candidate for the pilot program could not be rejected solely because he or she abuses drugs or alcohol, resists human services or has a criminal record. There are state-mandated exceptions, though, for some violent crimes.

The budget for the pilot program is about $1.04 million, including about a year’s worth of operational expenses. The state Department of Commerce’s Shelter Program will provide about $985,000, including some $250,000 that Snohomish County was awarded and allotted to the project. Another $55,000 will come from a sales tax intended to fund mental health and addiction treatment programs.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; rriley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

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