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'Left in the dark': Chinatown-International District business owner frustrated over lack of input in shelter expansion

Community members in the Chinatown International District are fighting back today against what they call a lack of transparency within King County.

SEATTLE — Community members in Seattle's Chinatown-International District are fighting back against what they call a "lack of transparency" within King County.

Some are saying they were left out of conversations about a homeless shelter expansion in SODO, the International District and Pioneer Square.

“We’re completely left in the dark," said business owner Tanya Woo. For those in the Chinese International District, it's history repeating itself.

“It feels like King County and the City of Seattle is engaged in this pattern of institutional racism that they may not be aware that they are engaging in and they need to know that it needs to stop,” Woo said. 

She is a business owner and part of the Chinatown International District Community Watch.

She witnessed the struggle from the last three years. 

“Anti-Asian hate," she said. "A lot of pandemic racism, crime, our businesses were seriously struggling.”

Add in the recent Sound Transit re-design plans that would displace five to nineteen businesses and take eleven years of construction. Woo said, “Our culture is very polite; we don’t like to make waves and so we get take advantage of.”

Woo and other community members found out last month about a major expansion of a homeless shelter near SODO, the Chinatown International District and Pioneer Square. The project had already passed through the King County council in May.

The shelter will house nearly 500 people, and provide space for RV's and a sobering center. The enhanced shelter project costs around $22 million to operate through a variety of funding sources.

“We have about five shelters in this district and we feel like we’re already overburdened," said Woo. She said it’s not the unhoused, but those that prey on them, citing drug dealers and sex workers.

Woo described the lack of input in this decision. 

“We had one meeting which was the public safety council meeting and they claim that was their community outreach.”

According to that May council meeting, the King County Department of Community and Human Services met with the SODO BIA. Leo Flor is the director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services and explained that the expanded SODO Hub is part of a larger plan by King County Executive Dow Constantine to add 24/7 shelter with services to people experiencing homelessness in downtown Seattle, SODO and nearby neighborhoods. 

The plan includes bringing shelter space, supportive services and behavioral health services together so people "can come in from living outside, stabilize and move forward on the path to permanent housing," the statement reads. 

The project in SODO will expand onto the land next to an existing shelter where there is currently an encampment. 

"The creation of this project's additional shelter will provide a resolution to the encampment," Flor said.

Without the project, the current shelter would have been forced to close, leaving 270 people without a place to go. Instead, the shelter is expanding, adding an additional 150 spaces.

Flor said the county connected with more than a dozen community groups before the lease for the space was sent to the county council, one meeting hosted by the SODO BIA and another hosted by the CID Public Safety Council. Flor said the King County Regional Homelessness Authority plans to hire a dedicated outreach person to work directly with community in the Chinese International District as part of the project.

Woo said she would have just liked a seat at the table when the decision was made. 

“They can not make decisions for our community without our input,” she said.

The Chinatown International District is hosting their own informational meeting about the expansion. It will be on Sept. 8 from 5-6:30 p.m. at Hing Hay Park.


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