To: City of Kent, Council and Mayor
Re: Proposed UGM Homeless Shelter
An Open Letter to the City of Kent:
I have some thoughts on the Homeless Shelter being proposed by Union Gospel Mission (UGM) for the Kent Resource Center. At the outset, let’s get a few distractions out of the way.
First, Few in our City object to services for the homeless. I certainly do not. We know that our tax dollars are used for those services. We are okay with that. Many of us also donate and volunteer for that cause.
Second, Nearly all of us have a warm spot in our heart for Union Gospel Mission.
Third, An issue like this quickly gets entangled in political correctness and warm fuzzies. In this economy, those are niceties we cannot afford. This decision needs to be by a process that is clear-eyed and hard-headed. People’s livelihoods and Kent’s business vitality and resurgence depend on the City not botching this.
Fourth, and finally, We do not concede the high ground – that somehow UGM and the other proponents of the shelter have an exclusive on the side of the angels. We are ALL warriors in the battle against homelessness. Organizations like UGM are on one flank of the frontline in that battle – they are working to get folks who are homeless out of that situation. We businesses are on the other flank of that same frontline – we are working to keep folks from becoming homeless. I believe that the risks we businesses take, and the investments and sacrifices we make for our businesses are every bit as honorable, virtuous and praiseworthy as what our allies like the UGM are doing on the other end of the front line in this battle. I challenge any implication that we are somehow being less compassionate as we take a position to protect the businesses in our City.
I am a long-time Kent resident and business owner. For several years I have had a special interest in the vitality of our Downtown. I am immediate Past-President of the Kent Downtown Partnership (KDP), which has as its mission the revitalization of the downtown retail area by helping the businesses there prosper. My comments here, however, are my own and are not intended to represent the position of the KDP or of my company. My business is located a couple of miles from the proposed shelter site (we’re on the West Valley Highway about a half mile from Showare), so we are not physically impacted by the shelter. My business depends in substantial part, however, on the vitality of our fellow Kent businesses, so we do consider ourselves a stakeholder in this process.
The City, the KDP, and the Chamber have made real progress over the past several years in revitalizing the retail business district in downtown Kent. It has been very difficult, and the successes we have had are incremental and precarious. Even under the best of circumstances, it would not take much to tip the balance back the other way, and we could find ourselves once again facing increased vacancies, derelict buildings, blight, and the homelessness that goes along with that. At the meeting sponsored by the KDP and the Chamber last Wednesday, representatives of several of the City’s retail success stories (grocers, restaurants, professional offices, salons, Kent Station) were nearly unanimous in the view that a shelter in that location would harm the successes they’ve achieved at the expense of their blood, sweat, tears and financial commitment in our City.
I was particularly struck by the comments of one of the owners of the Hong Kong Market, located right next to the proposed shelter. He has been polling their customers, and nearly all have told him they would be afraid to shop there with a shelter next door, particularly after dark. Most of their customers are women, many accompanied by children. That’s a company that employs over 40 people. Guess where many of them could end up if that business fails. Several proponents of the shelter seemed to disapprove (lots of murmuring and head-shaking) at the suggestion that the Market’s customers would be afraid to shop with a homeless shelter nearby; “homelessness is not a crime” they said. To be blunt, it really doesn’t matter why his customers would stop shopping there. The brutal reality is that a business that loses its customers for good causes, or for bad causes, or even for politically incorrect causes, is just as ruined. Its workers are just as unemployed. Its space is just as empty. And its surroundings become just as blighted.
Our City Council members are good people. But so far as I know, not one of them is a Downtown business owner. The “experts” on the subject of what it takes to run a successful business in the Kent retail area – particularly in that part of town – are not our politicians, and are not the good folks from the UGM and KentHope. They are those business owners who have committed their lives and fortunes to businesses in that part of town. What did those folks say? Not here! It would be the height of arrogance, and a slap in the face of our business community for our City to ignore them and substitute its judgment for theirs.
A final thought. This location may not even be the most beneficial to the City’s efforts to deal with homelessness. Please consider putting the same money and effort to the benefit of our many existing services who already make a valiant commitment to deal with the homeless in Kent. Their infrastructure is in place; and they have the local expertise. Resources may be far better spent helping them in their mission than in bringing in a new player. If UGM comes, and if it has the negative effects many of us believe are inevitable, it will put a stigma on all such agencies and efforts, damaging them all in their mission.
I urge the City to return to the drawing board on this one. Your hearts are in the right place, but this is just a bad idea.
Michael M. Hanis
HANIS IRVINE PROTHERO PLLC
Attorneys at Law
6703 S. 234th Street Suite 300
Kent, WA 98032
[Note from publisher Dana Neuts: This is a controversial issue in downtown Kent. It seems that there are two very distinct sides. At iLoveKent.net, we encourage discussion and comments, and will publish opposing views. Please post your comments to this letter, or send your own letter to us via email for publication.]