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After millions spent, Spokane County frustrated to see homeless numbers increase

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(The Center Square) – Spokane County commissioners asked the hard questions and came up with few answers about the efficacy of millions of dollars spent on homelessness only to see more people on the streets.

The frustration came after a strategic planning meeting Monday, with commissioners getting bogged down in details about the implementation of an interlocal agreement regarding a new regional homeless authority.

“I guess one of my questions […] is again, what is helping make a difference, or not, versus what have we been doing?” asked Commissioner Mary Kuney.

Kuney pointed out that what they’ve been doing hasn’t been working because, as recent point-in-time count numbers have shown, most metrics related to homelessness in Spokane County are on the rise.

“What’s causing our numbers to go up because we’re putting more money into prevention?” asked Kuney, noting that even if the interlocal agreement establishes a new regional homeless authority, commissioners will still be responsible for spending their constituents’ tax monies wisely.

Commissioner Josh Kerns echoed the concern.

“How much money went through this community for rental assistance over the last three years to keep people in their houses, and the number still went up? Like you said, why?” asked Kerns.

The general tone of the discussion was one of addressing root causes and spending taxpayer funds efficiently and effectively.

Sharing the sentiment, Commissioner Al French asked if a comparison to Tacoma’s policy would be possible, given that they’re of a similar size to Spokane, and much of the City of Spokane’s policy drives policy county-wide.

“Since [Tacoma’s] numbers are considerably lower than ours, what are they doing differently than we are that is driving their numbers down? Is there a policy decision that we’ve made that is attracting more, or are they just shifting more of their homeless into Seattle and King County?” asked French.

“If that’s the solution, maybe we need to start getting a bus to Kootenai County,” joked French.

The same county whose sheriff recently warned off Washington criminals for the 4th of July holiday weekend with the slogan, “Don’t come to Kootenai County on vacation, and leave on probation.”

Despite being a joke, the quip from French moved the conversation to one of geography.

It was noted that Spokane is a “receiving entity,” offering many more services than any of the nearby counties, including those in Idaho.

Tacoma was referred to as a “sending entity,” and Seattle as the “receiving entity,” implying that disparity was the cause for the increasing numbers in Spokane County.

“Our geographic region is not just Spokane County; it’s the nine counties that surround us. Stevens to Whitman, Canada to Oregon,” commented Commissioner French, highlighting the immense size of the geographic region of Spokane, which covers the better part of a third of the state of Washington.

The meeting went on to discuss other funding issues but ultimately concluded with more questions than answers.

The commissioners agreed to continue the discussion next week.

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