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Renton proposes six month deadline to remove hundreds staying at Red Lion Inn COVID-19 shelter

As a result of the fight over the county’s de-intensification shelter, which provides housing for homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic and caused an increase in public safety services in the spring, Renton is introducing code to create stricter guidelines for all homeless shelters

The battle between the county and Renton over a 200-plus person shelter at the Red Lion Hotel rages on as the city is now presenting an emergency ordinance that would give the shelter six months to relocate, and create strict rules for all homeless shelters within city limits.

The city held a public hearing explaining the ordinance at the Nov. 23 Renton City Council meeting.

The proposed code changes, drafted by the city as an emergency ordinance, was not brought to city’s planning commission beforehand. It argues, as has been Renton leaders argument since the shelter was put in place this spring, that the use of the hotel as a longterm shelter is not compliant with city code, and it modifies the code to address this as well as put new rules in place for all Renton facilities primarily used as shelters for people who are homeless.

The city’s code change would also ask shelter operators to create a code of conduct and name consequences for those staying in their shelter for violations of city code offsite, when they are out at businesses, public parks or transit stops, and that the shelter operator must present plans to mitigate behaviors of their guests offsite. Homeless shelters can also not house more than 100 residents or the number of beds they have.

No homeless services would be able to operate in Renton as the current ordinance is written, opponents of the ordinance argued at the public comment for the Nov. 23 meeting. For many who support the county’s use of the hotel, the health of the people living in the hotel amid the pandemic is the most important issue. Seattle-King County Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin wrote in a letter to council that the city’s six-month timeline is not realistic at the rate of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every single bed and every single room is helping keep the spread of COVID down and preserving people’s lives,” Director of the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness Alison Eisinger said at the meeting.

Several housing advocates showed up to the meeting virtually and over the phone to speak against the ordinance, which will be voted for on first reading on Dec. 7. Two Renton residents also spoke out against the ordinance, including Joseph Todd, who has frequently commented at council as a leader of the Renton Residents for Change, and was muted mid-sentence by the city during his comment for not staying on topic, according to a warning he received moments before by city staff, after he criticized those in support of the ordinance.

Other Renton residents and local business advocates have previously supported the city’s move. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Diane Dobson spoke at the council meeting about the affects the residents of the shelter have had on businesses in the Renton Village next door, and how Renton residents are having to live with the “ramifications of the decisions being made about the community,” those ramifications being the presence and behaviors of people staying at the Red Lion, which did increase police 911 calls in spring in that area.

She noted that while it was fantastic that shelter individuals have seen health improvements during their stay at the hotel, the county should be offering more financial support for the businesses that have been impacted by the shelter. She later thanked city leadership for their work on this effort.

The owners of the Red Lion continue to support its use as a shelter. Since agreeing to use the hotel as a shelter, one Red Lion Hotel Inn local business owner has been met with “unbelievable discrimination and harassment” in the community of Renton, where he has lived for 30 years, according to the hotel’s lawyer who spoke at the council meeting. The lawyer also said there will be subsequent litigation if the council moves forward with this ordinance as written.

The council moved to keep the written comment portion of the public hearing for this ordinance to pen until Dec. 1. Testimony can be submitted to council via email at council@rentonwa.gov.


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