By Mahlon Meyer
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
On Wednesday, the Salvation Army and King County are expected to sign a Good Neighbor Agreement for the SODO homeless shelter, but it is not clear if community and business groups from surrounding neighborhoods will also sign. The signing is scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Chong Wa Benevolent Association headquarters in the Chinatown-International District (CID). Community groups, although many have fought for at least a year to shape and be a part of the Good Neighbor Agreement, are not guaranteed as signatories to the document.
“The SODO Shelter Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) is a contract between King County and The Salvation Army; they are the required signatories for this GNA,” said Marta Coursey, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army. The organization would “do our best to ensure that all interested community groups participate in signing the final agreement,” she said.
Still, it was not entirely clear how this would happen. In the first place, few of the demands made by CID advocates, at least, appeared to be addressed in a draft shared with the community. In addition, CID leaders said it could virtually be impossible to gain the endorsement of their various groups if they were not given enough time to return with a new draft to their constituents and gain approval.
It was not immediately clear from the Salvation Army’s response if they planned to grant community groups more time. Nor was it clear if they expected anyone who showed up to simply sign.
Community leaders have previously said to the Salvation Army that it is impossible to ask any single group to represent the CID. The Salvation Army sent out advance copies on Tuesday afternoon, a little more than 24 hours before the meeting.
The opaqueness surrounding this meeting, to some extent, seems to reflect a long process of back-and-forth communication between CID advocates, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA), the county, and the Salvation Army over the past year.
After months of protests, when hundreds of community members turned out and flooded King County Council Meetings, the county halted its plans to develop a mega shelter next to the existing Salvation Army shelter—it would have been the 19th shelter in the area, compared to most neighborhoods, which have none.
At the time, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the existing 270-person shelter would continue to receive funding. Shortly after, in October of last year, community members put together a series of requests to mitigate the damage that has destroyed large swaths of the CID.
CID advocates asked the Seattle City Council and the King County Council for funding for increased police patrols or security guards. They also asked for funds to remove the various security barricades set up by merchants, such as fences with razor wire and boarded up windows. Their demands included funding for a weekly clean-up of needles and drug items sprayed across the entire neighborhood. They also asked for a formal agreement between the CID and the county and the city about the shelter. The agreement, they said, should counteract crime, drug sales, and trespassing, and include waste removal, while addressing assault, property damage, and theft. They also specifically mentioned shootings, assaults, injuries, deaths, dead bodies, aggressive mental illness, loss of business, parking problems, and other catastrophes that have become near daily fare for the residents of the community.
Further, they made specific asks for no illegal homeless encampment areas, police presence at the Salvation Army shelter, funding for individuals and businesses harmed by anyone from the shelter, and the creation of a CID representative who would use agreed-upon metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of the city and county in running the shelter.
Finally, businesses in the CID have found it hard and, in some cases, impossible to have insurance policies renewed because of the devastation in the neighborhood. Advocates also asked for the exploration of a fund to help underwrite insurance coverage.
“Most requests went nowhere,” said Betty Lau, one of the advocates.
In December, the county held its first meeting about the GNA. Members from various community organizations attended. Separately, the city offered an additional two “outreach workers” for the entire community. The county later added three Metro Transit officers and vowed to improve communications and outreach.
In June, a second GNA meeting was held. Community advocates asked for translations of the document into local languages and for the use of interpreters. They also asked about the efficacy of the GNA after finding it was not legally binding—a question that remains on the minds of community leaders.
In October, the Salvation Army reached out to community advocates for help finding translators.
Last week, community members received an email from the Salvation Army seeming to indicate that many, if not all, of the community organizations and business groups, such as the SODO Business Improvement Area (BIA), the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), and CID groups were being left out.
Moreover, the draft of the GNA circulated in June only offered vague expectations about all parties engaging in “collaborative” and “respectful” problem-solving and communication. As for concrete provisions, it included designated smoking zones and parking on shelter property.
The Salvation Army said it was in discussions with the KCRHA, the DSA, and the SODO Business Improvement Area about their signing the GNA. But there was nothing final.
The organization sent out translations of the GNA on Tuesday afternoon in Cantonese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Mandarin. Compared to the June draft, it appeared to add a few details—although some appeared somewhat hastily added.
For instance, it included a section called “Who to Call.” It gave the number of the CID Business Improvement Area, which was not listed as one of the signatories. Under the section, “if you see littering/graffiti on S Royal Brougham Way,” it said, “call SODO BIA.” The phone number was left blank. It was not immediately clear if this was part of the process of crafting a GNA.
“The Salvation Army is the largest non-governmental social service provider in the U.S, and we have extensive experience in coordinating GNAs,” said Coursey. “The SODO Shelter GNA is modeled after several GNAs recommended by King County and community members from neighborhoods surrounding the SODO Shelter.”
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.