‘King County, we have a problem’: Health Board divided on homeless call for action



(The Center Square) – A call to action to address homelessness in King County does not have the full support of the King County Board of Health.

The King County Board of Health was called upon to address homelessness concerns raised by community members who spoke during the public comment period at Board of Health meetings in 2023 and 2024.

The board is tasked with addressing public health issues related to the forced removal of people living in encampments without an immediate safety need or without access to temporary or permanent shelter.

The call to action resulting from a King County Board of Health workgroup recommends strategies including supporting the housing-first approach.

“King County, we have a problem,” Vice Chair Quiana Daniels said at Thursday’s board meeting. “We don’t want to see our fellow residents in King County suffering and improperly housed – and we are reminded of systemic failures within our county.”

Daniels, who signed on to the call to action, is supporting the regional strategy that has been adopted by the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. The agency estimates a potential cost of $450 million to $1.1 billion per year over the next 10 years in order to increase housing as a solution to homelessness.

“Adopting a housing-first approach is not merely a policy shift, it is a moral imperative,” Daniels continued. “Stable secure housing is a fundamental human right and by providing it, we lay down the foundation for improved health.”

Daniels’s signature on the call to action was joined by King County Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and LEAD Project Manager Christopher Archiopoli, among others. LEAD is the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, an alternative to booking certain people into jail.

However, not all Board of Health members agreed with the call to action, including Seattle City Councilmembers Bob Kettle and Sara Nelson, and Sammamish City Councilmember Amy Lam, due to the call to action’s listed recommendations.

Nelson noted that homeless service providers told her that addiction is not a cause of homelessness, but is a result of being unhoused. She believes that drug addiction is more prominent in homeless communities because they are more vulnerable to drug dealing and that if the problem is not resolved, unhoused peoples’ lives will continue to be further disrupted.

The call to action does recommend expanding substance use treatment as well as harm reduction services.

The Center Square previously reported on a policy pledge created by the nonprofit organization Future 42 to counter the “housing-first” approach. The pledge has more than 50 signatures from local government representatives across Washington.

King County’s 2024 Point-In-Time Count revealed 16,385 homeless people living throughout the region, a 22.6% increase from the last point-in-time count conducted by the county in 2022, which found 13,368 homeless people in King County.

Out of the 16,385 tallied people, 60% of those were living unsheltered.

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