• Neighborhood sees 410% increase in EMS calls after homeless housing building opens

    By: Linzi Sheldon


    SEATTLE - The program director of a taxpayer-funded homeless housing project in Ballard is now reviewing emergency data to the block after a KIRO 7 investigation based on neighbors’ complaints found significant spikes in both police and fire responses there.

    Quick Facts: 

    • Tax dollars helped fund homeless housing project in Ballard
    • Block has seen a 410 percent increase in fire responses
    • Reported 91 percent increase in police calls
    • As Seattle grows denser, Ballard's concern could soon be yours

    Millions of tax dollars helped fund the Ballard apartment building, Nyer Urness House, for the chronically homeless.

    The Housing First philosophy is simple: homeless people are not required to get treatment to receive permanent housing. Taxpayers save when the chronically homeless reduce EMS and police encounters and homeless people get off the street faster. It’s why Seattle and King County embraces Housing First projects and funds them with tax dollars.

    Some Ballard neighbors, like Rondi Susort, said the building brought more emergency services to the neighborhood.

    “These facilities do not belong in residential neighborhoods,” Susort said.

    Susort, who has lived in Ballard for 30 years, was frustrated the city didn’t reduce the size of the building or move it to a less residential area in Ballard.

    “It's not that anybody really objects to helping out the homeless but I just think that there are better ways to do this,” Susort said.

    Frequently asked questions in a Nyer Urness pamphlet KIRO 7 found online posted by its supporters include, “Will this project increase crime in our neighborhood?”

    The response: No.

    But police and fire data KIRO 7 obtained appear to tell a different story.

    KIRO 7 compared the two years before Nyer Urness opened, in April 2013, to the two years after.

    According to Seattle police data, there was a 91 percent increase in police calls to the block.

    Priority one assaults spiked from two to 19.

    Records show fire calls spiked as well. The block has seen a 410 percent increase since Nyer Urness opened its doors.

    “We all know the crimes gone up, we all know about the excess calls,” Susort said.

    A larger portion of Nyer Urness’ funding came from taxpayers. Seattle and King County contributed more than $3.8 million. Nyer Urness provides supportive housing for 80 people, 20 or so of whom are from Ballard.

    Most have substance abuse and/or mental health issues.

    “I won't deny that adding 80 vulnerable residents to a property isn't going to increase calls,” Robin Horrell said. Horrell is the program director for Nyer Urness, which is run by the non-profit Compass Housing Alliance. She was surprised by the data and said that she does not track the numbers.

    Horrell said a medical clinic, Neighborcare, operates out of Nyer Urness on the weekdays, but there is no emergency care on site. She said they often make trips to nearby hospitals for the residents.

    Horrell said they’re bringing on a full-time substance abuse counselor, which may help bring down emergency medical services calls.

    As for the 91-percent increase in police calls, Horrell said she takes crime at Nyer Urness House seriously.

    “If residents or their visitors are involved in criminal behavior and assaults on the block, absolutely, they won't continue to live there,” she said. “We're very strict about these things.”

    KIRO 7 wanted to speak with residents at Nyer Urness, especially after Horrell mentioned some of their progress, their own desire for a peaceful neighborhood, and their willingness to work with the community on building a good relationship.

    Horrell agreed. The following day, Tyler Roush, Communications Manager for Compass Housing Alliance, told KIRO 7 that they did not want KIRO 7 to speak to residents because they are a “vulnerable population”  and “it’s simply too difficult for us to predict whether someone would have a positive experience.”

    Susort said she would like Nyer Urness to increase its security.

    “They take no responsibility for what happens outside the building,” she said.

    At least three similar projects are under construction, funded by more than $12.7 million tax dollars from the city and King County.

    There's Aurora Housing, in Northgate; Interbay Supportive Housing; and Seventh and Cherry, slated for downtown.

    The organizations building these facilities are DESC and Plymouth House.

    Plymouth House said it doesn't track how the buildings affect neighborhoods.

    DESC didn't provide a response.

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