City of Edmonds unveils strategies to address homelessness

A homeless woman on the Interurban Trail in Edmonds’ Lake Ballinger neighborhood. (2021 file photo by Larry Vogel)

More than 500 city residents are living “far below the income threshold to survive in Edmonds.”

Those words come from Shannon Burley, deputy director of the city’s new human services office.

They are not all, said Burley, homeless, but the city considers them “vulnerable.” The 500 people all receive benefits from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. From students, to families, to the disabled, to veterans, to senior citizens, they are struggling to keep or find housing.

For the first time, the City of Edmonds has unveiled what it calls “short- and long-term strategies to address homelessness.” In announcing plans crafted by his Homelessness Task Force, Mayor Mike Nelson said, “This situation affects far too many people and is present across our entire region, not just Edmonds and we need to work together toward solutions”.

Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson

The mayor outlined the focus of the plan:

  • Increase regional and countywide shelter options,
  • Provide more homelessness prevention assistance,
  • Stop the overnight and unlawful use of public space.

The task force recommendations point out that there is no shelter facility anywhere within Edmonds’ city limits. The one shelter in South Snohomish County, in Lynnwood, has room for 17 women and children, but has a two- to four-month waiting list. The city now say it will collaborate with Snohomish County and the cities of Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace to develop “long-term solutions.”

Burley said that “we’ve been in great discussions with the county on increasing shelter; we’ve stood up and said we need some help in South County.” She added: “We need that story to be told loud and clear… not any one city will do this alone…all of us are at the table and are willing to have that conversation.”

She knows creating more shelter beds will take time and will depend on each city’s political and financial commitment. Burley said that county administrators are watching what the Edmonds City Council does on budget amendments and proposed budget cuts. There is an amendment to cut funds from the new human services office.

To cover shelter needs now, the city is looking at more motel vouchers, additional partnerships with churches and nonprofits, and more emergency cold weather shelters. Burley said that COVID relief money from the state and federal governments and the county’s new increased sales tax percentage dedicated for housing will help to provide funds to build a stand-alone shelter in South County.

The county shelter in Everett’s Carnegie building could become a model for a smaller facility in South County. The idea, said Burley, would be to offer “wrap-around” services such as drug detox, work training and transportation for medical needs as well as a place to stay.

The recommendations also include a new partnership between the city’s human services office and the police department. The human services office is “very close” to hiring a full-time social worker who will work closely with police.

Police Chief Michelle Bennett

“Building relations and offering support is a critical first step in helping an unsheltered person consider and connect with available resources,” Police Chief Michelle Bennett said.

A small first step could come as soon as next week when the city will distribute what it calls “urgent need” care packages in every police car. They will contain hand warmers, rain ponchos, wipes, a small first aid kit, stocking hat, knit gloves and scarf, and wool socks, as well as an information card in several languages that lists resources and contact information.

To prevent people from becoming homeless, the city has set aside $3 million in federal Household Support Grant Funding.

  • Residents whose household earns less than 60% of city median income may qualify
  • They are eligible for up to $2,500
  • Funds can be used for rent, child care, utilities, medical bills, car repairs or other household expenses.

To see if you qualify for household grants, go to the city website.

“This is a grant, not a loan, meaning you are not asked to pay it back,” Burley noted.

As part of the Homelessness Task Force recommendations, the mayor has also directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance to ban the overnight or unlawful use of public spaces such as parks, buildings and open space. That is an attempt to keep those who are homeless from creating camps. The ordinance must go to the Edmonds City Council for a vote before it can become law.

You can see the complete list of the Homelessness Task Force Recommendations here.

Next month, the human services office will send a report to the city council that will include new data on the scope of homelessness in Edmonds and could become a blueprint for further programs citywide, Burley said.

— By Bob Throndsen


















33 Replies to “City of Edmonds unveils strategies to address homelessness”

  1. More than 500 city residents are living “far below the income threshold to survive in Edmonds.”

    They are not all, said Burley, homeless, but the city considers them “vulnerable.” The 500 people all receive benefits from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. From students, to families, to the disabled, to veterans, to senior citizens, they are struggling to keep or find housing.

    Please tell me how these people all get help? My income is below the threshold and I get nothing I have applied to the state and to the city cricket’s.

