Bellevue City Council hearing on the proposed homeless shelter

[Edited and extended on June 15, 2018]

On Monday, June 11, I went to the Bellevue City Council hearing about the proposed Eastgate homeless shelter. About seventy people had signed up to speak (three minutes each).

The first pair of speakers were Betsy Hummer and Stephanie Walter from the East Bellevue Community Council. They reported the EBCC was opposed to safe injection sites, wanted light industrial areas  as potential shelter zones, and wanted a 1,000 foot buffer zone around any low-barrier shelter, so that no schools or churches could nearby — a similar rule applies for marijuana retail shops. These changes would make it difficult or impossible to locate the low-barrier men’s shelter in Eastgate.

During the next two hours, several dozen people from religious organizations spoke in favor of opening the shelter in Eastgate: Christian clergy, rabbis and representatives of the Bellevue Muslim community. They all made a strong moral case that it’s our obligation to help the poor and the down-and-out. It’s our obligation not to give into fear. It’s our obligation not to treat poverty as a crime.

Many of these faith communities had hosted homeless people in their churches, synagogues and mosques.

The supporters of the shelter spoke, in particular, against the proposal to require a 1000 foot buffer zone around shelters. Supporters of the shelter said that such a barrier would make it almost impossible to locate a shelter in Bellevue.  Supporters also spoke against proposals to limit shelter clients to those who have no outstanding warrants. Many warrants are expired, incorrect, or minor. Besides, having such people sleeping in parks, wooded areas, or on the streets doesn’t make us safer.

Many Bellevue residents are strongly opposed to locating the shelter in Eastgate — the location is near a Park and Ride and a community health center, and not far from Bellevue College and some condos –  out of fear that it will bring crime and lower property values. The shelter will be low-barrier — meaning homeless men will be admitted regardless of criminal records or drug use — and opponents of the Eastgate location fear increased crime.

Yet a Guardian study finds that crime does not increase around homeless villages in Seattle or Portland. If any thing, it decreases slightly.

Some opponents of the shelter had put up signs “Shelter Yes, Eastgate No” around Bellevue. Such signs suggest that opposition is based on NIMBYism. They prefer that the shelter be located in light industrial areas or the Spring district.

On there is a lot of heated discussion about the shelter; almost everyone who participates is opposed to the shelter. Opponents were critical of the organized dominance of the hearing by the faith community.  Some opponents appealed to the separation of church and state.

Opponents of the shelter also allege that there was favoritism towards Congregations for the Homeless and that plans for the shelter were done behind closed doors and with insufficient notification of neighbors.

Stephanie Walter of the Lake Hills community in Bellevue gave permission to share her letter in opposition to the Eastgate shelter:

Dear Members of the Faith Community,

I am one of your members…or at least I think I am. I have faith – that is the criteria, correct? I do have to say that I was surprised, scratch that, I was stunned last Monday night at the Bellevue City Council meeting. There was a concerted effort by people stating they were speaking as part of the faith community to delay the voices of their neighbors at the public hearing for Land Use Code for Homeless Shelters. A public hearing is intended to include voices from all sides of an issue. This group of individuals came early and lined up to sign up one after the other to speak as a block, in succession and without deviation. They all had much the same things to say as if it had come from a set of talking points. There were things said that were inconsistent with facts as I know them from my Planning Commission experience. They spoke for almost two hours saying the same things – over and over and over again. Bellevue residents who had studied the Land Use Codes of other Cities as well as researching the best practices of shelter providers waited patiently for their opportunity to speak. At about 8:10 pm, they finally began speaking. Facts, figures, data, compassion, and an eagerness to work well with others were all part of their message. They were regular yet extraordinary citizens of Bellevue who spent their own time and sometimes treasure to help the City create the best shelter situation possible. For all the parties impacted – homeless and housed alike. The hearing went until well after 10 pm. Many people had to leave due to the late hour.

In our Country we benefit from representational government. No matter how just the cause, every side of an issue deserves to be heard. Manipulation of this process creates long term harm.

Here are a couple of examples of inaccuracies:

  • A 1,000 foot buffer would prevent siting of a shelter. Marijuana stores have a 1,000 foot buffer and they have been sited.
  • Child care can coexist next to a homeless shelter. Not in the case of low barrier shelters where no IDs and backgrounds are checked.
  • Rotating shelters’ success is evidence that the permanent shelter will be successful. The permanent shelter will not house individuals in the same condition as the rotating shelter. Men will progress from the permanent shelter to the rotating shelter if they make progress gaining life skills.
  • Bellevue neighbors who want strong Land Use Codes to govern shelters do not want a shelter. This is simply not true. They want a shelter that will be safe both inside and out.

There is much work to be done. There are people who have exhibited their willingness to work together with their neighbors and the Council on a reasonable and rational shelter or shelters. Drowning out their voices is fracturing neighborhoods and I fear it is also fracturing the communities of faith.

Likewise, Tuli Davenport gave permission to share her letter to the Bellevue City Council:

My letter to council is long but it includes a recap of claims made and couple of requests.

