by: Natasha Chen Updated:
SEATTLE - Limited spaces in emergency shelters are available for families with children, and some who are showing up to Nickelsville are having trouble getting temporary motel vouchers.
Sharon Lee of the Low Income Housing Institute, said she had to help four families with children find a place to stay Monday night.
"There's not enough sleeping structures or tents for the homeless families that come to us, nor did we realize that 211 – if you have an emergency and dial 211 – that 211 was also sending homeless families to Nickelsville," Lee said.
The city of Seattle has dedicated $300,000 to provide temporary motel vouchers for families with children to get out of Nickelsville, but even those vouchers are limited for the number of families coming in. Nickelsville has become a city project, but as a whole, relieving homelessness is an effort by King County, all its suburbs and various nonprofit agencies.
In 2012, partners throughout King County helped 1,515 families find permanent housing, with another 1,117 served through prevention programs so that they avoided becoming homeless in the first place.
But due to the federal sequestration, the availability of Section 8 vouchers has been cut. While permanent housing waiting lists continue to get longer, short-term solutions are also limited.
Lee said that on any given night, there could be 400 families with children, and only half as many emergency shelter units for them to stay in.
Monday night, one family was able to get motel vouchers for their children, but not for the parents, because one of them may be undocumented. "We decided to put them in a hotel for two nights at our expense, even though we're not part of the system, and then we were able to help them purchase bus tickets back to Salt Lake City."
While there is no concerted effort to simply bus homeless families out of Seattle, many agencies try to buy tickets for people to meet relatives in other cities who can help them.
One family who recently got a motel voucher said they were surprised to find out how long it would take to be processed for permanent, government-subsidized housing.
"We had this pre-notion that we would be getting housing very quickly as soon as we went to the meeting," said J.C. Grant. "We don't know if it's going to be a couple months, could be up to a year, and that's frightening."
Grant lost his job and was unable to keep the apartment he, his wife and child lived in. They arrived at Nickelsville on Saturday and soon got vouchers for a motel with the help of the Low Income Housing Institute.
His wife, Neda Lor, said that their 18-month-old son cried all night at Nickelsville, because of the cold temperatures.
"My parents did what they needed to do to put a roof over our head, and I feel like that's where I failed as a parent," she said.