King County: Use empty Harborview nurses' dorm for homeless shelter

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:

King County leaders have set aside $2.5 million in the county budget to potentially turn an empty nurses’ dorm across from Harborview Medical Center into a homeless shelter.
 
Taxpayers own Harborview Hall, which was built in 1931 and used to house nurses studying and working at the hospital. Most recently, it was used as office and research space before being locked up about six years ago.
 
One of the benefits is the location: For homeless people who might need medical services, the main entrance to the hospital is directly across the street.
 
King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski gave KIRO 7 an exclusive tour of the hall, including some of the old dorm rooms on the second floor.
 
"There's dozens and dozens of these," he said, "originally designed and built as a little apartment for nurses back in the day."
 
He believes the $2.5 million could pay for necessary feasibility studies and to convert two floors into the shelter.
 
He said the county would partner with a non-profit like Mary's Place to run the shelter. While there is no commitment to work with the organization, they did bring Mary’s Place to the hall to visit and get staff input.
 
"It's one of the great providers of family shelter and repurposing places on a temporary basis," he said. "They saw potential."
 
In April, Amazon allowed Mary's Place to move into an old Travelodge building the company owns on 8th and Bell.
 
They have about 200 people there who are allowed to remain until the tech giant starts building next year.
 
"We really felt that the community wanted to see action," Dembowski said.
 
At Harborview Hall, each floor could house an estimated 25 to 30 people, especially if larger rooms are used to house families.
 
Some rooms still have the original Art Deco light fixtures showcased in a retrospective video from King County.
 
"I think it's a fantastic idea," said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness.
 
She praised the council's idea of giving people their own rooms during their stay rather than requiring them to carry around their belongings and line up each night.
 
"If we have the space and the resources and the staff who can provide people with support and not only say, you're in, you're out -- that becomes a way we can actually help people," she said.
 
Valentine Wanga, a UW public health student, agrees with the idea of the shelter as long as residents at the shelter are good neighbors.
 
"If there's a plan to make the place safe and maybe have security around... then I think it'd be OK," she said.
Dembowski said the shelter would have security around the clock. There would also be resources on site like job placement, counseling, and paths to permanent housing.
 
The council now needs numerous assessments on what kind of renovations would be needed and whether the building is safe, seismically and in other ways. There would also be outreach to the hospital and the neighborhood for input.
 
The council is expected to receive a report on the results in the spring.

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