A Venezuelan man speaks, with a Spanish translator, at the King County Council Health and Human Services Committee March 5 in Seattle. Screenshot via King County TV

A Venezuelan man speaks, with a Spanish translator, at the King County Council Health and Human Services Committee March 5 in Seattle. Screenshot via King County TV

Asylum seekers return to Kent hotel after testifying to county committee

Nearly 250 people, many from Venezuela, staying once again at Kent Quality Inn

A group of nearly 250 asylum seekers, many of them from Venezuela, are back at the Kent Quality Inn as they bounce from hotel to hotel looking for a place to stay and someone to pay for it.

About 50 group members showed up at a King County Council Health and Human Services Committee meeting on March 5 at the King County Courthouse in Seattle to seek help with paying for housing at the hotel or face eviction.

Many of them also appeared and spoke at a Jan. 31 Seattle City Council meeting to help keep them at the Kent Quality Inn, 1711 W. Meeker St. The city of Seattle came up with about $200,000 to keep them housed in Kent and later when they moved to two SeaTac hotels before that money ran out.

“We are struggling as you can tell,” one Venezuelan man said during public comment at the meeting. “The language is a barrier, we face a lot of barriers, but we are here with our children who are your children, too. They will work here and are your future. We don’t know what will happen to them tomorrow when we don’t have housing.

“You are welcoming us, so please believe in us. We have a lot of potential and talent and really want to start working.”

King County Councilmember Sarah Perry, vice chair of the committee and whose District 3 includes Redmond, Issaquah, Sammamish, Woodinville and other cities, got on the phone after the meeting to see if she could find financial help for the asylum seekers.

“About 50 came to the meeting,” Perry said during a March 6 phone interview. “We gave them 2 minutes each to speak. They brought 10 kids with them. They were going to be put out of the hotel at Kent.”

Perry said she called a few community leaders seeking a place to stay for about 250 people or help with paying for a hotel. The Redmond-based Muslim Association of Puget Sound, a group in her district that she has worked with before, came up with a $60,000 donation to pay for two weeks at the Kent Quality Inn.

The Venezuelan migrants traveled to the United States to seek asylum. They emigrated due to ongoing economic and political turmoil, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. The group first stayed at the Riverton United Methodist Church in Tukwila, but moved to the Kent hotel in January after the church became overcrowded and a nonprofit initially paid for them to stay in Kent.

Perry said many people who cross into the United States end up in Washington state because it is a sanctuary state, meaning it supports undocumented immigrants.

Perry said, however, the state needs a structural system to help the immigrants, so that people are working together at the city, county and state level and with private partners. She hopes a bill passed by the Legislature this session, sponsored by State Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, whose District 33 includes part of Kent, helps coordinate getting support to the many immigrants and refugees arriving in the state.

“I’m excited about that,” Perry said of the bill that puts the state Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance in charge of organizing help. “They’ll be talking to groups and be the coordinating body.”

The state will release funds later this year to help immigrants with housing.

“This is a good government bill that aligns the things the state is already doing,” Gregerson said in an earlier interview. “With hundreds of families seeking asylum arriving in our region, a sustainable and supportive solution is urgently needed. This bill will provide the critical support these individuals and families deserve.”

While the office uses federal refugee resettlement funds to administer programs to individuals eligible for those services, it also relies on general fund dollars to serve other immigrants living in Washington who don’t qualify for federally funded services because of their immigration status.

The bill doesn’t include any funds but rather sets up a better approach to addressing the immigrant issues. The state Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance has a budget and can contract with nonprofits to provide services. The office also can work with cities and counties about finding solutions.

King County has kicked in funds, $3 million last year, to help asylum seekers. The county announced last month another $1 million grant to nonprofits to provide temporary housing, food, support and legal services to asylum seekers, specifically those that have come through the Tukwila church and are living in or near Tukwila.

To qualify for the grant, nonprofits must be in South King County and be able to mitigate the negative impacts of living unsheltered, such as with day centers, hygiene services, sanctioned encampments and shelter, according to a county media release.

Perry said an even better solution would be for the federal government to allow asylum seekers to work as they wait for court hearings on their asylum status, which can take up to a year or more.

“We have a worker shortage and they could go to work,” said Perry, who added those who testified at the meeting are willing to work to help pay for their housing.

Perry said the temporary housing help only goes so far and that more and more immigrants keep coming to the state each day.

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A woman testifies March 5 in Seattle at a King County committee meeting to seek housing support at a Kent hotel. Screenshot via King County TV

A woman testifies March 5 in Seattle at a King County committee meeting to seek housing support at a Kent hotel. Screenshot via King County TV

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