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$3 million 'mega tent' considered for Seattle's homeless

As Seattle works to add more shelter beds to get people off the streets, one proposal would cost millions to house up to 100 individuals.

Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is proposing the city spend $3 million next year to establish a "mass shelter tent" to expand the number of available shelter beds.

The money would come from the $89.5 million that Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed to spend to address the homelessness crisis next year. But as it was pointed out during a budget meeting Tuesday, that $3 million doesn't include operating costs.

It could cost as much as $2 million more to manage a shelter tent of the size that is being proposed.

"We want to be creative ... But I also want to put out a flag of concern on my behalf that this is proposed to be a $5 million project for the first year," Councilmember M. Lorena Gonzalez said.

The idea for a large tent stems from A Bridge Home program in Los Angeles. The large tent structures are considered "enhanced," and include features such as showers, storage, restrooms, laundry, open spaces and pet areas, case management, and mental health counseling. It would house 75-100 people at a time. Mosqueda says she believes, after seeing the LA model, that the sleeping arrangements allow for private spaces, with dividers. She stressed that she is not seeking, nor suggesting, the City pursue 'FEMA-style' shelters, with bunk beds as have been placed elsewhere.

Mosqueda says she understands this is not the solution. However, it could buy the city time as it makes investments in longer-term solutions.

"I offer this as one opportunity to explore as a potential way to get people inside..." she said.

A recent report found that far fewer homeless people in Seattle were willing to accept referrals to basic shelters, compared to enhanced shelters, tiny home villages, or sanctioned encampments. The report notes that low shelter bed availability made it difficult for the city's Navigation Team to get people off the streets.

The $3 million shelter is the largest on the list of proposals for spending on emergency services. Mosqueda believes there are numerous potential pieces of public land which could be used for such an endeavor. The Council is not expected to vote on any final budget until November.