Proposed Hygiene Facility For Homeless In Ballard Raises Concerns

Jan 29, 2013

A local organization is trying to address the growing need for homeless facilities in Ballard. The Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI) wants to build a hygiene facility, known as an Urban Rest Stop, on the ground floor of a senior housing facility that’s being built. The development is in the middle of a residential neighborhood next to the Ballard Library and this has some residents concerned.

Sharon Lee is the director of LIHI and says there just aren’t enough public restrooms in Ballard. “A lot of homeless people are sort of using the library restroom, or misusing the library restroom, trying to take a sponge bath out of the sink,” Lee explains. “There’s basically no other hygiene facility.” Lee points out that the city recently pulled the porta-potty out of the Ballard Commons Park, which is just down the street from the site of the proposed rest stop.

There are two other Urban Rest Stops in Seattle; one is downtown, and the other is in the University District.

Brian Puhl works at the rest stop in the University District which is located in an alley just off University Avenue. He says the facility has everything people need to get clean. “We have shampoo, soap, shaving cream, razors, toothbrushes,” explains Puhl as he points out various amenities. There are four private showers in the rest stop and one bathroom. There is also a small laundry room with two washers and two dryers.

Puhl says roughly 50 to 75 patrons use the rest stop each day. On this day, the rest stop is packed, with several people waiting to use the showers. A man named Jacob is in line.

“The laundry is really helpful, and the showers are very helpful, it allows me to stay clean,” Jacob says. He  points out that the rest stop is even better than some of the houses he’s lived in. “[It’s] more efficient, saves more water. I get exercise on the way here.”

Jacob doesn’t live in the University District. He takes public transportation to get here. He says he likes the idea of an Urban Rest Stop in Ballard and says he would make the trip out to the neighborhood to use it.

The rest stop proposed for Ballard is a couple blocks off Northwest Market Street. It also happens to be right in the middle of a residential block, in between several townhouses and apartment buildings.

Nik Mollenholt lives on that block and says he’s worried about the rest stop attracting large crowds right in front of his house. “One of the big concerns is noise,” he explains. “I mean, if you have 50 people waiting in line outside of your bedroom window, it’s going to be quite loud.”

The location of the rest stop is at the heart of the issue for Mollenholt and many of his neighbors. He’s convinced the rest stop will attract homeless people from outside of Ballard.

“You don’t necessarily need it to be in such a central location as it’s proposed. Somewhere down by the food bank, where it’s close to transit services, it seems like a better location,” says Mollenholt. He would much rather see the rest stop located in a more commercial or industrial part of the neighborhood, where, he says, mothers pushing strollers won’t have to navigate through a sidewalk packed with people waiting to take a shower.

Sharon Lee disagrees and says the rest stop's central location is important. “When you think about it psychologically, not too many people will hop on a bus or hop on Sound Transit to get to someplace to pee, right?” she says. Lee claims homeless people have been urinating on neighbors' lawns because they have nowhere else to go.

Mollenholt knows that public urination is an issue and fully agrees that Ballard needs a rest stop. But, on top of his other concerns, he worries about the seniors who will be living in the LIHI development above the rest stop. He pictures the elderly having to push their way through crowds of homeless people right at their doorstep. “I think it’s better to catch it now and really realize what impact it’s going to have, rather than down the road look back and say, well this was a project that was doomed from the get-go,” Mollenholt says.

LIHI will submit a formal application for the rest stop to the Department of Planning and Development  in the next few months. An official from DPD says the review will likely be a public process, which will allow neighbors to weigh in. If the permit goes through, the Urban Rest Stop will likely be built within the next year.