Communities throughout Washington are reporting a spike in their homeless population. What has long been a problem is quickly becoming a crisis.
Because of the urgency of this growing issue, Senate Democrats are sponsoring the Bring Washington Home Act, a plan to make targeted investments in programs aimed at breaking the cycle of homelessness and help the less fortunate get off the streets.
“Homelessness is not just a problem in cities. It isn’t just a problem in King County or Western Washington. Homelessness impacts every community and it’s getting worse,” said Sen. Sharon Nelson, the bill’s prime sponsor. “We must act now and we must act decisively to combat this problem.”
Numbers from last week’s One Night Count are starting to come in. Homelessness is up 19 percent in King County and it’s up a devastating 54 percent in Snohomish County. OSPI just reported that more than 35,000 Washington students don’t have a safe and consistent place to sleep at night.
Senate Bill 6647 will tap into the state’s Rainy Day Fund which is money set aside to be used for emergencies. One percent of existing tax dollars are put into the Rainy Day Fund annually. The fund is projected to be at over $700 million by June of 2017 and over a billion dollars in 2019.
“We can attack this problem at the source and do it in a way that doesn’t raise taxes,” Nelson said. “There is a homelessness crisis in our state. Issues like this is why we have a Rainy Day fund. For the thousands of Washingtonians living on our streets it’s pouring and we can help them.
“We must act now. Inaction only makes the problem worse.”
Nelson was joined by other leaders who voiced support for the plan. Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby, Vancouver City Councilwoman Alishia Topper and Julio Cortes, the public relations manager at Cocoon House, a non-profit that provides access to short- and long-term housing for homeless youth in Everett, also spoke for the need to address the homeless crisis in their communities.
Also in attendance were many of the 23 Senate Democrats who signed onto the bill.
The Bring Washington Home Act will make targeted investments in the following programs:
• $18.455 million targeted toward services such as rapid rehousing for people who are mentally ill, chemically dependent and/or chronically homeless.
• $4.625 million targeted for homeless youth; including HOPE beds, the Street Youth program, and funding for the homeless student stability and opportunity gap act (SB 6298 sponsored by Sen. David Frockt)
• $3 million for consolidated homeless grants
• $60 million toward shelter and support services for the homeless and families at risk of becoming homeless
• $95 million toward the Housing Trust Fund for building supportive or other housing, and $5 million for maintenance and operations for housing stock. This $95 million will drive $190 million in housing investments, when those funds are combined with other resources (donations, grant money, tax credits, local funding) used in conjunction with the Housing Trust Fund.