EVERETT — The mayor on Friday criticized a state program to bring what she called “a large portion of the unsheltered population” into Everett motels without the knowledge of the city.
In a signed letter posted on Twitter and FacebookMayor Cassie Franklin wrote that she learned Thursday that the state Department of Transportation was placing unprotected Washingtonians from outside Everett in the city.
So far, the state agency has placed three homeless people on state-owned rights-of-way in Everett in housing here, a spokesperson said in an email. The spokesperson said it was done in conjunction with Everett police and the city’s homeless response coordinator.
The move is part of the state’s Right of Way Safety Initiative, a proposal by Gov. Jay Inslee to provide housing and services to people living in right-of-ways on state highways.
“The Right-of-Way Safety Initiative focuses on the state’s highway right-of-ways because of the inherent safety risk these sites pose to anyone on them,” the state’s DOT wrote in a statement. September 30 article. “Vehicles pass through these locations at 70mph or more, regular inspections and access are required, emergency and planned construction work is taking place, etc. These areas are not safe places for anyone, and encampments make these areas unsafe for crews working at these sites, passing motorists who may be distracted, and neighbors in these areas.
The state Departments of Commerce and Transportation along with the Washington State Patrol have been tasked with establishing a grant program to transition people living on these rights-of-way into housing, according to the state. Washington’s supplementary budget, passed by the Legislature this spring, included just over $45 million for the initiative.
Four counties, including King, Pierce and Thurston, have submitted funding proposals for the program. Snohomish County was not among them, according to the Department of Commerce. So the money that had been earmarked for the county was reallocated elsewhere.
Since its launch in May, the initiative has moved at least 124 people from encampments in participating counties to housing or shelters, according to the governor’s office. At least 119 remained housed this week.
In a statewide tally last year, Snohomish County had the second-most campsites on state Department of Transportation property, with 251, mostly along I- 5. Only King County had more, with 871.
In an interview with TVW this week, the Secretary of State for Transport, Roger Millar, said the people the state has displaced are “actively working to improve their lives”. He called the initiative “much more humane”.
“It works best if we all work together,” Millar said.
At an event in Seattle on Wednesday, Governor Jay Inslee praised the work of the initiative to rid homeless encampments of rights of way.
“Because of our strategy being so aggressive about this, we were able to get people into housing in weeks rather than decades,” he said.
In Everett, the program would have a full-time program supervisor, addiction and mental health counselors as well as an outreach coordinator, according to Helping Hands, a local nonprofit with which the state has a contract. .
Once a person is moved to a local motel, staff provide other essential services to help secure permanent housing. Under a contract reportedly signed on September 1, up to nine months’ rent and help with moving costs are available.
“We temporarily housed a total of three people,” Helping Hands said, “and our goal is to eventually provide them with permanent housing as well as training and behavioral health services that would help them reintegrate into the community. Our goal is to help them thrive. »
In his letter, Franklin called the news “an unacceptable burden on our city.”
“I have always supported – and continue to support – initiatives to create more accommodation options,” the mayor wrote. “I even developed and expanded teams specifically dedicated to this effort. However, Everett bears far too much of the blame for the homelessness crisis facing our region.
—Cassie Franklin (@MayorCassie) November 4, 2022
She argued that the move could harm businesses and residents in the area “without adequate service plans or consideration of the quality of life of surrounding neighborhoods.”
After learning the “second-hand” information, Mayor and County Executive Dave Somers contacted Secretary Millar on Thursday.
Franklin and Somers believed that up to 50 motel rooms across three sites in Everett would be funded for people brought in largely from Seattle. City of Everett spokesman Julio Cortes said he didn’t know which motels were being used in the program and when people would arrive.
“We request that the WSDOT/Helping Hands immediately halt the placement of unprotected individuals in Everett motels until meaningful discussions can take place between stakeholders, including the City of Everett and the County of Snohomish,” the local leaders wrote in their letter obtained by The Daily Herald.
Local officials had not received a response to that letter as of Friday morning, Cortes said in an email. DOT spokesman Kris Abrudan said the agency was working on an official response by the afternoon.
“WSDOT is pleased to have further conversations with the city and county to clarify other misinformation,” Abrudan said in an email.
In a response to Franklin’s letter on Twitter, Helping Hands wrote “Imagine what Everett businesses as well as the Gospel Mission – which have repeatedly complained about homeless people occupying the state’s right of way in Everett would feel about your false statements.”
“What is your motivation behind this? added the nonprofit.
In recent months, Snohomish County decided to buy two local hotels to convert them into 129 accommodations. Despite a push from the Tories, the county council voted 3-2 last month not to require drug treatment as a condition of living in these shelters.