There was some conflict Monday evening as the effort to house the homeless on the East Side entered a new phase. Bellevue has proposed a change to city land use codes that could change the face of the how the city deals with the homeless and change where shelters are located and get built.
In August 2016, the city of Bellevue and King County announced a partnership along with Congregations for the Homeless and Imagine Housing to study a location for a men's shelter and permanent support housing in Eastgate. There was a letter of agreement and the site for consideration was at 14350 Southeast Eastgate Way near the King County Metro’s Eastgate Park and Ride and the Eastgate Public Health Center.
At the time, Mayor John Stokes said “Siting a men’s shelter for Bellevue is one of our council priorities for 2016-17.” He also said "We have the opportunity here to do something extraordinary about homelessness and supportive housing."
As of today, the shelter hasn’t been built though it appears to still be a priority for Bellevue city leaders. But deputy city manager Kate Berens said the location in Eastgate is not a site for a shelter yet. At Monday’s council meeting, some people said they want a shelter soon. Others are worried a low barrier shelter could house 100 men – and only men -- who could use drugs and alcohol.
Antoine Willburn says he’s an East Side native and now living in his car though he is working. “Until you've been here, been here in the struggle, you'll never understand,” he said.
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KIRO 7 met Willburn and several other men as they gathered for one last meal Monday before heading out onto the streets of Bellevue, unsure what the night may bring. They say living on the street at night is their usual routine, and some of them are among an estimated 245 in Bellevue living without shelter according to Count Us In. Willburn did admit a temporary transition shelter could make a huge difference.
“If I had a place, man, if I could sleep every night …it would change everything.”
Luis Lopez says several homeless people he knows work, including Antoine, and that a shelter could help them stick with their jobs. “If you work all day and you don't have a place to rest, how you going to work the next day?” he asked.
The difference between having a roof over their heads or not lies for Bellevue’s homeless with Bellevue City Council deciding on land use codes which have sparked debate. Berens says the change in regulations is all the city council is deciding.
“These are about regulations that could apply anywhere a shelter... they're not being crafted with a particular location.”
“What they're doing is creating what I think of as smoke in mirrors,” says Tzachi Litov of Bellevue.
Litov doesn't buy the land use argument and says the debate is about shelters and putting one in Eastgate near his home.
“Many of the decisions made will determine absolutely where shelter can be.” Litov says he absolutely favors a shelter being built somewhere in Bellevue.
Some faith leaders, including Farida Hakim of the Islamic Center of the East Side, said a shelter at Eastgate or anywhere is necessary and shouldn't have heavy restriction. “We want to serve our community who is needing the same personal safety net the rest of us want," Hakim said.
Bellevue has no permanent shelters but changing land use codes could change that. Willburn said that small shift to a permanent shelter could spark the change he needs to end his existence on the street and change his life.
“You've got to deal with people looking at you funny. I’ve got to shave a different way ... you have to become somebody else that you're not so I can fit in with everybody else... and I grew up here.”
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