Temporary shelter opens in Sodo to offer respite from smoke filled air

As wildfires rage in Washington State, the air quality in Seattle and King County has worsened and all residents have been cautioned to stay indoors over the weekend. 

To offer a safe, clean place for people experiencing homelessness to come inside and breathe clean air, King County and the City of Seattle worked together to open a temporary shelter in Seattle, away from the dangerous smoke-filled air. The shelter is located at 1045 6th Ave South in SoDo, in a building King County outfitted to serve as a COVID-19 assessment and recovery center.

Fortunately, thanks to strong efforts by County residents to practice safe hand hygiene, mask wearing, social distancing and isolating and quarantining when ill, our region has not experienced high surges in infection that other parts of the county and the world have seen. The Sodo site was created to respond to such surges, and with infection rates stable, it has not yet been necessary to open the site.

New emergency response role for Sodo facility

Given the air quality emergency, the Sodo facility is available to take on a new temporary emergency response role:  offering beds and a place to rest for people experiencing homelessness. Onsite services are being provided by The Salvation Army, under contract with the City’s Human Services Division. Meals and other basic needs will be met for all of the guests. In addition to the Salvation Army, the Public Health Reserve Corps and the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) will staff the shelter.

The doors opened Friday at 3:00 p.m. on September 11 and are scheduled to remain open 24/7 until 8:00 a.m. on Monday, September 14. Public Health nurses will be onsite from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. Operations could be extended based on the environmental conditions.

Public Health – Seattle & King County has advised that agencies should open facilities only if they possess high-quality air filtration systems and can comply with public health guidance around face coverings, social distancing and capacity restrictions.  The Sodo site is very large, with space to ensure social distancing between cots. Because it was created to serve as a COVID isolation and recovery center, the Sodo site has an excellent air filtration system, special germ resistant surfaces, and no-touch hand washing stations throughout the building.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is this facility?

The site was a previously empty warehouse, leased by King County and set-up by King County as an Assessment and Recovery Center (AC/RC) for emergency COVID response, particularly to respond to a surge in COVID infection and the need for emergency space for groups of people in need.

Why open this site now?

As a region, we have been successful in keeping our rates of infection sufficiently low so as not to need this site, yet, for its intended purpose as an assessment and recovery center for people sick with COVID-19. We have seen in other countries like Italy and other states like New York how quickly hospitals can be overwhelmed in a surge of cases, and we have been resolved to maintain enough emergency COVID capacity to avoid swamping our local hospitals if possible.

Varying levels of smoke have been present in the air over the past week, and a forecast for additional smoke starting on Friday afternoon presents an elevated hazard for unsheltered persons. Cumulative recent smoke exposure and new elevated level of smoke led to Public Health advising opening a smoke shelter for use by unsheltered persons from Friday afternoon through Monday morning.

What is the purpose of the site?

To provide a safe place for people experiencing homelessness to come inside and avoid smoke exposure,  while also implementing AC/RC lessons learned to reduce likelihood of COVID-19 transmission. Masks and PPE will be provided to reduce risk of infection from COVID transmission for all staff and guests onsite. We will help guests meet basic needs while onsite, but recognize that the facility is not an intense services site because it will only be in operation while the risk of smoke is elevated (48 to 60 hours). Use of this site is voluntary. Target audience for smoke shelter use is unsheltered persons, particularly unsheltered persons at elevated risk due to prolonged smoke exposure.

How will people get there?

HSD, DCHS and Public Health will work with their partners and the homeless shelter service system to get the word out about the availability of indoor space and respite from the smoke. King County Metro will assist with transportation from outlying areas as needed.

Is there a staffing plan and security on site?

King County will arrange onsite security 24/7. The Salvation Army and county staff will also be on site throughout the duration of the emergency use. Under a contract with the City of Seattle, Salvation Army will provide two operators onsite 24/7. Public Health Reserve Corps will provide operational staff and a nurse onsite each day of operation. King County Facilities Management Division staff will provide onsite security and facility support services. DCHS will provide a site director, onsite support, and material support as needed, including water, food and other supplies. Metro will assist with transportation. King County Office of Emergency Management is standing by to assist with any larger scale material support as needed.

How long will this smoke shelter operate?

King County and the City are exercising an emergency deployment of this resource in light of the emergency situation Seattle is experiencing due to dangerous air quality conditions. That emergency action is for a period of approximately three days.

Residents should regularly check Puget Sound Clean Air Agency for updates on air quality.