Legislation for the Homeless Families

homeless-family.jpg You read all sorts of statistics about homelessness, some indicating that it is a monumental tragedy and others suggesting that it is a temporary condition for a few addicts. Bill O’Reilly last week somewhat famously said that there were no recent veterans who are homeless.

Without adding more numbers to the discussion, I would like to note that in 1997, when the economy was going relatively gangbusters, the Washington State Supreme Court in Washington State Coilition for the Homeless v. Department of Social and Health Services found, by statistics that were said to be conservative and likely lower than the actual numbers, that homelessness increased with reduction in the availability of low cost private housing (duh), and in 1990 171,000 people sought homeless shelters and 115,000, including 37,000 children were turned away. In 1991, “of the people who were admitted to emergency shelters, approximately 7,900 were families with 17,200 minor children. Of those children, 75 percent (more than 12,000 children) were under the age of 11 years. During this same period of time approximately 23,500 families, with 49,800 children, were turned away from shelters because of lack of space.” The courts list of statistics goes on.

The Court found that the legislature had passed a law (RCW 74.13.031(1)) mandating the creation of a program for homeless children and that none had been established. It ordered that this be done. (DSHS is a whipping post with a breathtaking breadth of responsibility and chronic underfunding.) The legislature passed funding of $5,000,000 for the 1999-2001 biennium, then ignored the program except to renew the level of funding, leaving it to the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development to create and monitor the program, which provides funding to nonprofits, local governments, and housing authorities to provide housing and services to families with children.

According to Senate bill Report ESSB 5959 in 2006 the program served — to some extent — about 19% of the families in need of temporary shelter. There are now pending in both the senate and house bills to create an official, statutory program. The house bill is more conservative and would not increase the funding from the original amount in 1999, while the senate bill would increase the funding to $15,000,000 and slightly broaden the scope to include preventative services to those families about to become homeless (which from the perspective of the investment of public funds makes sense).

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