Discussing homeless on Thursday were, from left, Associated Press Olympia correspondent Rachel La Corte, Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, and Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw. (Leona Vaughn | WNPA News Service)

Discussing homeless on Thursday were, from left, Associated Press Olympia correspondent Rachel La Corte, Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, and Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw. (Leona Vaughn | WNPA News Service)

Homeless emergency grabs attention of lawmakers

Immediate solutions are elusive

By Cameron Sheppard and Leona Vaughn

WNPA News Service

Lawmakers are scrambling to confront a crisis that leaves people sleeping out in the cold and rain. A complex mix of contributing factors of homelessness in Washington is creating a formidable challenge for state lawmakers.

At a Washington State Legislature preview arranged by the Associated Press on Jan. 9 in Olympia, lawmakers outlined a number of sometimes conflicting strategies to deal with the plight of people who live on the streets.

According to the Washington State Department of Commerce’s 2018 Annual Report on Homeless Grant Programs, the number of people living unsheltered in the state has exceeded 10,000.

“Homelessness is not one thing,” said Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw, during Thursday morning’s panel. “It’s an umbrella term and there’s lots of reasons that people end up there.”

Gov. Jay Inslee said that while substance abuse and mental health seem to be the most common scapegoats for triggering homelessness, a lack of job skills and the rising cost of housing relative to stagnant wages could also play a role.

“We don’t just have barriers to housing,” Irwin said. “We have barriers to create housing.”

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, suggested a more holistic and preventative approach to the crisis. She proposed better behavioral health services, as well as renter protections to prevent unjust evictions.

Inslee proposes an ambitious plan to reduce homelessness by 50% in two years, with a goal to add 2,100 local shelter beds, and rental and housing assistance to more than 3,000 people across Washington state.

“Bring people inside,” Inslee said. “That oughta be the goal.”

To help implement this plan, Inslee suggests dipping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which would ultimately take $300 million out of the $2.5 billion fund over the course of three years. However, Republicans lawmakers say that it’s not necessary to tap into the fund at all, with there already being enough revenue that can be put towards the crisis.

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