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King County spends $65M to move 300 homeless people out of freeway camps

Originally published at The Center Square

By Spencer Pauley – The Center Square

(The Center Square) – One year and more than $65 million into Washington state’s Right of Way Safety Initiative, nearly 300 homeless people have been moved off state highway rights of way in King County. 

The Right of Way Safety Initiative closes encampments in areas around highways by providing shelter or housing to the estimated thousands of people living there.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority first began operations under the initiative in June 2022, with the majority of state funding being sent to the organization that fall.

As of July 1, 327 homeless individuals were engaged by KCRHA at some 10 encampments, with 292 of those people moved inside. Nineteen went directly to permanent housing and 273 people went to emergency housing or shelter, according to the latest data. Of those 273 people, 169 are still enrolled at emergency housing or shelter. Sixty-seven have moved on to permanent housing, and two passed away. That means a total of 86 people have been moved to permanent housing. 

KCRHA’s Jeff Simms said the remaining 11% of people contacted who did not accept shelter often move from one site to another, with a smaller number of people simply refusing the offer of help.

Under the initiative, Washington provided $49.2 million to the authority. The funding was distributed to different areas to support the state program: approximately $19 million to acquire new construction housing, some $12 million to lease a hotel for emergency housing and about $17 million for other permanent housing and administration.

Acquisition of new construction housing is not finished, Simms said, but is expected to be completed by mid-October.

KCRHA also utilized $16.6 million in ongoing funding to maintain permanent housing placements.

“That’s the cost of all of the permanent places that we’ve either purchased, or leased, in order to maintain the services at all of those locations,” Simms said at a Wednesday Seattle City Council Public Assets and Homelessness Committee meeting.

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis acknowledged that the Right of Way Initiative has a lot of work ahead of it, noting there are a number of encampments that have yet to be resolved in his district that represents downtown Seattle, Queen Anne and South Lake Union. Lewis mentioned a significant encampment fire that occurred Monday on a right of way in South Lake Union. 

“There is a dual-policy interest in also being able to mitigate sites that are contributing to senses and real impact of public order in this city that require us to have a diversified portfolio of responses,” Lewis said. “I think that the challenge is that if we don’t continue to diversify and look at building and adding to some of those interim solutions, there’s not going to be a visible change or impact…with what the public rightfully expects to see.”