    The feds are offering 400 thousand dollar grants to supply free crack pipes, needles and other things to drug addicts yet some of us can’t go to the doctor or afford most everything. Guess I need to become a drug addict maybe then I can get some help.

    Just last month the city shut off my water for being less than 30 days over due on my water bill I had to put it on a credit card and pay late fees and reconnect fees how are actions like this helping those of us that are struggling? I can tell you they aren’t they are just digging us a bigger whole we may never be able to crawl out of.


      1. Elizabeth Fleming I applied I expected to get paperwork in the mail to fill out but got nothing. I tried to keep a close lookout for email but never saw anything. In the end I had to take money from my small retirement to get caught up on property taxes and bills.


      2. Elizabeth Fleming income for 2021 is approximately 19000 I don’t know exactly because I haven’t filed my taxes yet


        1. Jim:
          From the city page:
          “ Please note you will be contacted by the Communities of Color Coalition or Washington Kids in Transition and NOT the City of Edmonds. We ask that you double check your email and spam folders before reaching out to inquire about the status of your application.
          Please allow for at least 10 business days ..”

          1) Did you check your Spam and make note of the sender(s)- see info above.
          2) Has it been more than 10 business days since you submitted your application? If so, a call to the City Office for a status update might be in order.
          Let me know.
          We can take this offline if you’d like, my email is


    1. If you “become a drug addict” you will be offered fresh needles, lip balm, alcohol wipes, and naloxone. Sounds like a difficult situation your in; but complaining about government assistance -then distorting both numbers and characterization of the program you are referencing seems a bad place to start.


      1. Avery programs like this aren’t new although it may be new for the feds the 30 million dollar program offers grants to NGOs up to 400 thousand dollars the NGO decides what to offer which can include smoking pipes. I think last year Seattle was giving away smoking pipes/crack pipes. Did you know more than 100 thousand people died of drug overdose last year? Myself I would prefer they spend the money on mandatory mental and drug treatment centers to help these people who obviously can’t help themselves rather than keep enabling them. Did you know programs surrounding homeless drugs and mental health have become a industry un to itself. Worth hundreds of billions of dollars every year and the problems just continue to get worse. These programs have no incentive to solve these problems because if they did they would be out of funding and lose their jobs. So you may not like my characterization but I don’t think I distorted anything.


  2. For once I can agree with something the mayor is doing and advocating for. There has to be an all out regional approach to containing this problem and the city does need to establish a clear cut ordinance against camping out in our public spaces. “The park and/or library closes at 9:00 PM,” just won’t cut it to give the police the tools they need to work with this problem. Sooner or later there will have to be tax and charity funded regional help centers for the homeless and homelessness threatened population among us. Personally I think the Edmonds social worker(s) should probably be a contracted position(s) that is regionally centered but I’ll take what I can get on this one.


  3. I think Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood are much better positioned to act on homelessness as Edmonds is largely built out.


  4. Curious as to how the City would draft a constitutional anti-camping ordinance in light of Martin v. City of Boise, 920 F.3d 584 (9th Cir. 2019) (holding that “so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in [a jurisdiction] than the number of available beds [in shelters], the jurisdiction cannot prosecute homeless individuals for involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public”). Some jurisdictions have managed to enact anti-camping ordinances that which survived judicial review post-Martin, but the devil is in the details. One obvious solution is to have available shelter beds in the City.

    If the City chooses to take the route of cracking down on people living/camping in their vehicles, they would also need to be careful not to run afoul of City of Seattle v. Long, 198 Wn.2d 136 (2021) which held that occupied personal vehicles are automatically protected as homesteads, and that when a state or local government impounds a vehicle a person is using as a residence, the individual’s personal circumstances must be considered when imposing impound fees, to avoid an Eighth Amendment violation. In the case of an individual whose circumstances are such that they are living in their vehicle, even de minimis fees could be unconstitutional, as they were in the case of Mr. Long. Again, not impossible to legislate around Long, but it requires very careful drafting and an acknowledgment that any such ordinance would likely be subject to challenge.

    I am certain, however, that the City Attorney will offer Council the advice needed to ensure that any anti-camping ordinances or related ordinances addressing homelessness will comply with the state and federal constitutions.


