The City of Seattle has been working to provide more resources for people living unsheltered leading up to and during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The City’s Human Services Department (HSD) has been in close partnership with the King County Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), Public Health Seattle King County (PHSKC), and City departments to stand up critical resources and services for people experiencing homelessness.
The City and King County have prioritized the deployment of resources that can provide critical services, facilities, and resources for people living unsheltered during this public health emergency.
The County, in partnership with the City, is moving forward on three key priorities, which could serve individuals experiencing homelessness or individuals who cannot recover at home. This includes:
- Expanding all shelter capacity and de-intensifying shelters
- Creating isolation (for confirmed cases) or quarantine spaces (for possible/suspected cases)
- Creating spaces for recovery of individuals who do not require emergent care
Specifically, efforts over the last two weeks include expanding existing shelter capacity by at least 100 spaces at existing and new City-funded shelters, opening up Seattle Center Exhibition Hall to help relieve capacity at Seattle’s most high-use shelters, and supporting DCHS in efforts to create hundreds of spaces for isolation, quarantine, and recovery spaces for people experiencing homelessness or for individuals who cannot recover at home.
In the coming days, HSD, DCHS, and City partners will have more announcements regarding expansion of additional resources. If new state and federal staffing and financial resources become available (which is anticipated ), the City and the County can continue to significantly expand efforts to serve more individuals experiencing homelessness.
HSD is closely monitoring service levels at shelters and is working with PHSKC to ensure safe operations for clients and staff. HSD and DCHS have bulked ordered sanitation and hygiene supplies for service providers and is distributing materials to providers.
Hygiene and Sanitation Services
In addition, the City has been working on a series of efforts to increase hygiene facilities and sanitation services citywide in partnership with City Council and PHSKC.
The City, through HSD and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), will deploy portable toilets, hand-washing stations, and four hygiene trailers at locations across Seattle. These facilities will be staffed and provided with garbage and needle disposal services. These hygiene and sanitation resources will be deployed in locations across Seattle in consultation with PHSKC. The City will have more details about these resources in the coming days. For current guidance for effective sanitation and hygiene practices as well as preventive measures, please click here.
Additionally, SPU has also deployed more resources to do additional litter services and serve encampments with 12 sites receiving encampment trash program services with the goal of serving 16 sites continuously in the upcoming days.
Outreach and Navigation Team
The Navigation Team will continue to play a critical role in connecting individuals who are at risk for COVID-19 with expanded shelter resources, referrals to testing and medical treatment, and hygiene services. The Navigation Team is Seattle’s only program that mitigates the impacts of hazardous encampments that pose public health risks, while providing offers of shelter, services, and support to individuals who are impacted.
The Navigation Team’s outreach services supplement the work of over 10 City-funded and independent outreach providers who specifically address broader needs of Seattle’s unsheltered community. Outreach providers are receiving guidance from PHSKC for providing safe services to encampments.
Since the beginning of March and in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Navigation Team has primarily focused on conducting outreach and eliminated scheduled encampment removals. Since March 2, there have been limited Navigation Team removals. As of March 13, the team has visited 172 sites, handed out 462 COVID-19 Public Health flyers, and distributed hygiene kits to 126 people. Hygiene kits include paper towels, water, soap, contact cards with information regarding services and shelter resources. The team is asking individuals basic symptom-screening questions and is providing information on community-based hygiene resources.
All encampment removal operations have been suspended. This includes Community Police Team and Parks efforts. Exceptions will be made under extreme circumstances. An extreme circumstance may be living structures completely blocking the entire sidewalk, living structures prohibiting safe entry and exit from a building or use of a facility, or is a public safety danger to occupants and/or greater community. Here are some examples of what could be considered an extreme circumstance:
- A living structure on a ramp or roadway
- A living structure blocking an entire sidewalk or bike lane
- A living structure that presents fire or safety hazards to infrastructure (i.e. freeway supports/bridges)
- A living structure blocking an entry/exit to a building
- A living structure in a play area
The City and HSD will provide further updates regarding shelter, hygiene and outreach as it becomes available.