Inslee Pitches 'All Hands On Deck' Statewide Homelessness Effort

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OLYMPIA, WA — Gov. Jay Inslee and several other high-profile local leaders came together Thursday to announce a plan to create a statewide response to the homelessness crisis.

“We really need to give an adequate priority to those people who are encamped along our highways, and our rights of way,” Inslee said. “Our public is demanding this, and we have a bill that acknowledges all of these concerns and gets us solutions in months, rather than years.”

That bill, Senate Bill 5662, promises to create a regional, coordinated response to the issues of homelessness and housing. A study released last year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, found Washington saw a 21.9 percent increase in the number of homeless individuals between 2007 and 2020. As Inslee tells it, one reason Washington struggled to keep pace with the growing homelessness issue is that it’s response was fractured, requiring smaller jurisdictions to do the heavy lifting.

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“The reasons for homelessness are many, and varied. We know that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” Inslee said. “The team this legislation would create will help local jurisdictions with prioritizing some of these [shelter] units that will be brought online to help people move towards permanent housing.”

Inslee said the proposal would not prescribe how local jurisdictions address homelessness, nor would it authorize sweeping homeless encampments “for no reason and with no place to go.”

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Inslee was joined Thursday by several like-minded leaders, including King County Executive Dow Constantine. Constantine and King County recently purchased eight hotels, aiming to create 1,600 shelter units by the end of the year. As Constantine noted, that solution may not work for every county, but a regional effort would help find solutions that do work for each community.

“While [the homelessness crisis] may look different in Seattle than it does in Yakima, it is a challenge we all face and that we all want to meaningfully correct,” Constantine said.

Though Seattle and King County have garnered more headlines for their homelessness issues, Tacoma has quietly been grappling with a growing homeless population as well, an issue Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said has been difficult for the city to resolve by itself.

“We’ve been out here on our own,” Woodards said. “Having state support will allow us to better show up, serve, and put people on a better path to permanent supportive housing.”

Included in Inslee’s proposal is a $494 million investment in rapidly building new shelter units. Including $300 million four housing acquisition, roughly $100 million for enhanced shelter options, and $50 million for behavioral health support.

“This is the level of resources we believe are needed,” said Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “These are real dollars, taxpayer dollars, but an investment in communities and cities and economic drivers. I am ecstatic about our ability to partner with the state.”

“It’s going to take this kind of collaboration to truly move the needle.”

SB 5662 has been heard in the State Senate, where a majority of voters recommended it be passed. It has since been referred to the Ways and Means committee for consideration.

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