Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, some cities in King County decided to move people out of homeless shelters and into hotels.
Researchers with the University of Washington conducted a study with the King County Department of Community and Human Services and determined the initiative helped limit the spread of COVID-19, according to a news release from the university.
“Moving people from large shelters to individual hotel rooms not only succeeded in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but also provided security, privacy and dignity to hundreds of people in our region experiencing homelessness,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement.
The county leased rooms from hotels in Seattle, Bellevue, Renton and SeaTac in April, the university said. Those staying in the hotels were given private rooms and access to meals on a consistent basis.
The hotels did not allow other guests to stay during the initiative.
The study showed that “fewer clusters and outbreaks of COVID-19” were found “among individuals who stayed in hotels” compared to people who stayed in “large-group shelter settings,” according to the university. Not only did the initiative serve its primary purpose of curbing the spread of COVID-19, it also “improved physical and mental health, and the ability to focus on finding “housing, employment and education.”
Constantine said the study shows that the initiative needs to be expanded in the coming months.
“This study conclusively demonstrates the positive impacts of providing our most vulnerable neighbors a place to call their own and 24/7 support,” and it underscores the urgency in expanding these efforts in the coming months,” Constantine said.
King County has 23,351 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 780 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Interviews from hotel staff and people staying at four hotels over the summer showed people reported benefits like “increased feelings of stability associated with consistent access to a private room; improved health and well-being, including sleep hygiene and mental health; reduced conflict, as evidenced by declines in 911 call volume from shelters; more time to think about and take steps toward future goals; and higher rates of exits to permanent housing.”
“What we learned from our interviews was how incredibly grateful the people were who moved to hotels. It was a total life-changer for them,” Gregg Colburn, an assistant professor of real estate at the university, said. “A little privacy, good sleep, and consistent meals can have a very significant impact on individual well-being.”
Researchers also used data from the King County Homeless Management Information System, the Washington Disease Reporting System and Seattle Fire dispatch reports.
Homeless in Seattle
“Seattle’s homelessness crisis has been years in the making, and its roots run deep, touching racial inequity, economic disparities, mental health treatment, rising housing costs, mental health addiction and so much more,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement posted on the city’s website.
King County’s homeless population has mostly grown in the last decade, excluding in 2019 when there was a slight drop, Seattle PI reported. There were about 9,000 people experiencing homelessness in the county in 2010 and that number grew to over 12,100 in 2018.
The population of people experiencing homelessness dropped some in 2019 to about 11,200, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Washington had a total homeless population of nearly 21,600, the agency reported.
“It is too soon to determine” how the pandemic will affect the number of people experiencing homelessness, according to the agency. Many individuals experiencing homelessness have underlying health conditions or are over the age of 50, “suggesting they may be uniquely vulnerable to becoming seriously ill during the pandemic crisis.”