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Kent focus groups say no to homeless shelter

Pat Gray, of KentHOPE, speaks at a recent forum about the importance of establishing a downtown shelter for the homeless. - Mark Klaas, Kent Reporter
Pat Gray, of KentHOPE, speaks at a recent forum about the importance of establishing a downtown shelter for the homeless.
— image credit: Mark Klaas, Kent Reporter

Faced with opposition from a concerned community, a proposed homeless shelter is no longer a possibility for one downtown Kent location.

Based on feedback from focus groups examining the idea of a proposed shelter, Kent city officials will not proceed with a request to use the former city Resource Center at 315 E. Meeker St. for any specified capacity for now.

"There was a consensus that we would not be going on to an RFP (request for proposals)," said Dennis Higgins, city council president. "The outcome of the focus groups is that the recommendation is not to proceed with an RFP … for any purpose at this time."

The City Council at last week's workshop received broad feedback from the focus groups, a community outreach effort the city used to gauge ideas and concerns from various sectors, including the faith and business communities.

The Seattle's Union Gospel Mission and the Kent Homelessness Partnership Effort (KentHOPE) proposed to transform the two-story, 5,700-square-foot publicly owned building on East Meeker Street into a day center and overnight homeless shelter.

A majority of downtown business owners voiced strong opposition to the idea, saying a shelter would have a negative impact on the area.

Undaunted, the pro-shelter group plans to pursue another location.

"While we are very disappointed in the decision resulting from the focus groups, we will continue to work toward the establishment of a day center/shelter in Kent," Pat Gray, of KentHOPE, said in a statement. "We realize that our request of the city has resulted in much good conversation about the nature of homelessness in Kent, and for that, we are grateful."

Higgins says many positive things have come from the discussions.

"They already had a positive impact in that regard," he said. "My greatest conflict in this is we need to do more (for the homeless)."

From the workshop, city officials are willing to pursue better ways to serve the homeless. They intend to establish a task force "to identify, examine the wants, gaps in current services and work to find collective solutions," said Jeff Watling, city parks, recreation & community services director.

The city is willing to do its part.

"We are dealing with and continue to deal with it," Watling said. "We have been dealing with how to best provide services for the homeless for years, decades. We certainly will continue to do so."

Despite the loss of one possible location, the Union Gospel Mission stands committed to finding another site in the area.

"This is an issue, a problem that is not going to leave Kent anytime soon," said Terry Pallas, shelter director for Union Gospel Mission. "As a matter of fact, if anything, we … project that it is just going to get worse."

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