Seattle: homeless shelters shut down in wake of end to free bus zones

Seattle Times. Sept 28:

Seattle homeless shelters shut down in wake of bus changes

Representatives of some 500 homeless people who stay in two tent cities and 16 shelters in the Seattle area — mostly churches — closed most of those facilities Friday until their demands for more free Metro bus tickets are met.

The tent cities that hold 200 homeless remain open, as does one shelter for homeless people with disabilities, according to the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE), which runs them.

The group might not reopen the closed shelters until Dec. 17.

In a news release, the group said the closing of the downtown free bus-ride bus zone was “a punishing blow to poor and homeless people.” The group said that beginning Monday, it will get $50,000 worth of bus tickets from Metro, about a fifth of what it says it needs for the rest of the year.

SHARE said that by closing the shelters during the warmer weather now, it could use its allocated bus tickets during the cold winter weather.

Asked whether shutting down shelters would generate bad publicity, a SHARE spokesman, Jarvis Capucion, said, “I don’t think it can backfire publicitywise. We’re doing it out of necessity, not for publicity.”

On Friday afternoon, 150 to 200 of the homeless and their supporters marched from Westlake Park, then on the sidewalk along Third Avenue, south to the King County Courthouse.

The march ended near an encampment of about 20 tents that was scheduled to come down Friday night.

At first Tom Mullen, 55, thought the encampment would be a nice, sociable substitute for the Ballard shelter where he usually stays, and he said he was devastated when he learned it wouldn’t last.

Mullen, who has lived at shelters for more than a year after losing a maintenance job, said he needs to get downtown to apply for jobs and do research for others at the downtown Seattle Public Library.

Ben Kordash, who usually stays at a Woodland Park shelter, said he couldn’t comprehend why a lack of bus tickets led SHARE to close the shelters.

“This whole thing is counterproductive to the meaning of SHARE — keeping people off the streets,” Kordash said. “I can get the $2.50 to get there (the shelter) if I need to, and the church said they could still allow us to stay, but I guess if one is open they all have to be open.”

Not everyone understands that part of the agreement SHARE has with some shelters and their residential communities is that homeless people can’t remain near the shelter during the day, said Fox Bracken, 47. That’s one reason the bus passes are needed.

Bracken usually treks between downtown and the All Saints Episcopal Church shelter.

“We can’t hang out outside of the shelter during the day — we have to get our homeless butts out of the way,” Bracken said.

A news release issued Friday by King County said that “thanks to the generosity of King County residents, more than 95,000 subsidized bus tickets will be distributed” to various human-service agencies.

Under a program that many county households are unaware of, households that own cars can receive eight free bus tickets or donate them to the poor.

Motorists can request the tickets as their reward for paying the new $20 car-tab fee that began in May, a fee meant to avoid deep bus-service cuts.

But about 90 percent of the county’s households that own cars aren’t mailing back the form for the tickets, resulting in millions of unclaimed free rides.

There are 713,518 housing units in King County where residents own at least one vehicle, according to 2010 census data.

If each placed an order, the total number of tickets would reach 5.7 million a year.

Eight percent of county households that ordered car tabs as of August ordered tickets, and 2 percent donated, said Metro spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok.

Capucion, 42, has been homeless for “three or four years” after quitting his San Diego job in insurance billing and collection because he said it wasn’t fulfilling. He said the group planned to camp out in front of the King County Administration Building until its demands for more free bus tickets are met.

And if the group is told to move from that site?

“Then we’re going to have to think of something else,” he said.

SHARE received almost $400,000 from the city of Seattle for shelter and winter-shelter operations. The organization’s contract requires the group to provide shelter services. If it doesn’t, the city isn’t required to pay, David Takami, spokesman for the city Human Services Department, said Friday.

Staff reporter Lynn Thompson contributed to this report.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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