Collaboration, communication and the facts are critical | Guest column

By Carmen Rivera, Guest column

Throughout my life living in Renton, I have witnessed firsthand the toxicity of its politics. The deliberate spread of misinformation and fear-mongering among voters is a particularly lazy tactic that disappoints me. Recently, as I read the August 31st edition of the Renton Reporter, I was disheartened to find blatant lies published on the front page. The article in question, titled “Kennydale Hotel Seen as a Potential Homeless Shelter,” featured statements of misinformation from a conservative-leaning former council member and a career politician with 27 years of experience. It is disconcerting to see such falsehoods propagated.

One such falsehood stated in the article is, “22% of hotel rooms in Renton serve as homeless shelters dedicated to the King County Regional Housing Authority, with the potential addition of the Econo Long to raise that number to 29%,” which is inarguable untrue. The Ordinance 5996: Emergency Interim Zoning Controls – Homeless Shelters, which passed 5-2 by the Renton City Council in December 2020, led to the current closure of the largest emergency shelter in Renton, the Red Lion. Corman was among the five yes votes, a proponent of the ordinance and closure. Now, we are experiencing the consequences of an uptick of individuals trying to survive on our streets with limited, adequate wraparound services.

We have also seen a decline in journalistic integrity, including fact-checking and vetting sources. Renton does not provide 22% of hotel rooms as current homeless shelters. The Red Lion lies useless, and though it was well located, it sorely needed wraparound services, including workforce development and better regulations. The Extended Stay located on Oakesdale Avenue, purchased in 2021, is only half the size of the Red Lion with 107 beds and provides permanent supportive housing for adult men and women. According to the Regional Services Database, the only emergency shelter operating in Renton is for families with children under 18, with 12 beds. There are two transitional housing providers in Renton: Vision House for families with children under 18 with 73 beds and Way Back Inn with a total bed inventory of 24 for the same demographic. The Veteran Affairs Puget Sound Healthcare provides 161 beds of permanent housing along with Compass Housing Alliance and 39 beds of supportive permanent housing in Renton for families with children under 18, single adults and couples, focusing on veterans.

Anne Martens from King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) promptly responded to my email inquiry, stating “we do not know where Randy Corman got his numbers, as he did not ask us,” and provided a list of hotels programs funded through KCRHA: Reclaim Snoqualmie Valley (voucher-based, Sno Valley only has one shelter), Angeline’s in Seattle (ran by YWCA, voucher-based, women only, and closing at end of year), Civic Hotel in Seattle, Kings Inn in Seattle (closed), New Bethlehem in Kirkland (partial hotel), and Congregations for the Homeless in Bellevue (voucher-based). The only Health Through Housing building in Renton is the Sidney Wilson House, which is permanent supportive housing with 107 units available for accommodation. Catholic Community Services are the building operators.

Martens shared accurate data that 5,695 people enrolled in the homeless emergency response system (through street outreach, Coordinated Entry, or a housing program) reported one of the South King County cities as their city of last residence. South King County has just 529 emergency shelter beds and reserves 74% for families or women with children. According to Martens, only two emergency shelters in South King allow drop-in guests, further limiting access to shelter and support services. Lastly, Renton’s severe weather shelter, managed by REACH Renton on 300 Rainier, has begun the process of being demolished as it is no longer safe to use.

The quote from Corman in the Renton Reporter states, “We have more of these shelters than anybody (in the region),” which is categorically false. According to the Regional Service Database, there are 66 emergency shelters in Seattle, 14 in East King County (Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond), 14 emergency shelters in South King County (Auburn, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, Renton, and Skyway), and one in South East King County in Maple Valley. Snoqualmie Valley and North King County (Kenmore and Shoreline) have the fewest emergency shelters.

As a lifelong Renton resident, former candidate, and current elected, I have learned that collaboration and communication are critical. Renton needs leaders who can communicate and collaborate with KCRHA, our neighboring cities and county government to find solutions, not continually make excuses or pass the buck. The region needs more low-income, multi-family housing through partnerships with Habitat for Humanity, like the new La Fortuna neighborhood. Additionally, with nearly 50% of Renton residents renting with rental rates on par with Seattle rent, we need better protections to prevent people from losing their homes. Everyone deserves to live with dignity.

Carmen Rivera serves on the Renton City Council and is a professor at Seattle University.