For Seattle’s homeless, ‘Urban Rest Stop’ provides relief

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SEATTLE — For most, personal hygiene is simply a matter of walking into their bathroom and washing up. But for the homeless, that’s impossible. A proposed Urban Rest Stop in Ballard would provide that sort of help to those without a place to live.

A patch of land located at 2014 NW 57th Street in Ballard is the site of a proposed senior housing development. It will be six stories high and house 51 units. It will also house an “Urban Rest Stop” for the homeless on the ground floor, allowing people facilities to clean up and to access restrooms and laundry facilities.

According to the city, Ballard has the most pervasive homeless population outside of the downtown Seattle core. Over the past few years, the community has seen a rise in the number of homeless living in cars parked along the streets.

“If you want someone to be self-sufficient, to have a job, to maintain a job or to get into school and to be treated equally, you need to be clean and presentable,” said Ronni Gilboa, program manager for the downtown Urban Rest Stop.

Located at 9th and Virginia, the facility has been in place since 2000 and provides homeless or low-income people and families a place to clean up, shower, do laundry and access other resources.

Gilboa said in the 12 years it’s been there she rarely sees any problems because the patrons rely so much on the services they provide. She said those who use it know if cops are called out often, the service will likely be eliminated.

“There isn’t a need for the police to be here. The majority of people here are here to take care of themselves in a safe clean, welcoming environment where they can access the services that they need,” she said.

Ken Cuff has seen some hard times recently. After losing his job of 11 years, he wound up on the streets.

“It’s nice to be able to come here and clean up and take a shower, your own personal shower … for 15 minutes and wash your clothes,” he said.

He said the facility in  downtown Seattle has helped him to keep his self-respect during his hard times. “People make a decision about somebody or an assessment within 10 seconds,” he said.

Gilboa said she also sees a lot of families with children, and most of the people who use the facility are employed but only at minimum wage. And though she understands neighbors’ concerns, she says rest stops improve the lives of those living in poverty and, in turn, improve the neighborhood.

“If you’re not using the Rest Stop, they’re going to clean up in a McDonald’s? We have expectations that you’re going to behave yourself, that you’re going to treat the other people and staff with respect, you’re going to treat our neighborhood with respect, and we have relationships with the various buildings around us and if we hear that somebody has done something they shouldn’t do and they’re identified as a Rest Stop  patron, they’re denied service,” Gilboa said.

The Low-Income Housing Institute has just opened a Rest Stop in the U-District in recent months. So far there have been no complaints from residents.

Meanwhile at the location in Ballard, the institute is forming a community advisory committee to help with the proposed Urban Rest Stop.

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  • SilverDragon

    It's great to see that there are a couple of cummunities out there that are finally thinking about and helping the homeless. Now what we need to do is put these rest stops in every city so that they are available for ALL of the homeless. There are many here in Kent and Auburn that I know and they would love to be able to go someplace to wash up and do laundry without being harrased by the police.

  • Karyl

    This is wonderful, and should be in every city's plan. It is hard enough to be out on the streets or living in your car if you're lucky enough to have one, but access to bathrooms should be everyone's concern. It's a public health issue as well as an issue for the homeless population. Having laundry facilities is icing on the cake. While there may be any number of clothing banks, or clothing exchanges available to the homeless population, those do nothing to help those folks who have a job and maybe have a uniform, but have no place to keep it clean in order to maintain their employment.

    Good for you Seattle! I hope the idea spreads far and wide.

  • Sadek

    Dis is wonderful. I personally use dis resource downtown and will use it when the Ballard one opens after going to the Ballard food bank. There was a blond man that volunteers at the downtown URS that help me find place to stay at te SHARE WHEEL shelter system. Thank God for him or i dont know what i do.

  • EAF

    The local community in the area is wiling to support these services, and understands the value. The report fails the mention two key issues: 1) Is mixing this service in the same residence as senior housing appropriate? No. 2) A big oversight in both the story and planning is that there is already a significant problem on this specific street with people living in their vans that are dealing drugs, littering and bringing in an unstable environment. Yes, there are people of genuine need that can use the URS service, but this service will only feed an already uncontrolled issue that preexists on that strip of 24th. The place for the URS should be near the food bank, in a more commercial presence. This is poor planning and poor control that will only lead to more ignored issues on a residential street.

  • DLB

    I couldn't agree more, EAF. The Urban Rest Stop should be near the food bank, in a more commercial area and closer to where most of Ballard's car campers are. The proposed site on 57th Street is surrounded by residences and as you pointed out, there is already an increasing problem with vagrancy, drug dealing, drunkkeness and other undesirable behavior at Ballard Commons Park, at the corner of 22nd and 57th, less than a block away from the proposed site. That area needs to be cleaned up.

  • MFS

    The problem is one of short sightedness.

    Some people read about this idea and think it sounds great…after all, who could be against providing a basic life service to an underserved population?

    But the whole picture is that this is the middle of a residential neighborhood, and the people promoting and supporting the idea don't live there. Lots of things sound like a great idea when it's not bringing addicts and mentally ill people to YOUR doorstep.

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