Dear Mayor, Deputy Mayor, councilmembers, city manager,

The turn out for the Shelter LUCA public hearing was impressive. Clearly, the recent outreach efforts by the city and CFH faith network around King County was successful.

CM Robertson thank you for staying the entire length and listening to all the public comments even though you were not well. CM Stokes, if I ever make it to my 90s, I hope that I am blessed with your stamina. Thanks to all of you and to staff for all the work and effort that has gone into creating a thoughtful shelter LUCA that will play a small but an important role in addressing the homeless crisis created by years of Seattle’s failed policies.

I would like to recap and rebut a few inconsistencies presented by the special interest non-profit faith communities (who spoke continuously for the first 2 hours!) and also highlight one valid point that they made.

Claim 1: Criminal background-checks is criminalization of homeless

For many years now, CFH Year Round shelter at the rotating churches have performed criminal background checks. The faith community churches have had this rule to protect their property and members. However, it is strange that they are asking shelters near neighborhoods to follow a different set of rules where warrant and background checks are not allowed.

Kan Qui, one of the Bellevue residents who testified, drew laughter from the audience when he said: “Jesus doesn’t ask you to sacrifice other people’s neighborhoods”. Faith community members should first practice what they preach and remove criminal background checks from their year-round shelter before asking others to do it. However, that is very unlikely to happen. A background check is NOT criminalization of homeless.

Claim 2: Warrant checks means denial of entry and denial of funding

A few members from the faith communities claimed that performing warrant checks will mean denial of entry at the shelter and denial of funding. This is misinformation and they are confusing it with their own rules at the year-round shelter where any individuals without ID or past sex offenses are denied entry into their shelter. They don’t welcome the world even if they preach it.

At a low barrier shelter, individuals facing homelessness can enter without an ID. If they fail criminal background check (that shows criminal/sex offense history) they still get to stay at the low barrier shelter. These checks help alert the surrounding neighborhoods in case there are any high-level sex offenders at the shelter. These checks do NOT mean denial of entry.

Claim 3: CMs Church affiliation and race implications of warrant checks

Many faith community leaders appealed to your emotions saying that Bellevue welcomes the world and stated several scriptures. One faith community leader, vaguely alluded to conversations with CM Zahn and CM Lee at their Aldersgate church, suggesting race related implications due to warrant checks.

There are many good reasons for supporting separation of church and state and I trust that all CMs will ignore such manipulative tactics and do the right thing for people who elected you.

Claim 4: Code of Conduct must not be required in shelter LUCA

This was a surprising request from several faith community leaders. I believe that most if not all religious books have a code of conduct for its followers. In fact, current CFH year-round shelter and low barrier shelter have a code of conduct. They are advocating for lower safety measures for the communities than they have for their churches. Fortunately, David Bowling and Steve Roberts did not echo their sentiment. Please keep the Code of Conduct requirements in the shelter LUCA.

Claim 5: All shelters are safe and buffers are not needed

Many faith community leaders, cited the men’s shelter right next to the preschool and how safe the members felt about leaving their children there. They argued that buffers are not needed because the homeless men are human. They again obscured the fact that the rotating church shelter is not a “low barrier shelter” and that they require IDs, and no past sex offenses and requirements to work with case managers.

Some of the community members emoted that we should open our hearts and welcome everyone in the shelter and that it is sad to see the winter/emergency shelter close and see the men return to the streets. The year-round church shelter had the opportunity to take in the men from low barrier shelter for years and they have never changed their intake policy because NOT all men at the low barrier shelters are “safe”. In this case, their actions speak louder than their testimony.

DM Robinson, CM Zahn, CM Lee and CM Nieuwenhuis, you were all asked by One Bellevue “Would you Avoid Emergency Homeless Shelters near residential and school areas?” You all answered Yes. ( Sensible buffers must be a requirement.

Claim 6: Sophia Way next to a school has had no concerns and buffers are not needed

One lady testified that Sophia Way shelter was next to a preschool and there were no safety concerns there. I agree with her and this ties in with my previous email about setting buffer requirements based on intake criteria. A low barrier men’s shelter must have at least 1000′ buffer zone, however, women, family shelters could have smaller or possibly no buffers.

CM Robertson brought this exact point up at the end of the public hearing. Mayor Chelminiak, it might have been late, but you seem to cut her comment off after asking the council to state if anything was missing in terms of direction to the staff. I strongly urge you to consider the buffer requirements based on the shelters intake criteria (ID, gender, age, warrants, etc.).

Claim 7: Bravern residents had no impact from Lincoln Center low barrier shelter

One person testified that residents at Bravern apartments – the new luxury secured building on the other side of the highway I-405 – had no idea there was a low barrier shelter across the highway and had no negative impact. This may be true, but it is not comparable. The proposed Eastgate location has older unsecured townhomes and condos that are 250ft away unlike the Bravern. There are letters sent to council from Wilburton community and other neighborhoods and auto row businesses about crimes in the area. Please disregard misinformation of zero impact or crime increase from low barrier shelters.

