King County Executive Dow Constantine announces new initiatives to address homelessness in South and East King County, where the One Night Count found a big increase in people sleeping outside.
Johnnie Barnes said he and his school-age daughter have slept in their car, in a homeless shelter with mentally ill people and in subsidized housing infested with bedbugs.
Then at the end of 2014, he got a call that a two-bedroom unit was available in a new, subsidized Renton town house in the Sunset neighborhood.
“It was like winning the Lotto. It was the best possible Christmas present,” said Barnes, a former heavy-equipment operator who beat a crack addiction so he could keep custody of his daughter and give her a stable life. He pays a third of his income toward the rent.
Barnes joined King County Executive Dow Constantine and other regional leaders and homeless advocates Monday to announce $17 million in county funding for new, affordable housing units and emergency shelter in the county, some of it aimed specifically at South and East King County.
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The January One Night Count of the Homeless found that the number of unsheltered people had doubled in Renton, jumped 150 percent in Federal Way and rose 83 percent on the Eastside, compared with the 2015 count.
In sheer numbers, Seattle still had more than three times as many homeless people — almost 4,000 compared with 1,500 in other areas of the county — but its total rose just 5 percent. County officials said the big jumps in South and East King County highlight the need to expand resources outside Seattle.
“Homelessness is a crisis all over the county, including in East King County,” said County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, the former Bellevue mayor. “In my district, the Eastside, we see great affluence but also great poverty and a rising level of homelessness.”
In November, Constantine joined Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to declare a state of emergency in homelessness in the county and called on the state and federal governments to increase funding for emergency shelter services and affordable housing.
President Obama on Tuesday was expected to propose in his 2017 budget spending $11 billion to address family homelessness through a combination of housing vouchers and rapid rehousing — moving families more quickly from shelters into permanent housing, often with small, one-time grants such as a month’s rent or security deposit.
Constantine praised Obama for responding to the national crisis.
“Now it’s up to Congress to do the same and provide both the immediate assistance and the investment in prevention that children and families across the country need,” Constantine said.
When Murray took office in 2014, he called on suburban cities to do more to address homelessness.
Last year, Seattle spent $175,000 to expand shelter capacity outside the city, said Jason Johnson, deputy director of Seattle’s Human Services Department. Currently 90 percent of the county’s shelter beds are in Seattle, he said.
The investments announced Monday, he said, show the county responding to efforts to locate services over a wider geographic area.
The county announced it would spend $7 million to create 237 new units of subsidized housing, including $1.8 million to the Renton Housing Authority to add 50 more subsidized homes in the Sunset neighborhood and $2.8 million to build the second phase of an Imagine Housing project in Kirkland.
Additionally, the county awarded $10 million in rental assistance and services to help homeless people get jobs, employment, addiction treatment and other support. About $1.1 million of that is targeted outside Seattle.
To Johnnie Barnes, the subsidized town house in Renton meant a place to shave each morning, a place to do laundry so his daughter has clean clothes to wear to school.
She’s getting good grades, he said. She’s applying to colleges. She wants to be a pediatrician.