Washington State Governor Jay Inslee just announced plans to spend an additional $800 million on homelessness in 2022, on top of the $2 billion approved by the State Legislature earlier this year to help alleviate homelessness.
The funds are intended to be allocated toward homelessness prevention, more facilities (in the form of shelters, tiny homes, and permanent, affordable housing), and behavioral health services. There will also be a focus on transitioning people in encampments on public right of ways to permanent housing.
The Governor’s plan includes adding 2,600 more permanent supportive housing units for a total of 9,895 units. That’s still far short of the 22,923 homeless people that HUD estimated were living in Washington State in 2020.
The homelessness crisis facing West coast cities like Seattle needs money, there’s no doubt about that. Where those funds are allocated, however, makes a big difference.
Take Los Angeles, for example. In 2016, taxpayers approved a $1.2 billion initiative toward building housing for the homeless. But the project has been expensive and ineffective. Far from fixing the problem, homelessness has increased in Los Angeles.
There’s a lot of talk of shelters and housing in Inslee’s plan. Shelters and housing are well and good – we should be providing a roof over people’s heads. But with such a large amount of the homeless population suffering from a mental illness or substance abuse, behavioral health systems and services should be one of the top priorities in an effective strategy to lift people out of the streets. Programs that prioritize housing above all else have a dismal record of actually helping those in need of services once they have four walls and a roof around them.
So it’s important that Washington State carefully consider how it will spend such a large budget on homelessness. Money thrown at ineffective solutions will only make matters worse, an injustice to both taxpayers and the homeless in great need of supportive services.