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Renton considers vacating Red Lion Hotel sheltering 200 homeless people

The City of Renton and King County are at odds over how to handle the Red Lion Hotel, which currently houses more than 200 homeless people.

Renton city leaders are considering a plan that would force more than 200 homeless people to move elsewhere. The city council is mulling a six-month plan to vacate a hotel-turned-shelter. 

This comes amid disagreements between officials and leaders at the Red Lion Hotel over the hotel's operation and number of homeless occupants. 

"They moved about 230 homeless individuals of downtown Seattle into a thriving business district in the center of Renton,” said Chip Vincent, administrator for Renton's Community & Economic Development department. 

He added that there have been several concerns brought to the city by leaders and residents about the recent influx of homeless tenants and how it could affect the city in the future. There have been a number of ordinances proposed to head off any possible issues.

"This is being very humane, but recognizing that these types of facilities have a surrounding impact on the neighborhoods in which they're located," Vincent said. 

The Red Lion Hotel and Conference Center in Renton was turned into a homeless shelter in April, shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. King County officials said hundreds of homeless people were relocated from the Morrison Hotel Shelter in Seattle. At last check, 11,751 people were experiencing homelessness countywide. 

King County officials released a statement, saying in part: "The County has been in conversations with city staff since May 2020 about the need to establish facilities to address COVID-19, yet it was just last week that we learned that the city was considering an ordinance. This short notice period leaves the County, and other stakeholders, without an adequate opportunity to participate in the process of developing this legislation."

Renton officials insist they are not trying to kick the homeless out, but they simply want the guidelines to be clear.

"More than anything else, it's really a clarification of our rules given the issues and challenges we've faced with the Red Lion," Vincent said. 

So far, King County and the city of Renton haven't been able to agree on terms regarding the space. As a result, King County was issued a violation, which they appealed. The case is now in court.

The homeless occupants would not be kicked out this year. If a removal ordinance is passed, the new date would be June 1.