    1. All the more reasons, Kim, that homelessness issues must be handled on a regional basis in SW Snohomish County. Local cities need to collaborate and develop common code language and a common approach to services.

      It shouldn’t matter which side of 76th or 99 you’re camped on; services should be based on need and other criteria, not where you pitched your tent.


  5. This problem is only going to get worse, as long as government ensures they are the only solution. Homelessness is a multi-billion dollar industry.


  6. Roll back homeowners taxes.

    They are impossibly high and make it hard for people on fixed budgets to stay in their homes……..

    All these taxes are making people homeless


  7. Jim Fairchild, you are absolutely correct. NGO leadership often make six-figure incomes. No incentive to fix the problem as you describe. I wish so much this was not the case. How does enabling fix anything?


  8. The mayor is absolutely right on this issue and when he’s right we need to support him. The way I understand the law is that the police can’t roust people making a home in public places unless they have a clean and safe shelter to take them and their personal possessions. That can only be jail if they are accused of breaking some sort of specific law. Sleeping in your car, truck, travel trailer or a tent in the woods is not in itself breaking the law nor should it be.

    Our laws suggest, even if they don’t spell out, that society has to provide some sort of minimal housing option for everyone trying to live or in some cases just survive in our society. There is no way to do that without taxation and/or charity of some sort to provide that minimum form of housing. It’s time to bring back a modern form of the old concept of the “County Poor Farm” often used in the past in rural mid America. The need is to get all the available taxation and charity harnessed together and operating in a regional facility with paid and volunteer staff as is available. Is this the “Nanny State” or “Communism?” I don’t know, but something needs to be done, and fast, no matter what you label it.


    1. Clinton a regional camp RV site with services would be a big help at least short term next few years. This would give these people someplace to go even if they don’t want to. And give us a place to take them if they don’t want to move along. Of course we would have to provide transportation or towing for homes that can’t drive at no cost. This would meet our societal obligations under the law. We can also make a nuance type of rule a example is if caught camping more than let’s say 4 times it becomes a mandatory 30 days in jail of course we have to be able to offer shelter each time hotel vouchers or county farm church whatever that may be. Personally many of these people aren’t going to change their ways without forced help that means mandatory drug and mental health centers. Some of these people get money disability SSI etc.. but the amount isn’t enough to even pay for rent so we either need to give them enough money to support a apartment or subsidize those. As it is like in Seattle where the amount of money spent for services to homeless is like 50 thousand dollars per homeless person Why don’t we just write them a check? I bet they would pack up and go rent a apartment tomorrow. Or just pay for the apartment for a year and agree to cover damages caused. In my opinion there is plenty of funding just poor allocation of it.


      1. Mostly valid points here; I looked into the figure last year for Seattle and the amount spent per homeless person in Seattle is actually just around 10K, the higher figure of around 40K includes spending on every social service program and then divides by the estimated homeless.


        1. Avery the proposed state budget for 2022 is 800 million for a estimated 21 thousand homeless that is about 38000 per person plus amounts from county’s and city’s and private. Where does all the money go?


        2. Yeah I don’t know what else to say, that figure is just way off. That again, is the figure for “all social service programs,” most of which, are not involved in funding shelter for already homeless.


  9. Clinton,

    I agree with much of what you’ve said. When I was on the Housing Commission, I proposed that HASCO (Housing Authority of Snohomish County) set aside a number of units in their Edmonds property for exactly this purpose. They didn’t want anything to do with it and it never gained any traction within the Commission for a number of reasons. The proposal wasn’t a fix-all, but a small step towards addressing a need using available assets in a different manner.

    As you said, we need to start to think differently and creatively.


  10. Jim,

    Thanks for the reminder that you wrote -Tax Exempt HASCO Properties in Edmonds- when you were on the Citizens Housing Commission. I was able to find it in an email I received in fall of 2020. And thank you for your work on the CHC.


  11. Sure, spend additional hundreds of thousands, if not millions on shelters and programs that do nothing to stem the tide of homelessness. On average every year it costs $45,000 per homeless individual for all these shelters that house only 10 or 15 people at a time and for programs and counseling, and yet homelessness is still here and rising. Drastic measures are needed to stop this tide. We can fix this at half the cost at $24,000 every year per homeless person while making sure they can stay off the streets. How? Give them an universal basic income. Give them $2,000 a month, they’ll be able to get off the streets and stay off. $2,000 a month amounts to $24,000 a year. Very simple and a direct solution and cheaper for us taxpayers.

