A row of earth-toned townhomes lines the south side of Lane Street where crack houses once stood. Next door to them is an abandoned building that once served as a brothel.
Prostitutes have moved on and new homes have gone up, and now residents of the Central District neighborhood known as Jackson Place are bracing for a new neighbor.
King County plans to open a 46-bed crisis diversion center in two adjoining office buildings at the corner of Lane and 16th Avenue South. It's a place for police officers to bring a suicidal person or a homeless person whose only offense is trying to sleep on a bus. They could stay up to two weeks and get help finding housing, treatment and substance abuse services.
But residents of Jackson Place say it's no place for a crisis diversion center. They see the center as a kind of jail and worry those who stay there will endanger the neighbors.
"It just seems really hard to rationalize that you consider it's actually completely safe to stick this right across the street from families with kids," Jackson Place resident Steve Hathaway said.
Hathaway was one of the more than 100 people who showed up last month at an emotional community meeting at Giddens School. The dozen who spoke expressed fear for their families. Only one person, a mental health advocate, spoke in the project's favor.
Graydon Andrus, director of clinical programs for the Downtown Emergency Service Center, the nonprofit that King County has selected to operate the facility, said opponents of the project have got it wrong. DESC does not plan to admit anyone to its Crisis Solution Center who has committed a violent crime or has a history of violence.
"They're not inmates or anything like inmates," Andrus said. "They're people who have some needs that are temporary and can be solved in many cases by the kinds of services that we're talking about here."
Modeled after a crisis center in Pierce County that provides triage, the center will take in people who have committed minor misdemeanors, said Amnon Shoenfeld , director of King County's Mental Health, Chemical Abuse and Dependency Services Division. Their crimes could include possessing alcohol in a park, disorderly conduct, failure to obey an officer, trespassing and theft under $50.
Shoenfeld said he expects misdemeanor offenders to comprise only about 30 percent of those the Seattle crisis center accepts. The rest will be people with mental illness or substance abuse problems. Police and mental health professionals have traditionally taken people with such issues to jail or an emergency room not because they committed a crime, but because there was nowhere else to take them to get help.
The Crisis Solutions Center would offer an alternative to expensive and unwarranted stints in the emergency room or jail.
Stays at the center will be voluntary,
Shoenfeld said, meaning people will not be locked up inside. If they do leave, DESC says its staff would follow them and call the police if need be. People who do commit a crime and refuse to go to the center would go to jail.
That doesn't satisfy Kwame Amoateng and a new neighborhood group called the Jackson Place Alliance for Equity, which formed to fight the crisis center after the first community meeting on Nov. 9, 2010.
Amoateng owns one of the townhomes on Lane Street. He is a civil rights attorney and has spent his entire career representing underprivileged people. This is different, Amoateng said: Putting the crisis center at Lane and Sixteenth isn't legal. The area just off Rainier Avenue South is zoned for commercial use. He believes the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has classified the facility as a hospital and not a jail to expedite the permit.
A jail use would require a conditional use permit. To get one, DESC would need to conduct an environmental review and take public comment.
That's all the Jackson Place Alliance ultimately wants, Amoateng said