Everett mayor decries plan to house homeless in local motels

The state says three people living on state-owned rights of way in Everett have been placed into housing.

Cassie Franklin

Cassie Franklin

EVERETT — The mayor on Friday criticized a state program to bring what she called “large amounts of the unsheltered population” to Everett motels without the city’s knowledge.

In a signed letter posted to Twitter and Facebook, Mayor Cassie Franklin wrote she learned Thursday the state Department of Transportation is placing unsheltered Washingtonians from outside Everett in the city.

So far, the state agency has placed three people living homeless on state-owned rights of way in Everett into housing here, a spokesperson said in an email. The spokesperson claimed this was done in collaboration with Everett police and the city’s homeless response coordinator.

The move is part of the state’s Right of Way Safety Initiative, a proposal from Gov. Jay Inslee to provide housing and services to people living in rights of way on state highways.

“The Right of Way Safety Initiative focuses on state highway rights of way because of the inherent safety risk these sites pose to anyone on them,” the state DOT wrote in a Sept. 30 post. “Vehicles pass these locations at 70 mph or higher, regular inspections and access are needed, emergency and planned construction takes place, etc. These areas are not safe places for anyone to be living, and the encampments make these areas unsafe for crews working on these sites, for passing motorists who can be distracted and the neighbors of these areas.”

The state departments of Commerce and Transportation as well as Washington State Patrol were tasked with establishing a grant program to transition people living on these right-of-ways to housing, according to the state. Washington’s supplemental budget, passed by the Legislature this spring, included just over $45 million for the initiative.

Four counties, including King, Pierce and Thurston, submitted funding proposals for the program. Snohomish County was not one of them, according to the Department of Commerce. So money that had been planned for the county was reallocated elsewhere.

Since its launch in May, the initiative has transitioned at least 124 people from encampments in participating counties to housing or shelter, according to the governor’s office. At least 119 remained housed this week.

In a statewide count last year, Snohomish County had the second most encampments on state Department of Transportation property, with 251, mostly along I-5. Only King County had more, with 871.

In an interview with TVW this week, state Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar said the people the state has moved “are actively working to better their lives.” He called the initiative “much more humane.”

“It works better if we’re all working together,” Millar said.

At an event in Seattle on Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee praised the initiative’s work clearing homeless encampments from rights of way.

“Because of our strategy that has been so aggressive on this, we have been able to get people in housing in weeks, rather than decades,” he said.

In Everett, the program would have a full-time program supervisor, substance abuse and mental health counselors as well as an outreach coordinator, according to Helping Hands, a local nonprofit with which the state is contracting.

Once someone is moved to a local motel, staff provide other essential services to help them get permanent housing. Under a contract reportedly signed Sept. 1, up to nine months worth of rental payments and help with move-in costs are available.

“We have temporarily housed a total of three people,” Helping Hands said, “and our goal is to eventually provide them permanent housing as well as trainings and wrap around behavioral health services that would help them re-integrate into the community. Our goal is to help them thrive.”

‘Immediately discontinue’

In her letter, Franklin called the news “an unacceptable burden for our city to bear.”

“I have always supported — and continue to support — initiatives to create more shelter options,” the mayor wrote. “I have even developed and expanded teams specifically dedicated to this effort. However, Everett is undertaking way too much responsibility for the homelessness crisis facing our region.”

She argued the move could harm businesses and residents in the area “without adequate service plans or consideration of quality of life for the surrounding neighborhoods.”

After learning the information “second hand,” the mayor and county Executive Dave Somers reached out to Secretary Millar on Thursday.

Franklin and Somers believed up to 50 motel rooms across three locations in Everett would be funded for people largely being brought from Seattle. City of Everett spokesperson Julio Cortes said he didn’t know which motels were being used as part of the program and when the people would arrive.

“We ask that the WSDOT/Helping Hands immediately discontinue the placement of unsheltered individuals in Everett motels until such time that meaningful discussions can occur between the stakeholders, including the City of Everett and Snohomish County,” the local leaders wrote in their letter obtained by The Daily Herald.

Local officials had not received a response from this letter Friday morning, Cortes said in an email. State DOT spokesperson Kris Abrudan said the agency was working on a formal response in the afternoon.

“WSDOT is happy to have further conversations with the city and county to clarify further misinformation,” Abrudan said in an email.

In a reply to Franklin’s letter on Twitter, Helping Hands wrote “imagine how businesses in Everett along with the Gospel mission — who have complained on many occasions about the unhoused occupying the State right of way in Everett would feel about this untruthful statements of yours.”

“What is your motive behind this?” added the nonprofit.

In recent months, Snohomish County has moved to purchase two local hotels to convert them into 129 shelter units. Despite a push from conservatives, the county council voted 3-2 last month not to require drug treatment as a condition of living in those shelters.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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