Dispute about location of Kent homeless shelter heats up again

KentHOPE wants to build a homeless shelter at the old Command Labor center along Lincoln Avenue across from the park and ride lot. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
KentHOPE wants to build a homeless shelter at the old Command Labor center along Lincoln Avenue across from the park and ride lot.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

The debate about where to put a 24-hour homeless shelter in Kent heated up again with yet another proposed site splitting opinions between business leaders and shelter proponents.

Kent Homelessness Partnership Effort (KentHOPE) and Seattle's Union Gospel Mission officials and advocates showed up to promote their fourth and latest proposed downtown site last week during the Kent City Council meeting's public comment period where speakers can address any topic they want.

Seven people spoke in favor of opening a 24/7 shelter at the old Command Labor building at 307 Lincoln Ave., across from the James Street Park and Ride lot. Three people spoke against the proposal.

Pat Gray, who leads KentHOPE, told the council why the new site would work.

"It's close enough to other services such as the Kent Food Bank and Valley Cities so that people are able to access it but with no immediate neighbors," Gray said. "We have listened and responded to others concerns and feel this site is a compromise we all can live with. We are asking for your support and help in moving ahead with our plan and that you allow us to act on our belief in a mandate that compels us to care for others.

"We want you to agree that there is a critical need for a 24-hour facility for men and women in Kent for our Kent homeless population and to approve our identified building site so that we may quickly and diligently begin the work of caring for our neighbors."

Opposition from the business community stopped the previous three proposed sites by KentHOPE over the past two years. Downtown business leaders and owners oppose the Lincoln Avenue site as well.

"We believe locating a homeless shelter near customer-based retail and services, especially near downtown Kent, would be detrimental to a healthy and vibrant business community," said Andrea Keikkala, CEO of the Kent Chamber of Commerce, to the council.

Keikkala said the chamber supports a homeless shelter but not in the downtown area. She added the Lincoln Avenue location sits just one block from a residential neighborhood, the proposed building would be two-stories tall and visible from the freeway, it sits too close to the ShoWare Center and it's just two blocks from the The Platform apartments scheduled to open by this fall.

The chamber supports finding a location away from downtown, possibly using private and public transportation to get people to the shelter and services.

"We think this idea needs further exploration," said Keikkala, who promised to keep discussion open with KentHOPE and the Union Gospel Mission to find a site that works.

Shelter supporters gave the council 1,000 postcards signed by residents in an effort to get the city officials to back the proposal.

The front of the card read, "It's time that Kent makes a significant effort to care for its homeless." On the back was a longer message to urge the mayor, council and local leaders to get behind the plan.

The Union Gospel Mission and KentHOPE would finance the shelter through fundraising efforts by tapping into its network of donors, churches and foundations.

John Greaney, a Kent attorney whose office sits just around the corner from the proposed site, said he expects a homeless shelter would harm his business by keeping potential clients away.

"I walked over here tonight and there's two guys sitting at the Command Labor building and they've been there for three days drinking," Greaney said. "You can magnify that by 100 fold… Nobody's anti-homeless, I don't want homelessness to occur but it's the wrong place to put this. We are in the downtown core."

Council President Dana Ralph said city officials are meeting with homeless shelter proponents to try to find an answer about homelessness.

"The city is not ignoring this issue," Ralph said at the meeting. "We are working diligently to find a solution. Our job is to balance the needs of all of these groups. We need to be aware of all points of view."

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