Seattle's historic Pacific Hospital could house unsheltered youth

The Beacon Hill building would be a “launch pad” to prepare residents for independent adulthood.

exterior of the red brick Pacific tower on Seattle's beacon hill

The Pacific Medical Center building in 2012. (Courtesy of Joe Mabel)

Perched on the north end of Beacon Hill, gazing out over the stadiums and city, the Pacific Tower has lived many lives since its construction in 1932. It was built as a U.S. Marine Hospital to treat servicemen and veterans. It housed Amazon’s headquarters from 1998 to 2010. Today its lower floors still operate as a medical facility while its upper floors provide offices for community-based nonprofits, for-profit companies, and government agencies.

The nearly century-old campus still has remnants of its first life as a military hospital, including living quarters behind the main tower that once housed the head medical staff and attendants. Now a group of housing and homelessness advocates is pushing to refurbish those living quarters into housing and service space for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness.

The group wants to repurpose five living quarters on the campus: a single-family home, three duplexes and a dorm. The exact design is far from settled, but a consultant site analysis said the facilities could house up to 28 people and provide a “campus hub” space for service providers to work out of.

Advocates envision it serving 16- to 24-year-olds who’ve experienced homelessness but have either already received help for a behavioral health crisis or were never in crisis. It would be a “launching pad” for youth and young adults to develop independent living skills before going off on their own.

According to the 2023 Point-in-Time count, in King County 449 unaccompanied minors and 1,121 families with minors are experiencing homelessness – although that number is likely an undercount since it doesn’t include unstably housed young people couch-surfing with friends or family.  

Jim Theofelis, executive director of youth homelessness nonprofit NorthStar Advocates, said he wants the campus to have a range of housing types for residents to move through – from those with a level of supervision up to independent apartments. Counselors, legal advocates, educators and other service providers would use office and classroom space on the campus to provide support along with job and life-skills training.

“We want to have some services and support in the way a college campus might, but also have people going out into the community to find their own doctor or get services,” said Theofelis. “We’re not focused on fixing people, but launching them in the same way we want all 20- to 24-year-olds to navigate that next step of adulthood.”

Erin Chapman-Smith, YouthCare’s senior director of housing services, explained that existing housing and shelter for youth experiencing homelessness often targets those with the highest need for support, leaving fewer options for semi-independent young people who need a middle ground between permanent supportive housing and independent living.

“Youth and young adults are an exciting population to work with,” said Chapman-Smith. “Psychologically folks haven’t fully developed … so there is such a significant need for different types of housing. We have youth and young adults coming to our program with really varying levels of need.”

The idea to repurpose the Pacific Hospital living quarters has garnered support from the state Legislature, led by Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, who Theofelis said has been involved with the effort from the start. In 2022, the Legislature put $1 million in the state budget to fund the site analysis and planning, convene a working group and pay to lease the space from the Pacific Hospital Preservation and Development Authority (PHPDA), which manages the property.

Theofelis’s NorthStar Advocates led the working group, which brought together representatives from nonprofit advocacy groups, the PHPDA, state government agencies and youth who have experienced homelessness and behavioral health crises. That group produced a report for the Legislature with recommendations on how to use the space.

“The report is clear,” said Theofelis. “Young people were enthusiastic about saying this is the kind of model we want, that we want genuine opportunities to have safe living so we can start looking for our passions, our interests.”

The final decision for what gets built is ultimately up to the PHPDA. In an email, PHPDA executive director John Kim said they are still weighing their options: “We plan to continue our conversations with our community and with folks more knowledgeable than we are in the area of youth housing and services. This will help us better understand the implications of pursuing this option and what we will need to do to succeed.”

The Legislature earmarked another $5 million in the next two-year state budget to continue pre-development and planning for the Pacific Hospital living quarters. The site analysis report said the buildings would also be suitable for behavioral health, long-term care, developmentally disabled community housing, recovery residences, state-operated living alternatives, group homes, family-centered substance-use-disorder recovery housing, and other supportive housing programs.

Depending on what gets built, the analysis estimates total project costs could be upward of $39 million.

The Beacon Hill Council has voiced support for the youth housing idea.

“We have a saying, we don’t throw away our youth,” said Beacon Hill Council chair Maria Batayola. “It’s really important that we attend to those in need. … I like the fact that they’re looking at it holistically to say not just [that] we’re housing people because they finished treatment, but asking how can we support them through this really difficult journey?”

Batayola noted that the Council appreciated learning about the project idea early in the process. “Our experience of other changes in our neighborhood from the government is they come close to the tail end of the project.”

If the youth housing project gets built, it won’t be the only affordable housing on the Pacific Hospital campus. Last October, on the north end of the campus property, the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority broke ground on a 160-unit affordable-housing development for families that will also include early childhood education and community space. A second phase of the project will add another 110 units of housing.

Theofelis is, of course, hoping the PHPDA ultimately chooses to build the youth campus.

“Our country, our society is losing out on some incredible talent, brains, passion, resilience. These young people have persevered through some stuff most of us can’t even imagine,” Theofelis said. “Society has an interest in helping these young people at a critical age to get on track and launch them; not just stay on this track of system dependence and homelessness.”

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