“Sticker Shock”: Washington Governor Inslee’s $100 Million Gamble To Address Homelessness Crisis

“Sticker Shock”: Washington Governor Inslee’s $100 Million Gamble To Address Homelessness Crisis
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Washington Governor Jay Inslee is doubling down on the state’s efforts to address its out-of-control homelessness epidemic. Inslee’s latest maneuver involves a staggering $100 million proposal, aimed at bolstering the Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition (RCHA) fund, a critical arm of the state’s program to clear encampments and provide housing for the unhoused along state highways.

This proposal comes on the heels of $149 million in funds focused primarily on counties west of the Cascade Mountains. Inslee’s announcement during Thursday’s press conference underscored his commitment to this initiative, originally dubbed the Rights of Way Safety Initiative and now rebranded as the Encampment Resolution Program.

“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,” said Inslee.

The governor’s office touted the success of the program since its launch in spring 2022, citing the dismantling of 30 encampments and the transition of over 1,000 individuals into more secure living arrangements. However, a closer look at the Department of Commerce’s Right-of-Way Initiative dashboard paints a slightly different picture: 816 people in housing and 149 in permanent housing.

That said, the cost-effectiveness of these efforts has come under fire, particularly given the high price tag per individual successfully placed in permanent housing. Inslee, confronted with questions about the spending ratio, defended the expenditures as necessary investments, brushing off concerns with a reference to the impossibility of expecting such solutions to be cost-free.

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

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. –Mynorthwest.com

The governor’s new proposal alleges to go beyond a simple expansion of funding, and claims to be a multi-faceted strategy to tackle homelessness from various angles. As My Northwest notes, it includes;

  • 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 Mayor Bruce Harrell weighed in as well, emphasizing the city’s ongoing struggles with encampments. Harrell highlighted the considerable strain on emergency services, with alarming statistics from the Seattle Fire and Police Departments regarding incidents and responses near these encampments.

“Our data shows we still have 28 active encampments on (WSDOT) sites as of Nov. 30,” he said, adding “There were 845 reported crimes either at or adjacent to these sites, averaging 77 per month.”

Inslee’s proposal, set to be part of a supplementary budget package, will be a focal point of state legislative discussions come January.

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