Kent City Council is considering allowing a small shelter village for the homeless

Reactions are mixed among residents and the Kent City Council over plans by a Seattle-based nonprofit housing organization to build a village of 28 small homes for the homeless on East Hill.

The Low Income Housing Institute, which operates 16 small residential villages in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Bellingham, wants to build the complex on property owned by St. James’s Episcopal Church, 24447 94th Ave. S.

For the plan to move forward, at least four of the seven council members must support an amendment to the zoning code to allow the housing complex to operate for more than 90 days. The council held an information workshop on April 5 on the proposal, but did not decide whether or not to support it. No votes are taken during the workshops.

“Some are in favor and some are not,” Council Chairman Bill Boyce said in an April 7 telephone interview. “We have to find what is best for homeless people and for the community. … In the next week or two, we should know where we are going.

Council members Marli Larimer, Satwinder Kaur and Brenda Fincher spoke at the workshop in support of the small hometown. Toni Troutner responded to an email from a resident opposing the plan that she agreed with the resident and did not support the plan. Boyce and Zandria Michaud did not engage one way or another. The Thomases did not attend the workshop due to a medical issue.

“We’ll see if there are four votes to move it forward and start the rezoning process,” Boyce said. “Otherwise he will die.”

Many people spoke out in favor of building houses, which would be 8 feet by 12 feet with a bed, heat, light, electricity, and a lockable door. Residents must follow a code of conduct (no drugs or alcohol) and work with a case manager to find permanent housing. The village will target families and couples looking for temporary accommodation.

The village would have a community kitchen and toilets, on-site showers and laundry, a council office and a 24/7 reception/security hut where donations of food, clothing and items of hygiene can be deposited. Entrance to the complex would be through a single gate.

“I am here to tell you that I wholeheartedly support the creation of a village on the St. James campus,” said the Reverend Joyce Parry-Moore, rector of St. James, at a council workshop on April 5 on the proposal. “I believe this will improve public safety and help more of our neighbors prosper. I ask you to vote to advance this successful model of housing in our city.

Several residents, however, who live near the proposed housing plan, told the council during its April 5 public comment period and via email that they were against the construction of small homes so close to their neighborhood.

“Allowing a small homeless shelter village to be set up across the street from our community could potentially change our whole neighborhood in a negative way,” Dave Wicklander said in an email to the council. “Having looked at all the information I could find on other small residential villages, they initially started well when they first opened, but the village deteriorates very quickly. The issues I have seen range from excessive rubbish in and around the village, to hoarding of large amounts of rubbish in and around the village, to increased crime affecting homes and businesses around the village , as well as to the problems resulting from the consumption of drugs and alcohol by the occupants of the village once they leave the village for the day.

Pat Fitzpatrick, the city’s acting chief administrative officer, said in an April 6 email that council should approve a zoning code amendment to allow a small hometown that is not subject to the limitation of 90 days set out in the current code adopted by the board in 2020.

“For that to happen, our board will first need to direct staff to prepare a code amendment for consideration,” Fitzpatrick said. “If this happens, staff will draft order options for the council’s consideration.”

Fitzpatrick said that before an order is passed, a public notice will be issued and a formal hearing will be held. In addition, review under the State Environmental Policy Act and notification to the State Department of Commerce will be required.

The Low Income Housing Institute worked with several community partners to move the project forward.

Josh Castle, community engagement coordinator for the Low Income Housing Institute, said the nonprofit applied for a grant from King County to help pay for the original small village that would house up to 35 people. He said running costs would be around $800,000 and it would cost around $600,000 to set up the site, although much of that cost would be donated by local volunteer groups. He said the goal is to open the village in June or July.

Castle said the homes would be for unsheltered people who are in Kent and references from local agencies would identify potential residents. The Silent Task Force helped set up a small village at Skyway and is helping secure a site in Kent.

Tye Whitfield works with the homeless in Kent as the founder of Kingdom Gathering Outreach and helped build a small family village in town.

“We have all kinds of homeless, upper class, middle class and low income people,” Whitfield said at the council meeting. “I see around 110 people in Kent every week, and they show me where their hiding places are. We have a problem, we have to do something to solve it.

Ankita Goel, who lives opposite the proposed site, told the council not to approve the project.

“It will create a lot of nuisance in a quiet residential area,” Goel said in an email. “We already have enough crime around us and homeless people coming out of church and trying to break into our homes or stealing etc. So please consider our concerns and reject this proposal. Something like this can be built on the outskirts of town where public transportation is available to them, without harming existing neighborhoods.

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