We invite the Legislature to re-engage with us in supporting evidence-based solutions that help families and individuals in crisis, and pass a state budget that provides housing and services to help those in need.
IN declaring a state of emergency, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray asked the state of Washington to re-engage as a partner in ending homelessness.
They did this because the state’s investment in responding to the crisis has stagnated in recent years. The state is not fulfilling its responsibility for funding the systems that discharge people into homelessness.
• Those leaving the criminal-justice system are seven times more likely than others to become homeless.
• In King County, about one-third of all foster youth end up homeless.
• Our state mental-health system is under court orders, and Washington state is ranked 47th in the nation in terms of access to mental health services.
• We have a substance-abuse treatment system that is so underfunded, the only detox facility in King County was forced to declare bankruptcy. We are still waiting for the state to step up to help address this crisis.
Despite these painful realities, state Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, recently wrote an Op-Ed [“King County’s plan to end homelessness has failed,” Opinion, March 14] using unsupported statements presented as facts and moral arguments to blame local government as well as the homeless for creating this crisis.
Nevermind the fact that our community pioneered the development of the “housing first” approach, which means secure housing for a person first and then address employment and health issues. From 2013 to 2015, King County moved 21,018 people from being homeless to housed, up from about 4,000 people a year 10 years ago.
We’ve proven that it’s cheaper to house someone than to perpetuate an expensive cycle of jail time, emergency-room visits and shelter stays. And we tailor housing and services to individuals’ needs. Our shelters across the county operate at nearly 98 percent occupancy each night.
Despite increased local funding and dedicated community partners, more people are slipping into homelessness. Despite housing 7,000 people a year, more than 5,000 people newly become homeless in King County annually.
Statewide, the number of schoolchildren who are homeless or at risk of homelessness jumped to 35,511 children in 2015, up 71 percent since 2008.
Early results from the 2016 statewide annual count of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness indicate significant increases across the state — Snohomish County experienced a 50 percent increase in unsheltered homelessness.
National studies also help explain why homelessness is on the rise. One such report showed that in areas where the rent rises $100 per month in one year, homelessness increased 15 percent in urban areas and 39 percent in suburban and rural areas.
In King County, rents increased $115 a month from 2014 to 2015. The same study correlated increasing poverty with increasing homelessness.
Researchers from the Brookings Institution reported in 2013 that two out of three Seattle area residents who were at or below the poverty line were living in the suburbs, many in South King County cities. Researchers used the federal benchmark for poverty, which for a family of four in 2010 was an annual income of $22,300.
Adding insult to injury, Washington state taxes its poor more than any other state in the country. Many people simply can no longer afford to rent.
We are working hard to make homelessness in Washington a rare event — a goal that can only be reached through federal, state and local government partnership and through an engaged community that believes in the idea that all people deserve a home.
Just last week, leaders from 20 cities in King County came together to share their innovative approaches to housing the homeless while maintaining public health and safety. Every day, outreach workers, employment specialists and housing managers are focused on stabilizing those in need. Every moment, people experiencing homelessness are struggling, but their resilience is leading to a path off the streets.
We invite the Legislature to re-engage with us in supporting evidence-based solutions that help families and individuals in crisis. It should pass a state budget that provides housing and services to help those in need transition from homelessness into homes.