In late 2018, King County asked DESC to run a low barrier, 24/7 shelter in the former West Wing of the King County jail. We knew that a thoughtful process was going to be important while deciding if we should consider this project, given what jail means for our clients and marginalized people.
We immediately realized that we needed our clients to directly inform this decision. We toured several client groups through the space and conducted client surveys. In short, our clients told us we need more shelter, and if done right, the West Wing could be a great option.
Our clients’ recommendations were taken to heart and informed the conversion of the space. The West Wing is completely cut off from the jail with no interaction between correctional staff and DESC staff or our guests. After making significant renovations, it feels like the space has been reclaimed. We’ve made concerted efforts to take a space once meant to incarcerate people and convert it into a space our clients will freely seek out for shelter and enhanced services.
The culmination of months of work will happen on Sunday, March 31st, when we open the West Wing Shelter will open with 40 beds available for men. These guests will be referred via our Main Shelter, with priority given to the most vulnerable and those struggling with more traditional shelter models.
Guests will “enroll” in the West Wing, meaning they keep their bed without the need to check in daily. There is no curfew, and guests will be able to come and go as they like. There will be ample storage space for clients’ belongings, but pets will not be allowed on site.
We hope to increase the shelter’s capacity to 100 beds in the coming months.