WA homeless scheme shows early signs of helping those living off motorways

The fire under the Boat Canal Bridge last week underscored how dangerous it can be for highways and homeless camps to be so close together, not only for camp residents but travelers as well. Now, the state government is evaluating and addressing the camp under a new program that has already shown positive results.

Earlier this year, the governor and the legislature launched the Right-of-Way Safety Initiative with much fanfare. This is a plan that will eventually bring all players together to remove these camps and get residents into housing.

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With new funding totaling $143 million so far, the program has set out to deliver services to reduce homeless encampments in King, Pierce, Thurston, Snohomish, and Spokane counties .

Barbara LaBoe of the Washington Department of Transportation said the money helps local agencies get into the camps, assess people’s needs and find them a new place to live before they clear these areas on state land. .

“The point of this is not just to get people out of camps — even though these areas are not safe — but to find better living conditions for them; whether it’s shelter or on the road to permanent housing,” Rabo said .

The state has focused on some of the largest camps along Interstate 5 and Interstate 90, and has cleared five of them, three in Thurston County and two in King County. The largest camps are located in Dearborn and I-5 in Seattle.

One of the challenges of clearing these homeless camps is that people often have nowhere else to go, they just follow the road to a new camp. Through this program, the housing is there until the camp is cleared, and it is hoped that transitional housing offers will be accepted more frequently.

So far, Rabo said, the plan has been successful.

“98 people were given housing, sometimes in shelters, sometimes in permanent housing, and of those 98, 77 were accepted,” she said.

Considering what we’ve seen in history, there are a lot of people receiving help to move to shelters.

Also, they are more likely to stay in housing. A recent inspection of the 77 people assisted found that 73 were still in their homes.

“If you go in and just try to move people, they’re likely to find another place to live outside,” Rabo said. “It’s not the end goal we want. It’s not good for them. It’s not good for the community as a whole. It’s going to take longer, but it seems like a better outcome in the end.”

Unlike sweeping, this program spends a lot of time in camp before giving notice of removal. This allows workers to build trust with those in the camp and help them find places to go.

The work has already been carried out at the scene of the fire under the Ship Canal bridge last week.

“That Ship Canal Bridge site is one of the sites we know of, and we do have outreach teams that have made some connections there,” Rabo said.

The goal is to roll out the model statewide, but that will require more funding.

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