Inslee’s budget proposal lays out aggressive plan to combat homelessness statewide
Governor proposes to reduce homelessness by 50 percent over the next two years.
Gov. Jay Inslee released his 2020 supplemental budget proposal Wednesday with substantial investments that address the statewide homelessness crisis, expand early learning and strengthen the foster care system, and enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in government, schools and communities.
“I want everyone in Washington to benefit from our state’s shared prosperity, but we know our state’s successes are not shared by everyone,” Inslee said. “I am proposing investments that will require partnerships with local governments and community partners, and will bring people inside with dignity and compassion. This is a statewide problem and we need a statewide solution. It is morally and ethically wrong to have so many Washingtonians living outside. We can, and must do better.”
Inslee proposes to reduce homelessness by 50 percent over the next two years.
The governor proposes to dramatically ramp-up state and local efforts to provide more shelter and take other actions to combat chronic homelessness. He hopes to stem a crisis that impacts every corner of the state.
Inslee’s plan adds 2,100 local shelter beds while providing rental and other forms of housing assistance to more than 3,000 additional homeless individuals.
The investments will give cities and other jurisdictions the flexibility and funds to create local, personalized solutions. Each community will have the ability to create its own sheltering plan to boost shelter capacity and provide safer, more stable housing for people now living on the street.
Washington experiences the fifth-highest per capita rate of unsheltered homelessness in the nation. On any given night, approximately 10,000 people live outside or in places unfit for human habitation.
“While we’ve made progress at increasing affordable housing stock, we must do more for people who are living outside,” Inslee said. “We need to provide financial resources with a strong infusion of compassion, dignity and attention. We must significantly decrease the rate of unsheltered homelessness in Washington while we look for more permanent solutions to house people.”
Unsheltered individuals experience profound health and safety challenges compared to homeless individuals who have some form of shelter. They are more likely to have contact with the police, to spend nights in jail and in emergency rooms, and to die earlier.
The governor’s supplemental operating and capital budgets will:
- Create a new sheltering grant program. Jurisdictions can apply for these funds once they show specific plans to acquire more shelters.
- House homeless youth through a pilot program. This program offers youth a housing solution that isn’t tied to how many nights they consecutively stay in a shelter. When their time is up, many youth go back on the street. This perpetuates the cycle of homelessness. While the pilot program won’t offer a permanent housing solution, it will eliminate a cap on the number of nights 16- and 17-year-olds can stay. This can better stabilize youth as they work toward securing more permanent housing, employment and education solutions, such as reducing truancy and finishing high school to increase employment opportunities.
- Stabilize housing solutions and fix some of the chronic or persistent conditions that require supportive services. This year, the governor signed a bill to put $7 million toward housing with supportive services. This helps the state stabilize housing for some of the most vulnerable Washingtonians. Without these housing supports (such as life skills training and access to medical care), homeless individuals tend to default to homelessness, which continues the cycle. The state will also make an additional investment in the Housing and Essential Needs program to provide rent assistance to Washingtonians who experience incapacitating illnesses.
- Make spending on homeless solutions more transparent. The Department of Commerce oversees transparency and accountability in the state’s housing and homeless programs. This investment helps the state better measure the impact of the solutions.
- Construct new shelters and enhance current shelters so individuals have a safe place to store their belongings. People achieve better outcomes when they can meet their most basic shelter, hygiene and safety needs. This funding not only lowers anxiety and respects individual dignity, it also gives sheltered individuals the chance to focus on how to acquire more permanent housing and employment. It’s often difficult for homeless individuals to move toward self-sufficiency when they don’t have a safe place to ensure their survival, practice personal hygiene and protect their belongings.
- Improve how homeless individuals can access the Aged, Blind or Disabled Assistance Program and better direct them to appropriate resources. People who experience long-term chronic conditions (such as being visually impaired) can apply for a cash grant to help them purchase essential needs. This proposal will maintain the grant and simplify the application process.
- Provide grants that help local governments clean up vacated homeless sites. This offers an innovative solution to restore land to its original condition. The state recognizes communities that have put homeless solutions in place still need to work through the repercussions of homelessness on local land.
These and other actions will cost $146 million in the current budget and more than $300 million over the next two years. To cover these costs, the governor proposes tapping into the state’s emergency reserve, which the state projects to contain about $2.5 billion at the end of the next biennium.
“As I travel through Washington communities — from rural areas to mid-size towns to big cities — I hear about the homeless crisis from local leaders, service providers and the individuals themselves,” Inslee said. “While situations vary, it is clear that Washingtonians agree we need to do more to bring people inside. My plan encourages communities to create their own plans to increase capacity and provide solutions. We must have a response that matches the scale of the crisis.”
Over the last five years, Washington gained 500,000 people.
During Inslee’s time in office, he has doubled the investment in the housing trust fund, putting $206 million into affordable housing earlier this year. The state also added 9,800 affordable housing units since 2013. Despite these improvements, the state has not kept pace with increased rent and the massive influx of people moving to Washington.
“This crisis is an ironic result in part, due to our incredibly successful economy, which is attracting people from all over the country,” Inslee said. “But add in mental health and opioids challenges, and we have not been able to keep pace with his huge rising tide.”
This two-year plan will add 2,100 local shelter beds across the state while giving rental assistance and other housing assistance to more than 3,000 additional homeless individuals. Inslee’s proposal gives local jurisdictions flexibility through Housing and Essential Needs improvements to provide rental assistance and ways to prevent and divert people away from homelessness.
