If you’re hearing it over and over again, it’s because it’s true — homelessness is a crisis in Washington. From Spokane to Vancouver, Bellingham to Olympia, families with children, homeless youth, people struggling with severe mental illness, and many more are living this crisis every day.
It’s driven by rising rents and declining wages for the lowest income workers, inadequate mental health services, and cuts to housing programs and the safety net.
Most of us feel this crisis in one way or another — if we’re not living it, we see it in our neighborhoods or we read about it in the newspaper. We struggle with how to explain it to our children and wonder what the answer is. But for the most part, we don’t treat it as an emergency.
Instead of accepting rising homelessness as an unfortunate reality, it should shock us that in our beautiful state, where we’re so proud of our industry and innovation, we still allow children and seniors, veterans and families to live on our streets. That is why we at the Housing Alliance applaud Sen. Sharon Nelson and the 22 other sponsors of the Bring Washington Home Act, or Senate Bill 6647.
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If approved, the act will fund shelter and permanent homes, with services for those who need it. It is a bold step toward ending homelessness in our state.
The bill allocates $186 million, and leverages other public and private sources to dedicate almost $300 million to address the crisis of homelessness.
It taps the rainy day fund, which is intended to be used in emergencies. If almost 20,000 people were displaced by a natural disaster, there would be no question about the use of this fund. This proposal treats homelessness as the human-made emergency that it is.
The rainy day fund is expected to reach over a billion dollars by 2019. We can afford to do this.
Some critics have claimed that this is not a statewide emergency, that it’s Seattle’s problem. Not true. The most recent homeless count found a 54 percent increase in unsheltered homeless people in Snohomish County. The number of people counted without shelter rose by 19 percent in King County, with the greatest increases in South and East King County. The most recent data for Whatcom County showed an 18 percent rise, and in Yakima, nearly 35 percent.
Responding to the emergency of homelessness should be one of the Legislature’s top priorities. It’s raining, it’s cold; let’s get people indoors and give everyone in Washington the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home.
Rachael Myers is executive director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, a statewide advocacy organization working to ensure that everyone in Washington has the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home.