On Tuesday, Seattle's Chinatown-International District residents protested the proposed expansion of a homeless shelter near their neighborhood. The demonstrators picketed outside city hall and demanded better communication from county officials, KOMO-TV reported.
King County plans to spend upwards of $66 million on the "SODO Services Hub" expansion. The project will be an addition to the existing Salvation Army SODO Shelter, which is scheduled to close in November.
The center can currently house up to 270 individuals, and after the proposed expansion, it will be able to provide shelter to 420 homeless people.
CID residents have protested the center's expansion for weeks due to public safety concerns, given the shelter's proximity to their neighborhood. During a council meeting on Tuesday, residents voiced frustration over the officials' lack of communication and consultation with community members.
"I am horrified to learn that the government is going to put together a problematic shelter campsite very close to Chinatown," said one concerned resident.
"We want to say engage us. Listen to us. We're not asking for them not to build this, we're just saying give us our voice," Matt Chan, a community advocate, told KOMO.
"I have concerns if the shelter is actually put in place without mitigation and without consulting the neighborhood because you can come down here any weekend and you can see the activity. The level of drug activity and crime that goes on and seniors, they don't even feel safe coming out in the evenings," Chan said.
The organizer of the demonstration, Tanya Woo, called the "lack of transparency and outreach" an example of "systematic racism."
"Regardless of what people's stance are regarding this shelter, they just need to be heard. Whatever public safety concerns, or other concerns we have regarding the shelter, need to be addressed," said Woo.
Woo told the news outlet that she met with the county executive to voice the community's concerns.
"We met with King County Executive Dow (Constantine) and also director of community and human services Leo Flor yesterday (Monday,) one-hour meeting, we asked for a moratorium, or pause so the proper outreach and engagement can be done in the community and they said, 'no,'" Woo stated.
During a press conference event on Monday, Constantine admitted that the county's community outreach was not enough. However, he assured the residents that he would work directly with local law enforcement to provide resources to neighborhoods with large homeless populations.
Constantine said, "I will say this, we began the public outreach on this in March. It's clear that although we did outreach in that SODO neighborhood as well as the adjacent neighborhoods in Pioneer Square and the Chinatown International District, that was not enough."
Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, told KOMO that the residents' concerns are valid.
"This is a public safety conversation. We don't have enough cops to protect the citizenry right now," Solan said. "If they already feel unsafe, we don't have enough officers to provide that safety blanket, then we must get serious about public safety."
"How do we absorb that hit? For our politicians to be that naive and not bring the community into that conversation to me is so naive and stunning that words can't describe it," Solan added.