Claim 8: Faith communities deserve 1-2 seats on the Neighborhood committee

Ms. Studders says that faith communities deserve 1-2 seats on the neighborhood committee because they are experts in the field. The goal of the committee is to execute the Good Neighborhood Agreement and it should be a conversation between the operator (who are the real experts) and the surrounding neighborhood residents and businesses. Faith community leaders that are not within the radius and possibly from Kirkland, Issaquah or Seattle have no business in that conversation. I would also like to remind you that in the LUCA survey results, people ranked “faith community involvement” the lowest. Please listen to the local residents and not special interest non-profit groups who should have no business in influencing legislative decisions.

Claim 9: Rotating year-round shelters will discontinue after the new permanent low barrier shelter is built

It always surprising to see CFH bring in homeless individuals to testify on their behalf. Will they bite the hand that feeds and shelters them? This practice should be deservedly frowned upon and CFH should face a harsh penalty if they forced him to testify.

The homeless individual from the CFH year-round shelter, said that he had trouble remembering the dates and where he was because they moved every month between host churches. I sympathize with him, but I hope someone from CFH will tell him that the shelter LUCA will not address his issue with rotating locations. Even after the low barrier permanent shelter is built, I am told that the rotating medium barrier church shelter program will continue its operation and this individual will not be sheltered at the brand new building. If you recall, David Bowling mentioned how an individual from their low barrier shelter moved to the year around church shelter and then toward permanent housing.

Claim 10: Wilburton TOD, the most important TOD in the world, is unworthy of a shelter
A member of the Wilburton TOD CAC, testified that a shelter in the precious Wilburton TOD commercial district will deter the vision created by the CAC. We should all thank Wren for his great work on the CAC and disregard the folks who also worked hard on the Eastgate and other TODs. If you have read this far, I hope you sense my sarcasm. No TOD should trump another TOD or neighborhoods due to a personal relationships or campaign donations. The LUCA must be fair and not give a special exclusion to Wilburton, Spring District or any TODs.

Request 1: Review possible code of ethics violation. An appearance of a conflict of interest

Mike Katterman, a Board member of CFH and was also a staff on Planning department for a long time. Though he was never on a project directly related to the CFH shelter he was assigned to affordable housing TAG where he invited his friends from CFH and Imagine Housing. A while back I had mentioned to the council that there was an appearance of a conflict of interest because CFH was getting a lot of special “gifts” and that there was a CFH Board member on staff. A permanent shelter for men on free public land and a nice new free building with nice new free office space may make sense, but giving it all to CFH to operate without an RFP from other operators did not. I never received a response to this but I later heard that Mike had left CoB and joined another city.

At the hearing, Mike testified, as a Board member of CFH, AGAINST buffers and other safety measures in the draft LUCA along with his other CFH Board member friends. It was evident to me, that he wants an easy path and fewer requirements for his organization that is already benefiting substantially from the special treatment.

Today I learned from Stephanie Walter, current EBCC vice chair and former Planning Commission (PC) chair, that Mike Katterman acted as staff liaison to the PC while they were working on the Eastgate TOD. This was during the same time parallel discussions were going on between CFH and staff about using Eastgate KC parcel as the ONLY site for the CFH low barrier men’s shelter. Why did Mike withhold the homeless shelter details from PC at that time? Why was staff attempting to set up the shelter code under “transient housing” as ACUP when PC specifically asked for CUP? I am not sure if Mike withheld the shelter information under someone’s direction or other reasons, but it is a mystery that PC was purposely kept in the dark. In fact, that time was the perfect opportunity for PC and public involvement and collaboration. When the public asked the council to include the LUC experts from PC in the shelter LUCA, we were told that PC was too busy now with other priorities. Did Mike or some other staffers feel that PC or public involvement would hinder the process back then? Mike/CFH has everything to gain from the shelter LUCA because there is no RFP or competition from other operators for a low barrier men’s shelter. Who decided that there would be no Request for Proposal for the free public land?

I am not making accusations because I don’t have all the information. I struggle to understand how Katterman could objectively and fairly act in the official capacity as an agent of both CFH and City of Bellevue concurrently while being involved in city discussions that attempted to enable favorable land use codes, and allocated public funds and assets to CFH and none of its competitors. It is rare for any city to give away public land to a specific private organization without a bidding process and this is why it doesn’t pass the smell test.

I hope that these questions can be answered in an open and honest way at the local government level. I ask the council to find answers and let the public know as soon as possible. It is your job to ensure no laws or ethics codes are being violated and that the public’s goodwill and assets are not being distributed in a corrupt manner. Public trust is crucial to an effective government.

Request 2: Prioritize Bellevue residents at a public hearing before those from other cities

Ms. Karen Studders did a commendable job and took great pride in organizing the tea party at city hall for the special interest non-profit faith communities from Bellevue and other cities who were able to sign up as a block for the first 2 hours of the hearing. Sadly this attempted to delay the voice of some of the local Bellevue residents and perhaps even caused some of them to leave due to the time of the night. I hope you will find a way to prioritize Bellevue residents to speak first before those from outside the city. Residents from other cities must not be allowed to play games to tire or drown out the local voices. It continues to amaze me how boldly non-profits use their resources and network to influence legislative matters and endanger their non-profit status with IRS.

Thank you for reading.

Best regards,
Tuli Davenport
Bellevue citizen

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