Another boost for Everett’s homeless housing program

EVERETT — The city of Everett is stepping up its efforts to provide housing for homeless people, and the initiative may receive a welcome boost from Snohomish County.

In its budget for 2016, the County Council included $1 million intended to support the city’s efforts to build or acquire property for low-barrier supportive housing.

“This is a countywide problem and this is something we need to fund in the future as well,” County Councilman Brian Sullivan said.

“It has to have momentum because the problem isn’t going away, the problem is only getting worse,” he said.

Sullivan championed the addition to the budget out of recognition that Everett takes the brunt of the impacts of chronic homelessness even though it has just 15 percent of the county’s population.

The $1 million comes with a few conditions. The money is a two-for-one match, meaning Everett will need to invest $2 million of its own or from other sources in order to qualify for the additional county support.

The money also is earmarked for a single capital project, either construction of new housing or purchasing of existing property, Sullivan said. The County Council will review the city’s project proposal prior to approval.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said the city already is moving forward on a plan to create more housing for homeless people in early 2016.

“We plan to bring that plan by resolution to the City Council by the first quarter,” Stephanson said.

Everett has been working on a multipart plan to reduce chronic homelessness and associated problems of substance abuse, untreated mental health problems, and petty street crimes.

The city’s Community Streets Initiative task force identified 63 specific actions to tackle the issue, and the mayor’s Safe Streets Initiative is putting some of those into action.

So far the city has created an alcohol impact area in certain neighborhoods and hired social workers (with funding from the county) to ride along with police officers.

In November, the city brought in Lloyd Pendleton, the architect of Utah’s successful low-barrier housing program, to address a crowd at the Historic Everett Theatre. A video of Pendleton’s talk is available online on the city’s YouTube channel (http://bit.ly/1jORPnS).

The city’s 2016 budget already includes $2.2 million in funding for various projects, including an expansion of the social worker program.

Stephanson earlier this fall announced a plan to build 20 units of low-barrier supportive housing in the next two years. He’s now accelerated the schedule, aiming for five units available within the first 60 days of 2016 and all 20 by mid-year.

“Those 20 are most likely going to be at scattered sites, rentals, until (we) look for a longer-term project,” said David Hall, a deputy city prosecutor leading the Safe Streets program.

The temporary sites still would be supportive, in that case workers would regularly visit the tenants to provide services, but they won’t be on-site as they would in a more long-term housing environment, Hall said.

Stephanson said the city already is looking at potential properties in conjunction with Catholic Community Services of Western Washington and other social service organizations.

“I would hope that by mid-year we would have a property identified, we’re working on purchase and sales agreements, and beginning to identify capital requirements,” he said.

Those property purchases are one likely use of the county’s $1 million promise. Having a property already in place would help the city in obtaining state funding as well, Stephanson said.

Even if that drive doesn’t come to fruition as planned, Stephanson maintained the city will keep moving forward on the housing project.

“If it doesn’t happen this year, it’ll happen in ‘17,” he said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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