I live in Renton's Red Lion homeless shelter. It must stay open

The Renton City Council is voting Monday on the shelter's future. I don't know what I'll do if it closes.

People experiencing homelessness were relocated from Downtown Emergency Service Center shelters to a Red Lion Hotel in Renton on April 9, 2020. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

My name is Mark. I’m a resident at a shelter created at the Red Lion Hotel in Renton after COVID-19 hit earlier this year. If you would have asked me seven months ago whether I’d be in a shelter, I probably would have told you no. The positive side of where I am now, though, is something that I didn’t expect: the assistance, help getting on my feet again and a physical address.

You don’t know when you’re going to become homeless. There’s an acronym — “YET” — which stands for “you’re eligible too.” It means something like this can happen to you in no time. You find yourself under all your expenditures, you’re extended out and what are you going to do?

Before I arrived at the Red Lion, I was living with a partner and found myself in an incredibly difficult domestic situation. I’ve been clean for three years and, in order to stay that way, I knew I needed to leave. Without any other alternatives, I found myself homeless and eventually landed at the Downtown Emergency Service Center, which helped set up the affiliate shelter in the hotel. 

Having now moved into the Red Lion, what a blessing it’s been! Who’d have thought that I’d still be here? I’m grateful to have a room, a place to shower and eat — and that’s just the basics. Shelter, food, clothing — all those needs are being met in addition to soft skills classes and assistance if you have mental health issues.

I know the community had some apprehensions, but if you look at yourself, that humanitarian part of yourself, this could be you. I read a study from the University of Washington that said our hotel and others like it have improved health, made people more stable, and are helping more people return to permanent housing. Plus, 911 calls have gone down from shelters.

In Renton, the businesses around here have been welcoming; plus, we’re an influx into their economy. But now we hear that the Renton City Council wants to shut down this facility. That doesn’t make us feel good. Homeless people come from everywhere in King County, and Renton shouldn’t be able to pretend like we don’t exist — especially in a health crisis like COVID-19.

I look around and see so many people doing so much better than when they came in, taking up exercise, eating well, feeling safe, having dignity restored and becoming part of the Renton community. Where will we go if this place is shut down? Where will I go? This hotel has been so important to me and the people I know — we don’t want to face an uncertain future. At the end of the day, if this facility closes down and we are forced to vacate, I’d have to scramble to start over, to find suitable accommodations somewhere I can feel safe and warm again. It would be absolutely devastating to me and all of the residents here. 

There are homeless people in Renton and likely more people becoming homeless every day here. Where are they going to go? I’m so thankful and appreciative of the neighbors who have shown support for us and the community that has embraced us. I think COVID-19 has made it hard for us to share that experience so more neighbors can see that everyone deserves a place to call home.

This has been one of the few bright spots of this year, that the community came together to support people experiencing homelessness. I appreciate this opportunity, and I hope that Renton will continue to welcome us instead of turning us away in our moment of need.