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Skagit County officials: Old jail won’t be used as homeless shelter

Skagit County opened its new $48 million, 400-bed Community Justice Center in October. County officials said Monday the old county jail will not be used as a homeless shelter.
Skagit County opened its new $48 million, 400-bed Community Justice Center in October. County officials said Monday the old county jail will not be used as a homeless shelter. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The Skagit County Board of Commissioners sent a letter Thursday to Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton, stating the old county jail will not be used as a homeless shelter.

“We strongly believe that the vacant Skagit County Jail is not an appropriate facility for homeless individuals,” the letter reads. “The former jail was designed for confinement, not housing.”

When Sexton raised the idea of using the jail to house the homeless in a Skagit Valley Herald letter to the editor on Oct. 15, the county commissioners responded by saying they didn’t think it was the the right thing to do with the old facility, but were willing to have a conversation.

“We had that conversation,” County Administrator Tim Holloran said. “We invited (mayors and city council members) on a tour and we talked about it.”

It shows a lack of leadership to not even try and address what they say are the obstacles. ... They aren’t even willing to do the work.

Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton

Sexton disagrees, saying the tour was not a conversation. Soon after the tour, he invited other city and county officials to take a more comprehensive look at the challenges of repurposing the old jail.

Only two responded with interest, something he said was disappointing.

“It shows a lack of leadership (from the county) to not even try and address what they say are the obstacles,” he said. “(Saying) no is easy. Yes requires work. They aren’t even willing to do the work.”

In an interview Monday, Holloran reiterated the county’s talking points from several weeks ago, saying the old jail is too expensive to redesign and that the homeless wouldn’t feel comfortable in the former jail, which is next to the Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s over $250 per square foot (to renovate),” he said.

Holloran questioned whether Sexton was presenting this idea in earnest.

“Sometimes our city partners have more fun poking us in the eye than thinking of solutions,” Holloran said.

He also said a partnership is in the works between the county, Mount Vernon and a church in the city to potentially use the church as an overnight shelter.

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