By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Hoping to find justice and answers to their questions surrounding the building of a controversial establishment, Kwame Amoateng, Kristin Wall, and others in their neighborhood formed an alliance. They call themselves the Jackson Place Alliance for Equity (JPAE). This group was organized in early November last year.
JPAE is an organized neighborhood group focused on addressing concerns regarding placing the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC)’s crisis center in the Jackson Place residential community on South Lane Street. The building is currently vacant and located in the Central area of Seattle.
What is DESC?
The DESC has already signed the lease to house their crisis solutions center at Jackson Place.
Amoateng states that the construction for the building would begin this summer.
According to government-issued documents, the DESC center is to serve as a crisis support center for 46 individuals who are severe substance abusers or who are mentally unstable. Most of these individuals have committed a variety of criminal offenses.
The center will have two units, the Crisis Diversion Facility (CDF) and the Crisis Diversion Interim Service (CDIS).
The CDF will have 16 beds to house individuals who are diverted primarily from jail systems across the county in lieu of serving jail time. The CDIS will have 30 beds for up to 14-day stays for individuals who are released from the CDF, but remain homeless.
Department of Corrections vehicles, police cars, and other first responder vehicles are expected to deliver individuals to the facility, which will be open 24 hours, seven days a week.
King County is the funding organization for the center.
Jackson Place has two addresses at 1600 South Lane, which is vacant, and 1618 South Lane, which houses a few business offices.
Wall, a board member of the alliance, who moved to South Lane Street in 2008, said that the JPAE’s concerns are centered around the fact that city elected officials, including council members, the city attorney, and the DESC, have violated a fair, transparent legal process of siting the Crisis Solutions Center on South Lane Street.
Recently, the JPAE attained a police incident report for the different DESC locations in Seattle.
“The incident reports have provided good insight to what our neighborhood can expect on South Lane Street and was a big discovery that unfolded last week,” she said.
Specifically, there were 208 events that required police assistance, and of those, 16 resulted in arrests from Nov. 8, 2010 to Feb. 7, 2011 in the downtown Seattle and Eastlake locations.
Wall explained that the incidents ranged from noise complaints and detox to rape and assault cases. “The types of activities [in the reports] could very well be applicable to our neighborhood as well,” Wall said.
Public records obtained by the JPAE show the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has been working with the DESC since July 2010 to help the DESC classify the crisis center as a hospital instead of a jail or work release facility. This will avoid a lengthy permit and public comments process. According to land use codes, a hospital would be considered a permissible use at 1600 and 1618 South Lane Street. However, Wall said documents reveal the crisis center is not a hospital, and incarceration uses are not permissible. Wall said if proper processes were followed, the crisis center would not be permitted for siting without notice to the public and a full, transparent, public review process.
“We believe in [DESC’s] cause and what they’re trying to do. What we take issue with is the process of the citing of the location. All legal measures have been ignored and overlooked,” Wall said.
Amoateng said that the community thought the best way to address their issues was to retain an attorney and city planner to help them better understand what was happening.
“We needed to form an organization to actively engage the services of an attorney and to get the community together to address these issues,” he said.
Amoateng, another board member of JPAE, moved to Jackson Place in 2008, but has lived in the Central District since 2005. He stressed that the community members do not have animosity against the mentally ill or homeless. Rather, they wanted to make sure the city and county have given this due process that it deserves, to make sure they have been transparent in making the decision regarding the crisis solutions center.
“Our biggest concern right now is whether or not the right processes have been followed,” he said.
On the other hand, proponents of the crisis center say that it will serve a vital function in giving people help and saving taxpayers money.
“The Crisis Solutions Center is a long time in coming,” said Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. “Supported by state and local funds and overseen by King County, it will provide a safe and humane place for people to recover. It will also save taxpayers money because currently, people who are on the street and suffering from mental illness or chemical dependency have few good options. If they are picked up by the police, they are taken to one of two places, Harborview Medical Center and King County Jail. These are costly interventions and, in many cases, are ineffective. This center will offer a third place where a person in crisis can be brought for immediate assessment and [can be] provided appropriate care.”
Bagshaw also pointed out that Seattle is the first to employ the use of these centers.
“Regionally, Portland, Pierce County, and Bellingham have taken the lead, and their efforts are working. Our goal is to give police and treatment providers another tool to steer people in crisis into proper treatment and help them stabilize their lives. The Crisis Solutions Center is a step in the right direction,” said Bagshaw.
Amoateng, Wall, and other community members are also concerned about the changes in the socioeconomic dynamics in the neighborhood.
“Anytime you have an institution such as what is being proposed planted in a residential neighborhood, it goes without saying that the socio dynamics will change. Clearly, people will have to amend their ways to accommodate that facility,” Amoateng said. “For instance, parents will be hesitant about letting their children take walks or ride bikes in the neighborhood. These are some of the questions that parents have been raising, and these are legitimate questions, but they want to know how safe are they going to feel if there’s a facility that will be housing people who have committed crimes.”
“But whenever people raise these questions, they’re immediately painted as people who are insensitive to these social issues,” added Amoateng, “and it’s really not about that, but it’s about finding answers to our questions about the changes in the community.”
Another concern centers around the uncertainty of the people wandering into the neighborhood after they are released from the center.
Now, the JPAE must sit and wait to find out the answers to their questions and prepare for the potential construction of the center. ♦
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.