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King County homeless authority pushes for $100M highway initiative

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(The Center Square) – The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has publicly expressed its priorities for the 2024 legislative session, which includes increased funding for Washington state’s Right of Way Safety Safety Initiative, a partnership of state and local jurisdictions to find solutions for homeless people living on state highway rights of way.

The homeless authority first began operations under the initiative in June 2022, with the majority of state funding being sent to the organization that fall.

The authority supports Gov. Jay Inslee’s request of $100 million for the Department of Commerce for continuing support of the initiative. In December, Inslee announced his budget proposal for the additional funding to maintain the Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition fund, which contributes to the Right of Way Initiative.

Since the initiative’s launch, funds from and the encampment resolution program have gone toward providing emergency shelter to people living on state rights of way.

According to data from the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, its teams have removed 10 encampments on Washington state right of ways and moved 335 people indoors.

King County was allocated $49.2 million by the Washington state Department of Commerce for the Right of Way Initiative. That is the most out of all participating counties in the state.

The initiative’s success rate sits at 89% for acceptance of housing and shelter of homeless people living on state right of ways. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority stated in a press release that another right of way encampment is expected to be resolved soon.

“With state resources for outreach, housing, non-congregate shelter, and ongoing operations of supportive services, we will be able to clean up our state highways by resolving encampments safely and sustainably, and put more people on a path to stability so they can rejoin society and rebuild their lives,” the agency stated in the release.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority could be impacted by the passage of proposed legislation requiring homeless service providers to submit annual plans revealing their goals and track grant spending. Currently, the state has nothing in place to properly audit grant recipients.

House Bill 1872 comes after the King County Regional Homelessness Authority signaled its transition to a housing first approach to end homelessness. This strategy could potentially cost $450 million to $1.1 billion per year over the next 10 years to increase housing as a solution to homelessness in the region.

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