The city budget for the next two years is coming together and it looks like a downtown facility for the homeless will get enough money to keep its doors open from early morning to late at night.
It’s called the Urban Rest Stop and it’s a place where the people without a home can take showers, do their laundry and use the restroom (without having to buy a cup of coffee first).
On a visit to the Urban Rest Stop, Anthony Foreman sat watching his clothes go around and around in the dryer. "This is like a little place of heaven," he said. "It’s a place I can come and wash my clothes, man -- at least look half-assed decent."
The people in here don’t look homeless. Most of them are men, but a couple women (who didn't want to talk) put the finishing touches on their long, colorfully dyed hair. Were it not for the young child with them, they could have been dressed up for lunch at a classy restaurant.
A man named David looks like he could work in a bank. "Appearing homeless out there is dangerous," he said.
David doesn’t want to give his last name. He said being homeless makes him a target. "Not only do you have other homeless people trying to rob you," David explained, "but you’ve got yuppie types – they like to pretend they don’t see you and they slam into you. So if you can stay clean – they don’t spot you quite so easy, you know what I mean?"
The Urban Rest Stop is just a piece of Seattle’s plan to reduce homelessness. The core of that strategy involves providing permanent housing with counseling to chronically homeless people and rapidly connecting newly homeless families with services.
These strategies have influenced homeless advocates across the country, including people like Lloyd Pendleton, who currently directs Utah’s Homeless Task Force. He remembers visiting Seattle to check out experimental forms of housing. He was impressed.
Pendleton's agency took the techniques he saw in Seattle and other cities and applied them on a state wide level. The results have been dramatic.
Over the last decade, Utah has move three-quarters of its chronic homeless population into permanent housing. Pendleton said homelessness cannot be eliminated by cities or counties alone. He said the state must lead.
"I think what’s unique in Utah, it was a state-wide approach," Pendleton said. "So we have been pretty much on the same sheet of music in the symphony. We’re all playing a different instruments but we pretty much had a conductor bringing this about."
Pendleton said Washington needs a conductor like that too, a leader to pull all the pieces together. Otherwise, the Urban Rest Stop is just a Band-Aid on a wound that runs much deeper through our region.
Another Urban Rest Stop is scheduled to open in Ballard early next year.
City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw pushed the council to add more money for homeless services such as the Urban Rest Stop. Hear a short interview with her below.