Melinda Parke sits inside a Days Inn motel room as her son, Elijah, sleeps on his chair behind her in April, in Everett. Used recently to house homeless indivudals and families with emergency vouchers, the hotel is proposed for purchase by the county for use as emergency supportive housing. (Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo)

Melinda Parke sits inside a Days Inn motel room as her son, Elijah, sleeps on his chair behind her in April, in Everett. Used recently to house homeless indivudals and families with emergency vouchers, the hotel is proposed for purchase by the county for use as emergency supportive housing. (Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo)

Editorial: Purchase of hotel as shelter can be effective tool

The county’s investment of federal aid will serve those who need shelter and supportive services.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Long discussed as part of the range of solutions being sought by county and city leaders regarding issues of homelessness, behavioral health and addiction, Snohomish County officials announced Monday the county’s plan to purchase a 74-unit hotel for use as emergency housing.

A final step before $10.8 million — from one-time federal covid relief funds — can be used to purchase the Days Inn motel on Everett Mall Way in south Everett, will be a public hearing before the Snohomish County Council’s final vote.

Residents eager for continued action that helps resolve the crisis in homelessness and affordable housing in the county should give their enthusiastic consent to the plan.

More immediate and likely less expensive than building similar housing, the purchase of the motel — modeled on similar conversions elsewhere in the state — will allow the county and its partners in the city and with nonprofit service agencies to offer housing to homeless people that also provides residents with access to supportive services that can treat issues often tied to homelessness, including behavioral health crises, drug and alcohol addiction and physical ailments.

That the need is acute throughout the county — in particular Everett and other cities — is plainly visible to anyone driving or walking along city streets. The county’s most recent Point-in-Time count in May quantifies the crisis; at least 1,184 people were tallied living without stable housing — either on the streets, in shelters or in transition housing — throughout the county, hitting a ten-year high. That figure includes adults, seniors, youths and families with children.

The hotel’s 74 units — some of which already have provided housing for about 120 individuals and families through emergency vouchers during the past year — will be part of about 110 housing units that are expected to open this year, reported The Herald’s Claudia Yaw.

The hotel purchase is joined by another $9.6 million in the joint county and cities Shelter and Behavioral Health Partnership again funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which is supporting programs such as:

  • The expansion of Everett’s Pallet Shelters, adding additional one-room shelters to the existing location as well as expansion to a second location in Everett, potentially at a city-owned site at Glenwood Avenue and Sievers Duecy Boulevard;
  • A household support grant program in Edmonds to assist those struggling with rent and mortgage payments;
  • A rapid-rehousing program in Lynnwood that will rehouse 30 families for a year and provide supportive services;
  • Marysville’s purchase of two properties for multi-family emergency housing and transitional shelter, serving up to 16 people, again with access to services;
  • And a range of behavioral health programs in Bothell, Everett, Lynnwood, Mukilteo, Snohomish, Monroe and Sultan.

The array of housing, programs and services is necessary because the circumstances behind each instance of homelessness and struggle with housing is unique to the individual or family.

But the evidence is growing that for those suffering homelessness as well as issues of behavioral health, addiction or both, the availability of “wraparound” or supportive services with housing assures greater success with keeping people in housing and moving them along to more permanent housing, while also aiding in recovery and better outcomes overall for mental and physical health.

A 2020 study by the University of California-San Francisco found that a permanent supportive housing program in California’s Santa Clara County, Project Welcome, successfully housed 86 percent of its participants for several years. By contrast, only about a third of the participants in a control group were housed long-term, and most of those found placement through similar supportive housing elsewhere in the county.

The study, notably, selected the most frequent users of acute medical, psychiatric and other emergency services. Participants had averaged five hospitalizations, 20 visits to emergency rooms, five visits to behavioral emergency services and had been jailed three times in the two years prior to being enrolled in the housing program.

Speaking to the individual nature of homelessness, while these are often the most visible of homeless individuals, the study found they represented only 5 percent to 10 percent of chronically homeless individuals.

While medical needs remained high for the individuals in the program, researchers said, those in the intervention group saw reduced need for emergency behavioral health, but increased use of outpatient mental health services.

Likewise, a review of research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute, found that supportive housing is effective in helping those with disabilities — including addiction and behavioral health issues — maintain stable housing and decrease the use of costly emergency services and were less likely to be incarcerated.

A 2012 study referenced by CBPP found that supportive housing reduced days of hospital use by 23 percent, emergency room visits by 33 percent and days in nursing homes by 42 percent.

At at time when the county’s and state’s hospitals and other care facilities are stretched thin by the continuing covid pandemic, a shortage of trained nursing professionals and a lack of long-term care beds elsewhere that have kept hospital beds full with patients who don’t need a hospital’s full care, any reduction in usage of emergency rooms and acute hospital care demands priority attention.

Those 74 units of housing — when subtracted from nearly 1,200 homeless individuals — won’t end the homelessness crisis in the county or even in Everett. And at $10.8 million — even if it is federal money — that remains a huge investment of taxpayer funds. But considering how a former hotel can serve as transitional housing that leads over time to more stable housing for far more than 74 people, that investment offers a significant step toward that goal.

And more importantly, it represents a chance for scores of individuals and families to sleep easier under a stable roof with assistance at hand to improve their health and their lives.

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