‘Sticker shock’: Despite past costs, Inslee seeks $100M to prevent homelessness

Dec 7, 2023, 6:03 PM | Updated: 6:03 pm

Image: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, tours a former homeless encampment site in Seattle with a...

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, tours a former homeless encampment site in Seattle with a Washington State Department of Transportation supervisor on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Photo: Matt Markovich, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: Matt Markovich, KIRO Newsradio)

Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is aiming to add an extra $100 million to a plan targeting the removal of unhoused individuals along state highways. The state has already allocated $149 million, primarily in counties west of the Cascade Mountains, to clear camps, offer services, and provide housing for those residing along the right-of-way.

During a press conference Thursday, Inslee revealed a proposal to allocate $100 million to bolster the Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition (RCHA) fund. This financial injection aims to strengthen a program crucial in swiftly resolving encampments, coordinating state agencies and local partners to establish new emergency housing options, such as repurposed hotels and compact home communities.

“We know we can succeed when we do this, but we essentially are out of money. So, we need to continue appropriating the dollars necessary to get this job done,” Inslee said.

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The initiative, initially known as the Rights of Way Safety Initiative and now rebranded as the Encampment Resolution Program, was designed to facilitate relocating individuals residing along hazardous rights of way to safer housing arrangements, accompanied by comprehensive support services.

Since its inception in spring 2022, state agencies and local partners have successfully dismantled 30 encampments, with two more currently undergoing resolution, according to the governor’s office. The program has transitioned more than 1,000 individuals into secure accommodations, as reported by the governor’s office.

But, according to the latest numbers dated Oct. 31 on the Department of Commerce’s Right-of-Way Initiative dashboard, 816 people are in housing, and 149 have been placed in permanent housing. The initial funding for the program was $149 million.

‘Sticker shock looking at those numbers’

When asked if $1 million for every one of the 149 in permanent housing was an acceptable spending ratio, Inslee replied, “No, I wish everything was free. And we all believe in Santa Claus. But Santa can’t take care of this problem; we need to make investments.”

“So, yes, everybody has sticker shock looking at those numbers. But those are necessary investments. And they’re paying off, and we’re going to keep doing it,” he emphasized.

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Over the preceding 18 months, the $149 million in RCHA funds has gone toward clearing encampments and providing emergency shelter for individuals residing on state rights of way.
Moreover, the governor’s new $100 million proposal encompasses a spectrum of proactive measures aimed at preventing homelessness:

  • Incentivizing landlords to lease properties to rental assistance recipients.
  • Increasing access to civil legal aid for tenants facing eviction threats.
  • Addressing funding deficiencies for local housing organizations statewide.
  • Sustaining the continuity of local emergency shelters and affordable housing programs.
  • Allocating resources for short-term rental assistance.
  • Facilitating housing provisions for victims of human trafficking.
  • Exploring innovative approaches to support homeless youth and preempt individuals at risk of homelessness.

Seattle’s Harrell weighs in

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell echoed the urgency of the situation, emphasizing the ongoing challenges within the city.

“Our data shows we still have 28 active encampments on (WSDOT) sites as of Nov. 30,” Mayor Harrell stated. He further highlighted the significant strain on emergency services, noting that the Seattle Fire Department recorded 2,215 incidents near these encampments — an average of 201 monthly responses. Correspondingly, the Seattle Police Department logged 2,917 responses to Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) sites, averaging 265 per month.

“There were 845 reported crimes either at or adjacent to these sites, averaging 77 per month,” Harrell added.

Inslee’s proposal is part of a supplementary budget package that will be unveiled next week. State lawmakers will commence debating the proposal in January.

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‘Sticker shock’: Despite past costs, Inslee seeks $100M to prevent homelessness