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Friday, October 12, 2007

Urban Rest Stop

posted by on October 12 at 16:25 PM

A few weeks ago, Slog editors asked readers to name their “cause,” i.e. the non-profit organizations that they support. Many fine organizations were mentioned, but the one that was brought up the most was the Urban Rest Stop. I took a cue and headed over there to have a look.

This is the Urban Rest Stop, or URS, located at 9th and Virginia, right next door to the Greyhound Bus terminal.


The URS is one of three facilities in the entire Seattle area that offers free laundry and showers to people who need them. The URS is the only facility with no barriers for using the services—you don’t need to sign up for treatment, you don’t need to forswear alcohol, and you don’t need to give your social security number or other personal details. According to the staff, the place operates at full capacity whenever the doors are open, 365 days a year.

This begs many questions. Why aren’t there more of these facilities? Why is a place like this, which is providing an utterly necessary service, reduced to begging for money to stay in business? Why is the city spending upwards of $100 grand each year for a handful of poorly functioning public toilets when they could be supporting clean and well-run places that serve 100 times the number of people?


This is Ronni Gilboa, who founded and manages the facility. She has a LOT to say about hygiene, about homelessness, and about the metropolitan government abdicating its responsibility to keep the region’s poorest people healthy and clean. I couldn’t possibly transcribe the many powerful words she shared with me, but here’s a few choice excerpts of our hour-long conversation:

Ronni: By keeping people clean, we keep people healthy and alive. Clean people have an easier time riding the bus and going to the library. They have an easier time finding services and feeling like they’re not invisible. If someone is dirty, they’re in a bad position to ask for help. Once that same person cleans up they become someone to listen to and take seriously. They quickly become more qualified for a job or for a home, more easily able to participate in society.

Access to clean water and sanitation is an essential defining aspect of civilization. The Romans and Greeks had easier access to clean water than people in this city, and it is widely acknowledged that access to clean water and a working sewage system are essential in curing diseases and preventing epidemics.

We’re heading into a long wet winter. We’re going to see a lot of colds, a lot of viruses, a lot of chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, and circulatory problems that get worse with the weather. The URS is often in the strange position of being the first ones to recognize these things and taking the first steps that are necessary to get help to people who need it. If you want people to get better, you have to give them the tools.

RSS icon Comments


Why aren't there more facilities like this one? Hmmmm.....the whole city is being turned into one big giant luxury condo. I'm sure all those new urban residents are going to throw out the welcome mat for an URS-type service on their block.

Seriously, though, thanks for highlighting Urban Rest Stop. They do amazing work.

Posted by genevieve | October 12, 2007 4:35 PM

Well, for one thing, HUD is trying to make it illegal to provide homeless services without recording Social Security Numbers.

Posted by Fnarf | October 12, 2007 4:39 PM

Awesome post, Gurldoggie!

I have nothing to add. Just that I agree with every word. Thanks.

Posted by SDA in SEA | October 12, 2007 4:40 PM

OK, clue us in please. What/where are the other two facilities like the URS?

Posted by SODOguy | October 12, 2007 4:41 PM

Colds? Flu?

Answer is simple - wash your hands frequently with hot water and soap.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 12, 2007 4:49 PM

Good question SODO.

Angeline's, run by the YWCA, is women only, and open to no one under 18.

The Compass Center in Pioneer Square is open for limited hours.

Downtown Emergency Services Center also has a hygiene center, but only for people enrolled in their support programs and actively seeking employment.

These are all good services, don't get me wrong, but not available in the same way the URS is.

Posted by Gurldoggie | October 12, 2007 4:54 PM

That doesn't beg any questions. It only suggests them.

Posted by Eric F | October 12, 2007 5:07 PM

Thanks for the post Gurldoggie! I hope the Stranger chooses URS for Strangercrombie.

Posted by jamier | October 12, 2007 5:18 PM

OK, this may be one of the single best posts on SLOG ever. I had never heard of URS until now, and I am amazed and impressed. Thanks for posting and illuminating this service.

Posted by Brad | October 12, 2007 5:55 PM

I second what #9 said:)

Posted by Amelia | October 12, 2007 7:45 PM

stranger staff: take note of #8

Posted by rob | October 12, 2007 8:19 PM

LOL! I was one of the people that suggested URS last month when the stranger did the poll.

And even in Chicago I am still making my monthly donation to them. They do great work in Seattle!!! Have not checked to see if they have one I can donate to in Chicagoland yet.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | October 12, 2007 9:06 PM

Just can't bring myself to ignore you Will, so I hope your post is just a bad attempt at humor.

Washing your hands frequently isn't very easy when spending the day and likely the night out in the wet without access to hot water.

URS does a great service. It is a sad statement about our city and society that they have to constantly beg for money to stay in business.

Posted by Tres C | October 17, 2007 10:35 AM

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