Pubdate: Fri, 08 Sep 2000
Source: Seattle Weekly (WA)
Copyright: 2000 Seattle Weekly
Author:  Rick Anderson


Drugs And Death Haunt City-Owned Morrison Hotel.

HOW LONG WOULD it take to get an offer of illegal drugs in the shadow of 
police headquarters? Three minutes? Two?

One. "What you waitin' for?" says the rail-thin hustler in a ball cap as I 
arrive outside the Morrison Hotel at 6pm.


"Look like you want somp'n." He smiles with gapped teeth.


"Smoke. Coke. Want cocaine?"

"The police station's over there. Sheriff across the street. Security guard 

"Don't mean nothin'. What you want?"

No surprise, of course. Anyone who merely strolls past the 91-year-old 
red-brick Morrison, hostelry to the homeless, knows drug-seekers go to the 
neighborhood with the same expectation others go to Starbucks--to get their 
fix. It's an old joke In the war on crime. A few paces from SPD 
headquarters in the Public Safety Building at Third and James, across the 
street from the sheriff's headquarters in the King County Courthouse, along 
sidewalks brimming with prosecutors, judges, and city officials, the 
city-owned Morrison is Seattle's handiest crime scene.

A recent safety assessment by the city notes that "the hotel is located in 
a high-crime area where drug dealing around the building is a daily 
reality." But not all the problems are outdoors. From October 1998 to 
October 1999, for example, police were called 362 times to the Morrison 
for, among other things, 92 disturbances, 35 assaults, 16 thefts, six 
suicides, five robberies, and four dead bodies--natural or drug overdose 
deaths (the hotel also averages at least one 911 fire call weekly). In the 
first six months of this year, police responded to 158 calls--including 21 
assaults, three rapes, and two deaths: a natural and a drug OD.

In the latter instance--a drug OD in May--police were called to the small 
room of James Mize, 54. He was found on his bed, shirt off, TV on. A rubber 
tourniquet, a blackened spoon, a needle cap, and needle tracks in his arm 
seemed to say it all. Almost. The cop who investigated the scene did not 
report finding a needle, indicating someone else had been in the room. But 
in a report, the officer noted investigators "did not find any suspicious 
circumstances surrounding Mize's death."

That's correct in one sense. A drug overdose is something of a natural 
death at the Morrison, the rundown house that neglect built. The Seattle 
Housing Authority, a municipal corporation whose board is appointed by the 
mayor, operates the 205 units of subsidized housing and a first-floor 
shelter holding up to 250 a night. Residents include the addicted, the 
disabled, and the mentally ill, most living on disability and food stamps. 
Not all are saints--some are biding time between indictments--though the 
Morrison is mostly last-resort housing for the many down on their luck. But 
nobodies can be overlooked when convenient. The city has managed the 
Morrison for a quarter century and keeps losing its grip on progress. Up 
against the wall again, the SHA made a bold move in July: It formed a 
committee to study the problem.

Terrific, another blue ribbon panel, says Joe Martin, longtime Pike Market 
Clinic social worker. He tries not to be cynical as he recalls the many 
lives of the once-grand 1909 hotel. In the 1970s, "not even a hardened Skid 
Road denizen would think of renting a room there--too dangerous." After a 
$4 million rehab in 1985 the place was "utter magic," Martin remembers. 
Now? "Time and neglect have ironically brought this grand building back to 
where things were 20 years ago. Once again, it's a matter of will, and money."

He is backed by a mournful Morrison choir. "It's a war zone," says Rodney, 
a hotel resident who worries about having his full name published. He lives 
along a dim hallway of doorknobs. One day he left his room unlocked and 
returned to find a crowd of crackheads smoking away. "There's fighting," he 
says. "People come knocking on my door offering drugs." He sees crack pipes 
on the windowsills.

Rodney's response was typical as a survey taker from the Seattle 
Displacement Coalition moved through the building the other day asking 
residents how they were doing. "People throw syringes out the window," said 
Richard, who moved in a week before. "It's spooky, a lot of people have 
died in the building," said Levi. Terri, there 13 months, said she doesn't 
leave her room at night. Eddie, a one-year resident, wants to put a dead 
bolt on his door but can't afford it.

The SHA's own records show 31 of 79 residents recently surveyed felt 
unsafe. Some are more worried about the hotel's condition--it needs $2.5 
million in capital improvements, including a new boiler. In the lobby last 
week, an older woman told me she appreciates the roof over her head and 
isn't frightened. But "my room has bugs, and the elevators always break 
down. That's no good for the ones in wheelchairs."

HE'S HEARD IT before, says John Fox of the Displacement Coalition, a local 
homeless-advocacy group. "What's at stake is the future of this building 
and the health and safety of some of Seattle's most vulnerable and disabled 
residents." Repeated fix-its never seem to take, he says, while other 
efforts go astray. A $250,000 federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 
Safe Neighborhood grant in 1998 was to provide more security for the 
Morrison. But, Fox says, it was used mostly to hire a police community 
services officer and lease a car to patrol Pioneer Square while "ignoring 
the astronomically high incidence of crime in the building.''

According to SHA figures, $151,000 of the grant was in fact for one 
officer, whose position costs $5,853 per month. SHA spokesman Jim Kjeldsen 
says the grant reimburses police for an officer assigned "in and around" 
the Morrison neighborhood and wasn't approved for "traditional 'drug 
elimination' activities."

Though hotel policy is to not house anyone with recent criminal convictions 
for drug, property, or violent crimes, some get in anyway (residents have 
been known to allow unpermitted guests to enter and exit via fire escapes 
as well). The SHA, which has been trying to turn over the facility to a 
private management group since 1979, thinks crime is not as bad as it seems 
at the Morrison, although the SHA counts an incident only when a police 
report is written rather than when 911 is called.

Fox's group has petitioned the Seattle City Council to appropriate $200,000 
for improved Morrison security. He wonders why the SHA is "working on 
long-term plans while letting current conditions in the building continue 
to go to pot." The SHA's Kjeldsen says the city "is committed to housing 
this very difficult population, and our goal is to continue these 
services." Staff has been added and the budget has been increased. Private 
security officers hired by local businesses also plan to set up an office 
at Third and Yesler. Seattle's Office of Housing is stepping in, too. "We 
have experience with providing housing for populations with a lot of need 
for support services," says spokesman Bart Becker. "That certainly 
describes the residents of the Morrison."

The new reform committee will not have its first full meeting until the end 
of this month. A recommendation is even more months away. In the meantime, 
someone may want to walk over from police headquarters and speak to the 
pushers and players. It is not that far and there's a place nearby to get 
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens