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News / Northwest

Washington announces new investments to help asylum-seekers

By Anna Patrick, The Seattle Times
Published: February 28, 2024, 7:51am

SEATTLE — King County and the city of Tukwila announced two new separate investments Tuesday to assist asylum-seekers living in the region in need of shelter and support.

King County announced a one-time $1 million grant to South King County nonprofits that provide temporary housing, food, support, and legal services to families and individuals. Tukwila will pay for and stand up a large, heated tent on the Riverton Park United Methodist Church property that will be able to hold up to 100 people to provide better shelter to asylum-seekers who are currently living outside there.

The Tukwila church has found itself in the center of this crisis after immigrants first started showing up to its doors back in December 2022. Since that time, the church has sheltered more than 800 people, according to church leader Pastor Jan Bolerjack, with people sleeping in almost every corner of the church as well as camping in tents outside.

“While this additional $1 million in funding will help in the near term, the full-scale response and infrastructure needed for this ongoing situation requires additional federal leadership and partnership with the state,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

To qualify for the county’s new $1 million grant, nonprofits have to be able to provide “new or expanded housing and related services that will lessen the negative impact on asylum-seekers living unsheltered, such as day centers, hygiene services and emergency shelters,” according to the release.

The county will host an information session on March 4. It’s currently accepting applications until March 12.

The current Washington legislative session could provide some additional relief.

Gov. Jay Inslee has asked for more than $8 million in his supplemental budget to support this population. The Senate and House of Representatives introduced their separate budgets last week that include more.

The Senate is asking for $5 million for the state Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance and an additional $5 million to go toward helping to house people living in Tukwila. Meanwhile, the House included more than $25 million for the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance and included an additional $5 million to King County and $2.5 million to Tukwila.

The House proposal is most similar to what advocates have asked for.

The Legislature is anticipated to pass a final budget by the end of next week. Funding would become available in July.

Living conditions at the church are deteriorating as more people arrive every week and there’s little available help while asylum-seekers await a slow legal process until they can receive their permits to work and start earning money to afford housing.

The new tent is starting to go up in the church’s paved parking lot Tuesday, said Pastor Jan Bolerjack, leader of the Riverton Park church.

“It should keep the vermin out and the warmth in,” Bolerjack said.

The city of Tukwila is hoping to have the tent ready for people to move in by Friday, said Brad Harwood, spokesperson for the city of Tukwila. He said it is estimated to cost the city around $215,000 and is permitted to be up for six months.

Tukwila Mayor Tom McLeod echoed Constantine that more aid is needed “to be done at the state and federal levels because this ongoing humanitarian crisis isn’t going away.”

King County offered up $3 million in December to move some of the most vulnerable people, including women and children, living on the Riverton Park church property into 100 hotel rooms in nearby SeaTac.

It took until Feb. 1, according to King County spokesperson Chase Gallagher, to fill every room.

About 350 people are there now and their stays are currently guaranteed through June, according to the county’s news release Tuesday.

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Seattle also recently agreed to pay for more than 100 asylum-seekers to stay in two hotels for about a month who were previously living on the Riverton Park Church property. The city confirmed Tuesday that its money ran out as scheduled.

Karissa Braxton, spokesperson for the city of Seattle, said that hasn’t necessarily led to immediate homelessness for the guests.

“It is our understanding that Riverton Tukwila Church and philanthropic donors have generously agreed to provide additional funding for several extra days at a hotel to support the group’s preparation for relocation, as requested,” Braxton said via email.

Bolerjack confirmed Tuesday afternoon that her church has offered $25,000 to help people stay in hotels as long as possible.\