Cheney Free Press -

By Sydney Brown
Washington State Journal 

Mandated homeless shelters draw criticism


Last updated 2/18/2021 at 10:48am

OLYMPIA — Senate Bill 5107 would require counties with populations exceeding 50,000 to establish emergency housing and homeless shelters.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn would also require mental health, employment and police resources.

The law would also force these shelters to ban possession or use of alcohol and unprescribed drugs on the premises and to have a police presence during operating hours. 

At a Feb. 3 hearing, more than 400 people signed in as opposed to the bill, telling the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee it would cost too much and place unnecessary burdens on the homeless. 

“To me, it is not compassionate to have people sleeping in cardboard boxes and on sides of roads, in campgrounds and public parks, disrupting the use of that public facility for other members of the community,” Fortunato countered. “So, that’s the intent of the bill.”

The state Housing Trust Fund program would likely serve as these shelters’ main source of funding, according to the bill’s text. But state Department of Commerce Senior Managing Director Tedd Kelleher said on the fund would not cover the costs. 

“When we look at local government finances, they don’t have the current resources or taxing authority to fund shelter at the scale of this proposal, even if they aggressively reallocated resources,” Kelleher said.

Others testified against parts of the bill that would ban the use or possession of drugs and alcohol in the shelter.

David Moser, a professor of social work at Seattle University, said substance misuse is a complicated issue and a ban would only deter people from seeking shelter. 

“For a shelter to work as an alternative to the streets, it needs to be low-barrier and accessible and welcoming to everyone, not just those who are deemed worthy,” Moser said.

The police presence at emergency shelters was also contested. 

Catholic Community Services of King County Director of Homeless Services Dan Wise said a police presence would put people in poverty under the direct scrutiny of law enforcement. 

“We cannot say that you can disconnect one from the other and dictate a police presence in a shelter and expect that people will access that resource,” Wise said.Mandated homeless shelters draw criticism


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