Seattle Mayor Ed Murray may soon see his homelessness funding wish list checked off. At a press conference on Jan. 27, responding to the growing homelessness crisis, Murray told journalists that the city was all tapped out financially and that he needs help from the state and federal government. King County has already declared a state of emergency, and King County Executive Dow Constantine recently announced an additional $10 million investment to combat the crisis.
“Seattle has stepped up and has stepped up big time,” Murray said, noting that Seattle spends $50 million a year on homelessness, the most in the city’s history. “It is time again for the federal government and the state to step up.”
To that end, Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Vashon Island, introduced a bill to the Washington State Senate on Feb. 5 to draw $300 million from the rainy day fund over the next two years. The money would respond to the “desperate crisis [of homelessness] faced by tens of thousands of people in our communities every day.” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, at an Associated Press legislative preview, expressed skepticism about the bill.
“I don’t think homelessness falls into the definition that created [the rainy day fund],” he said, adding that the fund requires a two-thirds majority vote. He said that taking from the rainy day fund could put the state on the brink of a recession. “This would be nice to do but we’re going to face some real challenges.”
“Statistically, we’re not that far away from a recession,” he said. “If you tap $300 or $400 million out of your rainy day fund — we have a recession — we would be forced to make cuts that I don’t think anybody on this panel really wants to make.”
Nelson characterized it differently.
“Drive down Fouth Avenue, look under the Yesler Street bridge, and you find [homeless people] wrapped in tarps. You drive along the freeway in Seattle, and there is a tent city everywhere,” she said. “We have an emergency. We should use the rainy day fund, we should declare an emergency, and we should start taking care of this problem.”
At the federal level, President Barack Obama’s next budget will include $11 billion to combat homelessness, largely through housing vouchers. The White House’s 2017 Budget Fact
Sheet praised vouchers as an effective solution to the homelessness crisis.
“Recent rigorous research that found that families who utilized vouchers — compared to alternative forms of assistance to the homeless — had fewer incidents of homelessness, child separations, intimate partner violence and school moves, less food insecurity, and generally less economic stress,” the fact sheet reads. Indeed, Murray stressed the importance of federal housing aid in combatting the homelessness crisis.
“The other time we’ve had a housing affordability crisis in this country was after the Second World War, and it took the federal government to create the programs that built the huge affordable housing that two generations of people lived in,” he said. “That money is all gone now. That money went away and it never came back.”