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King County approves sales tax increase to fund housing for ‘chronically homeless’

The Exhibition Hall at the Seattle Center recently housed a temporary men's shelter, operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

King County Council approved a sales tax increase Tuesday, in a bid to provide added funding to help house the region’s homeless population.

King County reducing shelter concentrations, moving people to hotels

The council labeled the move “unprecedented,” totaling a 0.1% increase in sales tax to provide permanent supportive housing for King County’s “chronically homeless.” That would encompass roughly 4,500 people in the county alone, with the tax creating space for roughly 2,000 of them. The tax goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

“This unprecedented investment will provide a stable and long-term funding stream to house upwards of 2,000 people living chronically homeless, as well as behavioral health care,” Councilmember Joe McDermott said. “People experiencing chronic homelessness are bearing the brunt of inequality in our region and need housing and support services to empower their path to health and stability.”

Councilmember Reagan Dunn operated as the lone vote against the measure.

The county plans to use the money raised from the tax to “buy existing hotel, motels, and nursing homes,” and then convert those in supportive housing units.

This comes in a wake of a recent study on King County moving homeless into hotels to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Those who spent time living in hotels saw across-the-board improvements in most aspects of their lives.

King County works to prevent spread of coronavirus among homeless

Participants were shaving and showering regularly, getting three meals a day, and were more frequently attending medical appointments. The downstream effect is that without having to worry about day-to-day survival, their attention could instead turn toward improving their respective situations long-term.

“When you’re living in crisis — which, you know, emergency shelters are named emergency shelters for reason, it is an emergency — when you remove the emergency, when you remove the crisis, people start to say, ‘I want to pursue a degree. I want to get a job. I want to find my housing,’” UW researcher Gregg Colburn told KIRO Radio.

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