Rising numbers of homeless in the state has not only become a regional crisis, but a campaign issue in Washington’s race for Governor.
The issue first came up in last month’s gubernatorial debate, after Republican challenger Bill Bryant asked Governor Inslee about “his failures.”
“I'm not sure it's a mistake, but it's a regret,” said Governor Inslee. “I’m not done with this job,” he went on to say.
Since that debate, Bryant has launched a homelessness tour, visiting local shelters and homeless sites, one not far from his SODO campaign office.
“I want to make sure we don’t let this become the face of homelessness,” said Bryant of a makeshift site littered with needles and trash.
“What you’re seeing is the train wreck of people’s lives, and we don’t need to be enabling.”
Bryant told KING 5 that he wants a “zero tolerance” policy for individuals living on unapproved state property. He said he wants sites like Seattle’s “Jungle,” cleaned up.
“At the same time, you have to have a place for them to go, so we’re going to have to ensure that we are spending enough on alcohol and drug addiction and rehabilitation programs and detox centers, and we’re not,” said Inslee.
Governor Inslee’s campaign, meanwhile, points to more than $240 million dollars secured for homeless programs, since Inslee took office.
That includes $125 million for the state Housing Trust Fund, as well as funding for emergency shelters and rental assistance.
“Mostly, we need to increase permanent housing. For people who have the most severe disabilities, mental health issues, who are really troubled, we need to increase permanent supportive housing,” said Rachel Myers, Executive Director of the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund.
Her group has endorsed Governor Inslee, citing support for homelessness policy and programs.
Initiatives under the governor’s term include “rapid re-housing” for homeless families, as well as the creation of an office of homeless youth prevention and protection.
The state also signed a contract for a new “homeless management information system,” to better track data on the issue, according to Inslee’s campaign.
“Let’s not measure our compassion by how much we’re spending, let’s measure our compassion by how many people we’re helping,” Bryant countered.
Bryant said he would like an audit, as well as a statewide coordinated program. He also said he would appoint a Secretary of Social and Health Services who would make the reduction of homelessness a top priority.
“We have a serious collision of three problems: a very high dropout rate for high school students, an explosion of heroin, and we have this significant rise in homelessness and they’re interrelated, and if we don’t get in front of it, what is now a thunderstorm will become Katrina,” said Bryant.
Rachel Myers says, in her opinion, an increase in the supply of affordable housing would make the biggest dent.
“In the short term, while we’re working on creating housing for people, we need to find emergency options for people. We need to create more shelters. Housing is the solution to homelessness but people need to survive tonight as well.”
Copyright 2016 KING