State leaders ‘deeply frustrated’ by mayor, county exec’s homelessness letter

The letter spread “patently false and offensive” claims, per the departments of Commerce, Transportation and State Patrol.

Cassie Franklin

EVERETT — Three state department leaders aimed a terse rebuttal at Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers after they published a letter decrying a state program to put homeless people in motels in Everett.

Leaders from the state departments of Commerce and Transportation, as well as the Washington State Patrol, signed on to the response published Monday.

“… We are deeply frustrated that the city and county did not reach out to have a conversation with our departments prior to publishing and publicly sharing false secondhand information across social media platforms,” the letter reads. “You attempted to shame our agencies and accused us of transporting people experiencing homelessness across county lines, an accusation that is patently false and offensive. … We request a public retraction of those statements and an apology. Such accusations undermine our collective ability to do the work the public demands and unhoused individuals need.”

The state launched the Rights-of-Way Safety Initiative this year to give housing and health services to people living along state highways. It has millions of dollars available through grants for cities, counties and other providers to apply for.

Of over $143 million in funding provided to programs across five counties, those in Snohomish County had the lowest amount at $5.9 million.

The state’s letter claims Everett and Snohomish County declined to apply for the funds, which were then available to proposals from nonprofit organizations. Helping Hands and Volunteers of America of Western Washington, both based in Everett, applied and got some of the state grant money.

The letter from Somers and Franklin, who shared it Friday morning on her Facebook and Twitter pages, asked the state to stop putting homeless people in Everett motels. It claimed the state and a nonprofit were placing “a large number of the unsheltered population, many of which currently reside outside the city of Everett” in motels across the city.

“This is an unacceptable burden for our city to bear,” they wrote.

It was later clarified that three people had moved into motel rooms through the program.

“We are looking forward to connecting directly with the state agencies in the near future,” Everett spokesperson Julio Cortes wrote in an email Monday. “At this time, we don’t have a date set but will work on a collaborative approach to the issues presented in both letters.”

Helping Hands staff wrote in a press release Friday afternoon it would provide homeless outreach, rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing for people removed from state right-of-way in Snohomish County and “specifically areas of Everett.” The organization believed around 90 people were living in “scattered encampments.”

The opinion that “Everett is undertaking way too much responsibility for the homelessness crisis facing our region” is not new among the city’s elected officials.

Last fall, then-members of the City Council questioned the strategies to address homelessness after hearing of a surge in the number of homeless people contacted in Everett who came from other cities.

Since then, the city and Snohomish County have dedicated federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to buildings and programs in support of housing.

Everett is home to behavioral and mental health care providers, shelters and an expanding number of temporary tiny homes. The city planned to double the number of Pallet Shelter units at a village operated by the Everett Gospel Mission on city-owned property, and is pursuing another public-owned site on Sievers Duecy Boulevard that the Volunteers of America of Western Washington would run.

In August, Snohomish County announced a deal to buy a motel on Everett Mall Way and convert it into emergency housing.

Some cities nearby have been less amenable to such programs, including last year in Marysville where a proposed tiny home village was abandoned after some neighbors opposed it.

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037; bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

This story has been modified to include Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, who signed on to the letter sent to state agency leaders last week.

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