EDMONDS — South Snohomish County could soon have a new shelter for up to 55 people, though debate over whether to require drug treatment for residents may pose a hurdle.
On Monday, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced plans to buy the Americas Best Value Inn at 22127 Highway 99 in Edmonds. If the County Council approves the $9.1 million purchase, the motel would get converted into a housing facility with “wraparound services,” according to a press release Monday. The county would use one-time pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for the acquisition.
County Councilmember Nate Nehring has proposed an ordinance requiring county hotel tenants participate in a drug treatment program if they have been diagnosed with substance use disorder. He said he wants the County Council to delay the vote on the purchase of hotels until that ordinance is considered.
Last week, Somers announced a tentative agreement to buy the Days Inn near the Everett Mall for $10.8 million to shelter as many as 74 people. Some local governments have found converting hotels is cheaper and faster than building shelters from scratch.
The Snohomish County Council is slated to consider the motel purchases Wednesday.
Service providers on site at the Edmonds motel would connect residents with food, job training, and treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. The motel will have 24/7 on-site staffing and services.
Earlier this year, the Edmonds City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal for anyone to occupy public property overnight, if they have also refused shelter. Shelter is considered “available” if it’s within a 35-mile radius of Edmonds City Hall. The law can’t be enforced if authorities can’t find an appropriate place.
The new shelter would be “exactly the missing puzzle piece,” said Shannon Burley, Edmonds deputy director of Human Services.
Burley said it has been nearly impossible to find shelter space in south Snohomish County. And shelters in Everett often serve people from elsewhere in the county, where beds have been scarce or nonexistent.
“There was not available shelter for people,” she said. “Now, presumably, we would be able to offer somebody a secure and safe place.”
Often motel vouchers are used as a stopgap until more stable housing becomes available.
About a year ago, members of Edmonds’ Homelessness Task Force suggested the city create a “motel respite program” to convert a motel into a shelter, Burley said. Then the Human Services division went to the county for help.
“… South County residents and service providers have been clear that we need to increase local housing and mental health care options,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a press release Monday, “and we intend to continue expanding units and services for vulnerable communities across the county.”
The Americas Best Value Inn sits just inside Edmonds city limits, at a four-way intersection connecting the cities of Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. For over a year, the motel has been housing people using temporary vouchers from the city of Edmonds, St. Vincent de Paul, Verdant Health, the Nest Mission and other service providers.
Currently there are no other services on site for those using vouchers.
“So many of us use that location right now to help people, but there’s no services there,” Burley said. “It creates a real negative spiral. … But this would take an existing property and provide people with 24/7 trained staff, and support resources.”
If the county purchases the motel, those residents will be expected to sign a code of conduct, developed by the county and service providers, said Kelsey Nyland, spokesperson for the county’s Office of Recovery and Resilience.
“Staff will continuously work to engage residents in services,” Nyland said.
A study published earlier this year found King County hotel shelters offered “a better response to the crisis of homelessness than traditional congregate shelters do.”
“As one staff member described, the challenging conditions found in congregate shelters could exacerbate problems that individuals experiencing homelessness were facing rather than to help resolve them,” the study stated.
Interfaith Family Services runs a shelter in Everett. It can accommodate 11 families with children for up to three months.
“All the rooms are full tonight,” Executive Director Jim Dean said.
The only way to make a difference in people’s lives, Dean said, is to get people into shelter and connected with the care they need.
Dean’s organization, like many others serving unhoused people, has pressed the county to expand the available beds through a hotel or motel program. The county had 646 year-round shelter beds, as of late last year.
At one point this year, at least 1,184 people lived on the streets, in shelters or in transitional housing in Snohomish County, The Daily Herald reported in May.
According to the Edmonds’ latest homelessness assessment, at least 450 people were unsheltered in the city as of 2021. That counts people without a physical address, who may be couch-surfing or staying with friends or relatives. At any given time, the Human Services division estimated no more than 15 people made up the visible homeless population in Edmonds, as in those sleeping outside.
About 392 students in the Edmonds district were reported to be homeless during the 2021-2022 school year, according to data collected by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Verdant Health funds the Lynnwood hygiene center, providing about 1,000 showers each month to people in need, Verdant Superintendent Lisa Edwards said.
That gives an idea of the number of people in need of stable housing, she said.
Herald writer Claudia Yaw contributed to this reporting.
Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.
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