Bishop, a 75-year-old Alaskan Native, has lived at the Morrison Hotel for nearly 11 years. The Morrison is a low-income housing project on Third and Yesler managed and owned by the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA), the city's only chartered shelter provider. SHA manages 22,000 units of housing throughout Seattle, and the Morrison houses what's considered one of the city's toughest populations. Many of the Morrison's 205 residents are elderly and/or suffer from disabilities (including addiction and mental illness). They're chronically in and out of homelessness.
Longtime Morrison resident Bishop, however, has been a different sort of tenant. Bishop pays his rent on time and has never caused problems. So why did the city threaten to give him the boot?
Bishop's sin was that he failed to show up for his annual review in either April or May . He didn't reschedule. He didn't even know about the meetings.
His delinquency is easily explained: Bishop is deaf and nearly blind. And like many other vulnerable residents at the Morrison Hotel, Bishop has no one checking up on him, and no designated staff advocates (a.k.a. case managers) to help him maneuver through bureaucratic hoops and hurdles when troubles arise.
Many advocates call the Morrison the worst-managed low-income housing program in downtown Seattle. "There's a history of management abuse at that building," says John Fox, director of the Seattle Displacement Coalition. "The victims are the people at the bottom."
"This place is a drug-infested hell-hole," says one female resident, who couldn't stand still long enough to be interviewed -- she was constantly being harassed by male tenants or visitors.
The eight-story building, with its Asian-accented mahogany beams and elegant high ceilings, was built for luxury between 1908 and 1910. Years later it evolved into a cheap boarding hotel. The SHA purchased the building in 1974, then reconstructed it in 1981 with funds from a senior housing bill. The SHA's current operating budget is $92.4 million.
But the Morrison Hotel still operates more like a flophouse than a community service, and Bishop's case sends up a red flag about management. If someone hadn't tipped off Bishop's friend and former case manager, Mary Clausnitzer, to his dilemma, the SHA eviction machine would have started up. Bishop could be back on the streets in just a few months.
Clausnitzer emphasizes that kicking Bishop out of the Morrison would be equivalent to blacklisting him in Seattle's subsidized housing market. The Morrison Hotel is a last-ditch stop for people on the streets, and without case management, it's hard to get any public housing once you've had an eviction.
Clausnitzer worked as a case manager for Bishop and many other tenants at the Morrison Hotel from 1996 until 1998. Her employer at that time, the Archdiocesan Housing Authority (AHA), was hired by SHA to provide social services at the Morrison Hotel. AHA provided hot meals, a food bank, a women's group, outings, and individual assistance to residents in need. Once AHA left, all services at the Morrison ceased.
"In 1998, frustrated by SHA's poor management of the building and lack of concern for residents' welfare, AHA pulled out of the Morrison Hotel," explains Clausnitzer.
These days the Morrison Hotel's common room is vacant and cold, and the kitchen is closed. The accountant works behind a Plexiglas window. The part-time manager who served Bishop his eviction notice is gone for the day. The only other staff are Burns security officers who sit in a glass-enclosed booth at the entrance of the Morrison Hotel. They can't remember the manager's name. They don't recognize all the residents. They check guests' IDs, and keep an eye on building activity via a black-and-white TV monitor.
A few doors down the street another low-income housing program, the Frye Apartments, offers a startling contrast to the Morrison. AHA moved its social and management services to the Frye in 1998. There are 234 units for homeless and formerly homeless single adults, couples, and families at the Frye Apartments. The building is not owned by SHA, but by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), a non-profit group funded by public and private grants and donations. A staff member in a baseball cap and flannel shirt greets everyone by name at the door. The common room is bright and spacious, filled with couches. Staff offices connect to the common area via glass doors. Elderly and vulnerable clients are checked on frequently.
According to Virginia Felton, Communications Manager for SHA, the agency is aware of the need for more services at the Morrison.
"SHA is writing grants to obtain these services," says Felton, "as well as putting out a call for a consultant who can help coordinate residents who already have outside case managers." The Morrison has a budget of $881,567. $100,000 is earmarked for security.
"We try hard not to evict people," Felton says in regards to Bishop. She suggests that if Clausnitzer had alerted SHA, something could have been done earlier about Bishop's case.
"I'm not his case manager," says Clausnitzer, who already works 40 hours in addition to doing street outreach. "I love Eddie, and I want to help him out, but I can't baby-sit all the residents. They need case managers. Even if I had called [him], I would have been put on hold and gotten the run-around."
Felton is grateful to be alerted to Bishop's dilemma, and is confident he won't be evicted. She refers to Bishop as one of those people who has fallen through the cracks.
Clausnitzer replies, "God, how many others are falling, with no one to notice, in places where security cameras don't reach."