Find of the Month

March 2023 - Municipal lodging house

excerpt from demographic info

In 1911, City Council considered establishing a municipal lodging house for the temporary housing of homeless men. A report to council from the Charity Organization Society outlined how such a facility could be set up and run. They recommended an experienced superintendent be put in charge who would do more than provide a place to sleep. The report stressed that “the operation of a lodging house should be a part of a social program for the upbuilding of character and a reclamation of such individuals as may temporarily need assistance… Without these features a municipal lodging house serves only the comparatively unimportant part of housing men without lodgings.”

The Society envisioned that the lodging house superintendent would work closely with the City Employment Bureau with the goal of finding jobs for the men. It was suggested that the bureau coordinate with other cities “so that an over supply of labor in Seattle might be drawn to North Yakima or Spokane for instance if conditions warranted.”

In addition to the lodging house, the report recommended the establishment of a “farm colony” to which residents of the lodging house would be sent after three days or so if they were not able to find a job. Residents of the farm would be expected to provide manual labor while living there, and would be required to stay until they found a self-supporting job. The farm colony was seen as an “almost essential corollary” to the lodging house, as it was thought that it would serve as a deterrent to anyone thinking of coming to Seattle to take advantage of free housing. The report also recommended enforcement of vagrancy laws, as well as the return of non-residents to their families in other cities.

The lodging house idea got as far as a draft ordinance but no further. Attached to the bill are two pages of statistics showing the demographics of homeless men helped by the Society over the course of a month and a half. These details give a rare view of Seattle’s homeless population in this era, with information including age, time in town, and nationality. “Cause of application” is also noted for some, with the reasons given including unemployment, sickness, and old age. A penciled note mentions that the Life Boat Mission “furnished over 3000 free meals during past 20 days” and had an average of 180 homeless men sleeping on their floor each night.

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Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
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Phone: (206) 684-8353

The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.