    And of course they will be people who can’t handle the money and blow it. Let them. That’s how life goes. Let them get themselves thrown into prison if they break laws. Nobody’s above the law. What’s left are the families and people who truly want to stay off the streets, and that’s all that matters. We can do that, for half the cost. That will get most, if not all homeless people off the streets.

    I’d say that makes it worth it.


  12. To me I believe that building nice villages for the homeless to live in and being constantly improved and combining agencies to one complex style. Meaning Rehab…locked down. Counseling lockdown but as people who still can get better and we throw in education like at the ECC for carpentry skills. Also records need to be expunged by governor so they can get a job. This allows them to put NO when asked if convicted of a crime. Then we pay them to work on all we want here for everyone. They learn, personal pride in owner ship and just learning skills that will last a lifetime. Throw in some love and actual communication not just program after program and food and food but friendship. Unity and how good it will feel for all of us. This is a small part of what I see we can do. Throwing money away with no future insight is not going to work. Sadly.


  13. Yeah, ’cause everybody knows locking people up in prisons doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything. I’m sure the addicted and mentally
    ill people, probably the bulk of our chronic homeless pop., wouldn’t think of anything but buying housing with the 2K given them. Bad idea in my opinion and won’t save a dime when you factor in more incarceration of mostly non violent people. There is no way to make something inherently expensive cheap. Substance abuse treatment and psychological help costs money, big money.


      1. I was responding to the comment suggesting we give all the homeless $2000.00 /mo. to buy shelter and putting those who don’t do so in jail. This was, as a matter of fact, a suggested fix, not a point I made up. Matt, you should perhaps read all the comments before you jump in someone’s stuff. That might give you more credibility with less people challenging your comments so often. Peace, brother.


  14. Who is the City Attorney’s Client? Per MRSC, in Washington State, the municipality as an entity is the lawyer’s client.

    Under the entity model, the City Attorney has only the organization as a client, and not its individual elected officials, department heads, agents or other “constituents.”

    As City Council is the entity that has the authority to adopt legislation, I’m pretty sure City Council is the only entity that may ask the City Attorney to draft an Ordinance. I do not believe a Mayor has this authority.

    I also think it is the City Council that can appoint ad hoc task forces with a specific task whose sole duty is to study a problem and report back to the council.

    I tried to help all elected officials think this through last year, but my efforts were not respected.

    For example, I asked the following questions in the past. None of my questions were answered:

    What is a Task Force and how does such differ from the City’s Advisory Boards and Commissions governed under ECC Title 10 BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS? Is a “Task Force” subject to the Open Public Meetings Act? Are Task Force documents, emails and text messages subject to Public Record requests?
    What Edmonds Ordinance(s) governs the formation and use of Task Forces?
    Shouldn’t all Task Force members have clarity about this when they accept an appointment?

    Please understand, I support great attention be given the issue of homelessness. I just want that attention to come from our City Council, the entity with the authority to adopt legislation.

    Following is what our Code says the Mayor’s duties are:

    The mayor shall be the chief executive and administrative officer of the city, in charge of all departments and employees, with authority to designate assistants and department heads. The mayor shall see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order is maintained in the city, and shall have general supervision of the administration of city government and all city interest. [Ord. 2349 § 2, 1983].


  15. In 2021, Mayor Mike Nelson established a Homelessness Task Force. The task force included two Edmonds City Councilmembers. Only 9 of the 14 task force members were Edmonds residents.

    Following is from an email I sent City Officials on September 27, 2021:

    Ordinance No. 3724 provides evidence that the 2009 City Council believed that Task Forces are established via Ordinance. The title to Ordinance No. 3724 is as follows:

    ORDINANCE NO. 3724


    Should the Task Force to study homelessness also have been established via Ordinance? If not, why not? What governs the formation and use of Task Forces by Edmonds City Government?

