A recent KOMO TV piece about emergency calls to DESC’s programs in the 500 block of Third Avenue did not provide a complete view of what is occurring and why.
Yes, there are lots of emergency calls to this location. (Though not as many as referenced in the TV piece which included duplicates and calls that were canceled prior to any response.) The overwhelming majority of those calls are to DESC’s large emergency shelter program and are for people experiencing a health crisis. That’s because the shelter program serves a very particular purpose for the community: when law enforcement agencies, hospitals, and jails are trying to help people with significant behavioral health disabilities and complex medical conditions find somewhere to go upon release/discharge, the DESC shelter is their primary resource.
The shelter provides basic services: a safe place to sleep, bathrooms and showers, healthcare for physical and behavioral health needs, meals, and case managers to help people escape homelessness. We wish we had the resources to provide even more of these services. People typically first come to the shelter during the worst times of their lives. Our dedicated staff are committed to providing deep support and a therapeutic environment. Because the population of people using the shelter has higher needs than any other location in our community, medical and behavioral health crises are common.
We respond to emergencies in robust and varied ways. DESC staff are on hand at all times to talk with clients about what is going on, what help they need, and explore solutions. Sometimes that act of directly responding to someone dealing with severe stress is enough to keep a crisis from escalating further. Other times, additional support is needed.
On-site nurses and doctors are able to see people for a wide array of health conditions, and data show that when medical personnel are on site fewer emergency calls are made. We are pleased to be working with the City of Seattle on expansion of these on-site medical resources so more support is available.
When outside help is needed, DESC staff call a nurseline to consult about whether a 911 call is warranted. This is in place via a partnership with the Seattle Fire Department, and has helped reduce emergency medical calls to the shelter. Situations requiring direct support for emergency medical services or police intervention result in a 911 call. DESC staff greet emergency personnel upon arrival and supply key information to help with a speedy resolution to the problem. We have deep respect for the first responders who come to the aid of DESC and our clients.
The shelter environment can be intense and stressful, and we don’t discount the experiences some people say they have had. The TV piece failed to explore the stories of any of the people currently or recently using the shelter, or the many people who received life-saving care at the shelter and were able to move on to housing. In fact, within the network of shelters in King County, no shelter directly moved more people into permanent housing than the main DESC shelter.
We are strongly focused on developing ways to make the shelter environment as safe and healing as it can be. We don’t like to turn people away and so have always brought as many vulnerable people inside as possible. We continually evaluate programs to find the right balance of efficiency and care to best meet the needs of so many people with profound challenges.
The real solution to all these problems is safe and affordable housing for everyone. This will allow people who have experienced crisis to experience greater benefit from treatment at DESC and elsewhere.