This plan also provides a pathway for people to get job training, employment and permanent housing.
Marty Hartman, executive director of Mary’s Place, (an organization that operates emergency shelters for families who experience homelessness in King County) has worked with homeless women and families for more than 20 years.
“Mary’s Place has 600 beds for moms, dad and children who have lost their homes,” Hartman said. “But it’s not enough to bring all families, who are sleeping in cars and tents tonight, inside to safety and stability. It will take all of us ensure that no child sleeps outside. We appreciate the governor’s leadership on our crisis of unsheltered individuals and families in our community.”
Rachael Myers, executive director at Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, said she’s proud that the governor is recommending significant new funding for homelessness.
“At a time when the federal government is turning its back on best practices for ending homelessness, we are proud the governor is leading with real solutions and significant new investments in the services that we know work to end homelessness,” Myers said. “These investments would prevent homelessness for thousands of disabled adults and low-income families who would otherwise suffer the brutality of unsheltered homelessness.”
Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler said addressing the need to shelter the vulnerable homeless population is critical for Washington communities.
“The governor and I had a very productive meeting on this issue back in early November to discuss the importance of finding solutions at the state level, and I appreciate that he heard our concerns and is working on a path forward,” Wheeler said. “We are in a crisis and the state needs to provide funding to help local communities address this issue immediately.”
Inslee’s proposed supplemental budget will increase the inclusivity and the quality of early learning education by adding early learning opportunities and helping foster care children earlier and more frequently.
“We experienced such great educational progress in 2019 for young adults through our Washington College Grant and Career-Connected Learning initiatives,” Inslee said. “But we also want to offer more training for mid-career workers and strengthen early education for our kids so it’s more effective for our young people, especially those who have been in the foster care system. We have an obligation to serve all our kids, no matter their economic circumstance, their background or where they live.”
Multiple studies show that incoming kindergarten students with foundational literacy, emotional and social skills have a stronger foothold for success in school and in life. Studies also show these students are more likely to stay on track in school — gains that show up well into the third and fourth grade school years. Under the governor’s budget, more children from the foster care system will be included in this early prevention effort.
- Screen young children who enter foster care for early intervention services. The governor provides funding to make sure children from birth to 3 get screened for early intervention and support services. These are early special education services provided in the child’s home. Many children who receive this early assistance no longer require special education by the time they enroll in kindergarten.
- Reserve more spots for children in foster care in the state’s preschool program. The governor wants to give younger children in foster care better access to the state’s preschool program, regardless of when they enroll during the school year. Reserving these Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program spots specifically for children entering foster care will greatly benefit these 3- and 4-year-olds and the foster families who care for them.
The governor announced investments in a range of programs that improve diversity, equity and inclusion to minimize barriers to growth and opportunity.
“In Washington, we value opportunity and equity,” Inslee said. “We know that systemic barriers prevent access to equal opportunities and hamper the advancement of too many Washingtonians. We know that at birth, black and Native American babies face higher mortality rates. We know that students with disabilities and students of color have lower high school graduation rates than their peers. We know women earn only 80 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts — and that women of color earn even less. We know that discrimination in the criminal justice system leads to disproportionate sentencing. We know that disparities in state contracting exist. That’s why it’s time to invest in correcting these issues.”
Over the past several years, the governor signed executive orders to develop employment plans for veterans, hire more individuals with disabilities, maintain safe and secure places for LGBTQ public employees and stand up for immigrants and refugees.
Rep. Mia Gregerson said today’s budget proposals around equity will strengthen Washington.
“The governor’s focus on funding diversity, equity and inclusion demonstrates his commitment to ensuring all Washingtonians can thrive,” Gregerson said. “I look forward to his partnership during the legislative session to make diversity, equity and inclusion a priority.”
The governor’s budget proposals will:
- Create a statewide equity office.
- Roll out statewide diversity, equity and inclusion training for state employees and educators.
- Increase the pool of minority-owned businesses qualified for public contracting and improve state contracting practices.
Benjamin Danielson, co-chair of the Equity Office Task Force, said today’s announcement about the new office is a significant step in the right direction.
“The equity office is a critical and timely instrument in this state’s commitment to the wisest and fairest conveyance of state efforts to assure every person in Washington has an opportunity to thrive,” Danielson said.
Other budget items
The governor’s supplemental operating and capital budgets also include funding to:
- Strengthen the state’s foster care system and offer families earlier screenings for developmental delays in children.
- Implement safety initiatives at Western State Hospital and add approximately 70 direct-care staff at both psychiatric facilities.
- Expand career-connected learning efforts and deliver more training for midcareer workers.
- Help communities reduce gun violence. The governor and Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced proposals to limit to high-capacity magazines and ban assault weapons sales Dec. 11.
The governor will share his proposal to reduce carbon emissions Thursday, Dec.18.
The governor’s 2019 priorities resulted in a number of successes. The Legislature passed 16 of the governor’s 18 priority bills, many of them with strong bipartisan support.
These bills ushered in policies that transformed behavioral health, established 100% clean energy standards, strengthened orca and salmon recovery efforts, created a statewide broadband effort, adopted a public health care option, gave eligible students free or discounted tuition and offered career connected learning paths so students can more easily find good-paying careers.