    Why would elected City Councilmembers sit on a Task Force that provides advice and guidance to the Mayor and Staff ONLY? Our elected City Councilmembers don’t work for the Mayor. Also, ECC 2.01.010 makes no mention whatsoever of the Mayor having authority to convene a group of ad hoc advisors. Isn’t it the City Council that can “appoint ad hoc task forces with a specific task whose sole duty is to study a problem and report back to the council”?

    Please answer citizen questions.

    In early 2022, I still hope City Officials will engage with citizens and provide clarity.

    Every other Washington State City that I’ve reviewed either has this topic codified or the City Council adopts task forces via Resolution.

    A search of Edmonds City Code as well as a search of the proposed Council Rules of Procedures fails to find any discussion of Task Force. Is a Task Force a “Work Group” as discussed in Resolution 1306? The term “Work Group” is also not found anywhere in Edmonds City Code.

    Why does City of Edmonds government fail to address important concepts like Task Forces whereas other Cities do address such? Is leaving Task Forces mysterious and vague in the best interest of our citizens?


  16. I have no doubt that a mayor arbitrarily setting up task forces and appointing people to them skirts the borders of legality in some way or another. I think our city would definitely be governed better with a strong council/weak mayor/city manager configuration. The mess we have can’t be fixed and won’t be until there is a major financial or physical debacle of some kind to tip the scale of public opinion. After discussion with a council person who shall remain anonymous, I’ve changed my view that we should go to districts or zones.

    That said I think the mayor and task force findings are very valid, even if illegally based, and need to be seriously considered and implemented as soon as possible. There will be no cheap or easy solutions to homelessness in Edmonds or anywhere else.


  17. I respect you Clint and appreciate what you are saying. I also think now is another opportunity for City Officials to engage with the public and provide clarity about how Task Forces are governed in Edmonds. Edmonds City Government will likely employ Task Forces again in the future. Why keep it a mystery?

    I’ve been seeking answers for years. A City Director represented the following to me on September 1, 2015:

    “Thanks for contacting me with your inquiry about the Mayor’s Advisory Task Force on the At-Grade Rail Crossings Alternatives Analysis.

    In short, the City Council has no involvement in the establishment of such a task force. Pursuant to ECC 2.01.010, the Mayor has the authority to convene any group of ad hoc advisors he wishes to assist him in analyzing a complex issue of city interest such as this and help guide the public engagement process.

    This is precisely the role the Mayor’s Advisory Task Force is intended to fulfill – provide advice and assistance to the Mayor and city administration during this Alternatives Analysis process. Their comments, advice and observations will help inform the Mayor’s ultimate recommendations to City Council.

    The Advisory Task Force will assist with opportunities for public involvement during this process, including potentially hosting open house(s) as well as working with staff to create online-based opportunities for comment.

    In summary, this task force is intended to provide advice and comment to the Mayor, making no independent recommendations or decisions.”

    Clint, a City Director made this representation even though City Council had established Task Forces prior to 2015. City Council has also established Task Forces after 2015. For example, City Council formed its own homelessness related Task Force in 2018.

    I told the Director back in 2015 that ECC 2.01.010 says nothing about a Mayor having the authority to convene any group of ad hoc advisors he wishes to.

    Again, why the mystery – why not just tell us all how this works?

    Hopefully answers will be provided someday.


  18. Ken and Darrol, I don’t think I’m off the same page with you both at all and I do agree that what we have can be made better to some extent or maybe even to a great extent with the right people serving. In this particular case of homelessness I think the mayor and his task force, whether a legally constituted group or not, has come up with the best solutions probably possible under the circumstances and I support at least trying them.

    My other point is that a system where people have to be on the good side of the city executive just to take part in public task forces and commissions is a bad system. Ken is right, the mayor shouldn’t be in the business of making up task forces and commissions and proposing city ordinances unilaterally whether it’s technically legal or not. Council oversight of this process is and has been a joke.

    The council alone should be in the business of calling on citizen input groups and any citizen who wants to participate should be allowed up to the agreed upon size of the group. Being a friend of, or political party friend of the mayor or any given council member should have nothing to do with anything in this regard.

    I don’t think that is currently how it works and I think that’s how we got the connector debacle that could only be brought down by huge peaceful citizen protest. There just has to be a better way to run the railroad. The trick is to find and implement it someday and somehow. I realize this is not yet the time and we need to push what we have to be a better servant of all the citizens needs, not just the chosen few.


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