“That’s the equivalent of spending… $1,137,256 per person to exit homelessness.”
By Ari Hoffman and Jonathan Choe
Despite spending over $1.1 million for each of the only 126 people who transitioned out of homelessness, Washington Democrat Governor Jay Inslee claimed that his initiative for removing encampments from state land and getting people into housing requires more money in order to continue.
Inslee has failed to adequately address the state’s homeless crisis, which has grown exponentially during his more than a decade in office.
Friday, during a photo op at a tiny home village in Olympia, Inslee touted his Rights of Way Safety Initiative (ROW), a program that since last summer has attempted to remove encampments from state land, including from the sides of freeways, and transition the residents into housing.
Despite already spending an astronomical $143 million on the project, Inslee claimed that the program needed more money, telling KOMO News during Friday’s photo op, “We will need the Legislature, in January, to appropriate more funding because we’re out of funding for the Right of Way Initiative right now. We’ll need the legislature in January to step up to increase funding so we can continue the progress we’re making.”
Inslee added that if the money is not allocated, the encampments would remain on state property, claiming, “You can’t do this with zero dollars.”
“We will need more funding to continue this Right of Way Initiative. We essentially are out. We’ve run our string out for the ones we have planned right now. We need people to do the construction, we need people to do the outreach. We need law enforcement to be able to help. We need drug treatment to get these people off of the scourge of fentanyl. This takes a (financial) investment.”According to an analysis of data from the Washington State Department of Commerce by Brandi Kruse of the UnDivided podcast, more than $143 million was allocated to clearing 1,299 people out of the encampments. Only 870 of them accepted housing and a mere 126, less than 10 percent, have successfully “exited” the system.
A spokesperson for Inslee’s Department of Commerce stated, “’Successful exits’ is of the people who exited the initial shelter or housing placement, how many exited to a permanent housing situation (such as a rented apartment, moved in with a family member, moved to a non-ROW funded permanent supportive housing placement, etc.). At this point, most people have not exited.”
Kruse posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, “That’s the equivalent of spending $110,311 per homeless person cleared from camps, $164,706 per homeless person who accepted housing and $1,137,256 per person to exit homelessness.”
When confronted with the figures by Jonathan Choe, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, Inslee snapped, “That’s false. Don’t repeat that because it’s false.”
Inslee’s justification for his claim was that capital costs were included in the total. “When you build an apartment, its not just for one person, its around for 50 years so that seems like a big number… it’s going to serve hundreds of people. Maybe it only served a hundred now but it is going to serve a thousand over fifty years.”
Following the governor’s comments, Kruse recalculated the figure based on the governor’s claim, removed the capital costs, and found that the project was still spending an exorbitant $83,294,259. Kruse posted on X, “To get 126 people out of homelessness. That’s still $661,065 PER PERSON.”
Even with all that money spent, Choe reported that there are still over 2,000 encampments on state right of ways. Additionally, many of the facilities for the homeless continue to sit empty for various reasons.
Additionally, though funds from the Rights of Way Safety Initiative have been used to remove dangerous encampments in Seattle, many residents remained skeptical that the money was being spent effectively and claimed the encampments were only cleared after dangerous high-profile incidents that made national headlines.
A spokesperson for the Department of Commerce told KOMO News, “There is funding to maintain existing operations through June 2025, but expansion to address additional sites is constrained by the need to keep housing people moved inside to date. Successfully transitioning people out of ROW-funded projects will free up capacity to address more encampments, but the scale will be less than in 2023. Commerce is working with local partners to determine realistic rates of transition as part of a larger recalibration process in the coming months.”
In response to an email from Choe asking if Inslee would “…welcome an independent audit, scrutinizing spending on his Rights of Way Initiative as well as how much more it would cost to remove the over 2,000 encampments on state property, a spokesperson for the governor said, “Our agencies regularly go through audits and reviews of programs with no objections from us or agency leaders; it’s a standard and welcome part of public sector work.”
The spokesperson added, “I don’t believe our agencies have calculated costs for addressing all encampments or provided such estimates to legislators,” citing the governor’s budget proposal from the most recent session of the Washington Legislature that included $60 million in capital funding, a cost of $150,000 per unit, that would “…allow us to continue building approximately 400 additional shelter and housing units (not funded, so it’s possible the governor could propose some level of capital funds again) and $68 million for encampment related services and remediation.”