Puget Sound leaders are attempting to solve the region’s homeless crisis, but before they act, they want to assess the situation.
King County Council Member Kathy Lambert, formerly a state legislator, told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show there are five steps the region can take to solve the homeless crisis.
Address the deficiencies in drug, alcohol, and mental health services in King County. Other agencies are taking on people that don’t belong with them.
“One of the problems is that King County is the second largest mental institution in the state of Washington,” Lambert said. “If you go by average total bookings, the King County Jail is actually the largest mental institution in the state of Washington. That is not a good use of our resources.”
Lambert notes that people often cycle through the jail system. It also often takes a month or longer for representative from Western State Hospital to meet with an inmate to assess their mental condition.
Part of the solution is to fix laws at the federal level and determine funding for such programs.
“Under federal law, if you are going to get Medicaid financing you may not have more than 16 beds in your facility. That is a bad law. We have tried, over and over and over to change that law,” she said.
The Homeless Management Information System is a federal program that local jurisdictions operate and that organizes data on homeless populations. It records characteristics of homeless communities to assess needed services, etc.
But in Washington, the program needs some fixing.
“We are the only state in the union that does not require certain things like giving your name. Because we don’t know peoples’ names. Less than three-fourths of our data is accurate,” Lambert said. “We may have Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse in the database and we are still providing them services.”
That’s not a joke. People actually give those names to get homeless services in Washington, according to Lambert.
Service providers need to accurately find out where individuals are from and get them to appropriate services.
“The question we are asking them is ‘Where are you from?’ For some of these people, they woke up in Seattle, so they are from Seattle,” she said. “The questions we are not asking them is ‘Where did you go to high school?’ ‘Where are your kin?’ ‘Where was your last job?’ Because that is where you’re from.”
Lambert notes that she has visited legalized tent encampments in the county and notices that many people aren’t from around these parts. Many need help getting home.
“I went and interviewed people in a tent city (in Woodinville) on a number of occasions … I looked at license plates on the cars, over half of the license plates were from out of state,” Lambert said.
“Serving everybody is important, but they need to be our people and not the entire United States of America that has come west,” she said.
Government homeless programs need to involve local churches also working for the same cause.
Lambert said that there are some legal hurdles that deter churches from getting government funding for housing, addiction, and other programs. One rule, she notes, is that churches are commonly forced to hire people that do not subscribe to their faith. That prevents them from hiring people for church programs.
“Let’s start fixing the problems and get people like the Salvation Army and churches back involved and work with the generosity of people’s hearts,” Lambert said. “People in this county are generous, caring and compassionate … If a person has a drug addiction and a church has a great drug program, they should be able to go to that program, and (that church) should be able to get the money.”
“Bringing churches in may not be politically correct,” she said. “Some things will take people saying ‘We want this done. This makes common sense and we want this done'”
Finally — outreach. Any approach to the homeless issue, Lambert said, needs to treat people on a case-by-case basis.
“Go to people individually and find out where they are, where they want to be, and how we can help them,” she said. “It’s not OK for people to live on the streets where they are vulnerable.”