Inslee warns that state effort to move people out of encampments is getting short on cash

Gov. Jay Inslee points to the work his homeless encampment initiative has done to clear encampments and transition people into housing. Inslee released his budget proposals surrounding housing and homelessness programs at the site of a former encampment in Seattle. (Courtesy Laurel Demkovich / Washington State Standard)

SEATTLE – State programs to help transition people out of homeless encampments and into housing are running out of money, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday, calling on the Legislature to provide funding to keep them going.

Since Inslee launched a statewide homeless encampment initiative last year, 30 encampments along state highways have closed, and more than 1,000 former residents of those camps have moved into housing, according to the governor’s office.

“This job is not done. We have to keep this progress going,” Inslee told reporters Thursday.

As part of a budget proposal he will release in full next week, Inslee is asking legislators to approve $140 million for homelessness programs.

Inslee announced his housing and homelessness budget priorities for 2024 at the site of a former encampment at First Avenue and Michigan Street in Seattle. His plans emphasize continued funding for the encampment program and for opening new emergency housing.

The $140 million total for addressing homelessness includes $100 million for the state’s Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition fund, which pays for emergency housing like tiny home villages, $10 million for the Department of Transportation to continue clearing encampments on state properties and $30 million for other programs, like rent assistance and expanding legal aid for tenants facing eviction, his office said.

This funding will be on top of $143 million allocated last year when the state’s rights of way safety initiative launched. Most of that money was split between the state’s most populous counties.

Of the 1,034 people living in the encampments who accepted housing as part of this initiative, 816 are still in the housing offered by the state, according to a Department of Commerce database. 

The state’s encampment program has led to some clashes between local and state agencies over how best to clear the camps and where to house the people living in them.

In Spokane, city officials and the state Department of Commerce sparred over how best to close Camp Hope, which was the state’s largest encampment for a time, with more than 600 residents. Local leaders in Snohomish County also fought with the state over how it was implementing its program in their communities.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said Thursday that the encampments on state properties have been the “most challenging” for the city, but Inslee’s initiative and collaboration have helped to move people in places like the First Avenue and Michigan Street encampment into housing.

“This is not a victory lap,” Harrell said. “We have so much more work to do.”

The program to house people living in encampments has received criticism for its high price tag. Inslee noted that the costs include more than just rent. There are also expenses for behavioral health services, encampment cleanup, and temporary shelters at hotels or tiny home villages, which the governor said should last for years.

“We’re getting something for our money for decades,” Inslee said.

Come January, the Legislature will have 60 days to pass a supplemental budget that will make adjustments to the two-year spending plan they approved earlier this year. They’ll be working with hundreds of millions more dollars of state revenue than expected, thanks in part to the state’s cap-and-trade program and a new capital gains tax.

Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, said the state has made progress in this area and needs to continue providing stable housing options with behavioral health and treatment services.

“We know the response to homelessness is housing,” she said. “We know the opposite of addiction is connection.”

Lawmakers passed a significant slate of housing legislation in the session held earlier this year.

The state is working to build more housing of all types, following record amounts lawmakers poured into the Housing Trust Fund and new laws clearing the way for housing like duplexes and backyard cottages.

But Inslee said Thursday more is needed to meet growing housing demand and to help keep more people from becoming homeless. He is planning to ask the Legislature to continue efforts they started last year to get more housing built but did not offer further specifics Thursday for the proposals he’d support.

by Laurel Demkovich, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

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