Proposed bill would allocate millions to help with homeless encampments in public right-of-ways

SPOKANE, Wash — A new bill making its way to the Senate floor is trying to find a solution to the homeless crisis.

Governor Jay Inslee is proposing to invest $494 million dollars into Senate Bill 5662.

“We know the reasons for homelessness are many and varied, we know that there is no one size fits all solution,” said Inslee in a press conference Thursday. “But we do know, that moving with speed is a good decision right now.”

If passed, the bill would create an intergovernmental coordination office to move those from homeless encampments on WSDOT-owned land into permanent housing.

Since December, Camp Hope has been on WSDOT-owned property. Daniel Rose has been staying on 2nd and Ray. He is currently on a waitlist for housing.

“They’re talking, if I’m lucky, three weeks,” he said. “If I’m unlucky, up to three months before I can actually get a place to live and get back to work, which I miss.”

He’s in support of the bill.

“It’s rough out here,” Rose said. “It’s very very hard out here, but I know there’s other people that, for a lack of a better way to put it, they need to get their stuff straight so they can take advantage of those types of programs.”

The office would be tasked with creating regional outreach teams. Those teams, consisting of local, state, and private partners would target the individual needs of the homeless. Mental health, poly-substance abuse, etc., the funding to transition people into permanent housing, would be provided by the state.

“The cities can’t do it alone, the mayor can’t do it alone,” said Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward. “We do need help, and I support the governor’s effort to put more money aside for this issue.”

Mayor Nadine Woodward explained homelessness in Spokane has gotten worse because of the pandemic.

“We may not have the visible encampments on DOT property that Western Washington has, but we have people who need homes. We need to transition people here out of homelessness,” she said.

Spokane councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson outwardly expressed her support for the bill in front of the governor. Until this year, she explained she’s never seen homeless encampments in Spokane around I-90 before.

“The safety and the challenges of that, overwhelming,” she said. “Without this partnership with the state, there are no solutions that the city has to offer because we don’t have funding for it.”

WSDOT in a statement wrote:

Currently, there are four steps that allow encampments to be removed from WSDOT right of way:

  1. The offering of shelter and services to people living there
  2. Storage of their belongings
  3. Safety and security for people on site and work crews
  4. Restoration and cleanup of the property

WSDOT’s responsibility and expertise is limited to the last action, the restoration and clean-up of right of way. As such we must rely on our partnerships with local jurisdictions, law enforcement and social services when addressing any area with an encampment. Creating housing options is well beyond the expertise, ability or funding of a transportation agency. We engage our partners when there is an immediate safety threat at a particular encampment on our right of way, but given the number of encampments and our limited resources, we are unable to address all of them with the care, compassion and resources such work requires.

As for how the proposal will affect any specific site, in the short-term, the proposed legislation still needs to work through the Legislative process.

Senate Bill 5662 is now headed to the Ways and Means Committee which will determine whether or not the bill gets funded.

RELATED: Gov. Inslee plans for $494M to go towards solving the homeless crisis