The city’s severe weather shelter is the old Chamber of Commerce building next to Renton Municipal Airport. It had 433 guests from Feb. 3 to Feb. 13 during the snow event. On Thursday, Feb. 28, someone in Renton was continuing to seek shelter as they slept outside of the building. Photo by Haley Ausbun.

The city’s severe weather shelter is the old Chamber of Commerce building next to Renton Municipal Airport. It had 433 guests from Feb. 3 to Feb. 13 during the snow event. On Thursday, Feb. 28, someone in Renton was continuing to seek shelter as they slept outside of the building. Photo by Haley Ausbun.

REACH searches for permanent shelter location

Renton leaders look for emergency weather shelter plans

It’s cold out there, and the city is prepared with its emergency weather shelter. But after this winter, Renton will need a new location for the shelter and a dinner feeding program, as the location at 300 Rainier Ave. will be sold and redeveloped.

For the last year, the city has been considering two proposals for the building, as previously reported by Renton Reporter: a plaza called The Aviator, or a coffee roaster and shop Yene Boona Café. The city council also voted on an ordinance to create an airport landside leasing policy, to help guide the leasing of 300 Rainier to one of the interested parties, at the Dec. 9 council meeting.

Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches (REACH) Executive Director Bianca Davis-Lovelace said they’ve always known the home was a temporary one — while they do not operate the city’s weather shelter, they do have a breakfast warm-up and dinner feeding program out of the old chamber building.

“I knew we were on borrowed time,” she said.

The building being used as a shelter and feeding program is not considered a conforming use for the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the city. The property, being on airport land, must comply with FAA.

Davis-Lovelace said the city has advocated for REACH to stay in the building for as long as possible, but now they need to find a new space. The organization is hoping for a permanent location with a commercial kitchen and possibly room for a day and night shelter. She said REACH helps the city and Community Catholic Services with the severe weather shelter in any way it can, but is also busy with 55 parents and children at REACH Center of Hope during bad weather.

Renton Human Services Manager Guy Williams said he knows the city has the building until at least April 2020. After that, they have some other city facilities that could be used as a weather shelter if necessary.

The city’s 2020 legislative priorities, adopted by the city council on Nov. 25, includes seeking state capital funds to purchase a different location along Rainier Avenue that can house both REACH’s feeding program and the city’s severe weather shelter.

Last year, the February snowstorm, known as snowmageddon, took a toll on roads and services. Weather was so severe that the city found a way to house people who were homeless both day and night.

The shelter was over capacity almost every night, and day, requiring additional staffing, food and even some police services. That brought the human services department about $15,000 over budget for 2019, according to a monthly financial report, though the overall city remained under budget.

While the storm was underway, Williams looked towards Seattle’s use of a community center as a possible model for the future. Williams said they have agreed to use the Renton Senior Activity Center as a day shelter, if it is needed and if the other shelter is over-capacity.

The city follows the standard of other South King County cities to open emergency shelters when the temperature drops 32 degrees or below for over 24 hours, and nearby shelters have also opened. Human Services Manager Guy Williams said the city is hopeful, with the weather predictions, that it won’t come to that.

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