After a study prepared by city staff in 1990 revealed that Seattle was almost devoid of public restrooms, LIHI launched a campaign to establish several hygiene centers.
Three years later, LIHI bought the Glen Hotel on Third Avenue and Pike Street with the intention of putting a hygiene center in that building. However, nearby merchants and property owners, including the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) filed a lawsuit to block the project. LIHI resumed its hunt for a suitable building.
The Julie Apartments on Ninth Avenue and Virginia Street in downtown Seattle was built in 1929. It was the last building by designed by architect John Creutzer, who designed buildings throughout Seattle, including the Medical & Dental building on Olive Way. The building, which was designed as a swank residence for single young professionals working downtown, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1999, and was then renovated by the Low Income Housing Institute as 47 units of low-income housing and a public shower/restroom facility.
The city and LIHI eventually found the Julie Apartments, on what was then the urban edge of downtown Seattle. As part of the settlement agreement, the DSA gave LIHI $250,000 toward renovation work on The Julie. The city contributed $2.6 million to purchase the building and offset operational costs. After nearly a decade of deliberations, LIHI broke ground on the project in late 1999.
During the Urban Rest Stop’s first month of operation, 815 people used the facility at least once. “You have to wonder what people were doing before we opened our doors,” said Ronni Gilboa, who manages the Urban Rest Stop. In 2006 the center supplied 55,000 showers and 19,000 loads of laundry. Gilboa estimates that up to 60 percent of the people who use the Urban Rest Stop are getting ready for work. Gilboa and others who work with the homeless say Seattle’s mounting rents are driving many people employed at minimum wage or as day labor out onto the streets or into shelters. Officials estimate that up to 9,000 people don’t have a place to sleep in King County on any given night.
“For every person we serve at the Rest Stop, we turn three or four away because we don’t have the capacity,” Gilboa said. The URS is set to expand in 2007, which will alleviate some of the pressure. The planned expansion will add double the number of laundry machines, double the number of showers, a women’s restroom and a health exam room.
By providing access to essential hygiene services, the URS improves the self-sufficiency of homeless individuals and families. The Rest Stop is the only hygiene facility with extended service hours which are specifically designed to assist homeless persons who are working or need to get to a job interview. A homeless job applicant cannot be successful during a job interview without the self-confidence that a shower and clean clothes can provide. A homeless individual cannot maintain steady employment or hope for advancement without access to showers and laundry facilities.
The Urban Rest Stop is designed to serve a wide range of people: men, women, and families with children; youth, senior citizens, and people living on the streets or in shelters. The Urban Rest Stop specifically targets those who are especially disadvantaged, including disabled persons, veterans, non-English speaking people, immigrants and people of color. The facility is handicapped accessible. The composition of the staff reflects the diversity of its patrons, thus creating a welcoming and safe atmosphere to Seattle’s multicultural homeless population.
The Urban Rest Stop has been recognized locally and nationally for its exemplary service.
The Urban Rest Stop is a program of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI.)
The Low Income Housing Institute develops, owns and operates housing for the benefit of low-income, homeless and formerly homeless people in Washington State; advocates for just housing policies at the local and national levels; and administers a range of supportive service programs to assist those we serve in maintaining stable housing and increasing their self-sufficiency.
Learn more about the Low Income Housing Institute here: http://www.lihi.org