Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Sept. 27, 2022

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In Our View: Homeless Aid an Investment

Such services require our commitment, benefit the relative few and the many

The Columbian

This year’s homeless count in Clark County reveals few surprises.

The number of homeless people in the region continues to climb, which is evidenced by a walk around the downtown core or a drive past areas where people congregate. January’s Point in Time survey — an annual one-day audit of those living without reliable shelter — counted 795 people in Clark County. That represents a 6 percent increase from the previous year; while the number of those in emergency or transitional shelters decreased, there was a sharp uptick among people living outside such as in a car or a tent.

This is not unique to Clark County. The snapshot of homeless residents in Seattle counted 12,112 people — an increase of 4 percent — and homelessness remains a persistent problem in Portland, as well.

Among other things, this calls for a close look at the city of Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Fund, which was approved with 58 percent of the vote in 2016. The property-tax measure allows the city to levy up to 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value for the “purpose of buying, building and preserving low-income rental housing and preventing homelessness through rental assistance and housing services.”

Last year, according to the city’s website, $4.4 million was earmarked for projects to preserve or add housing — accounting for 100 affordable housing units. Seven projects of new construction will create 237 units, including 80 designated as affordable housing; four rehabilitation projects will provide 20 units, all for affordable housing. In one example, $500,000 went to the Vancouver Housing Authority, helping to fund a 30-unit building along Fourth Plain Boulevard. In another example, $35,000 went to New Beginnings Maternity Home to rehab four units in East Vancouver for single mothers and their babies.

Supporting 100 units of affordable housing will not eliminate Vancouver’s pressing needs, but the effort reflects an important public-private partnership and an important acknowledgement of the issue.

Meanwhile, the Legislature also provided attention to homelessness during this year’s session. Lawmakers invested $107 million in the state Housing Trust Fund, which allocates money to builders of affordable housing, and they passed several bills designed to address the issue.

Such attention is warranted. In a nation as wealthy as the United States, it is unconscionable that homelessness remains a growing problem; assisting our fellow citizens is both humane and important to enhancing the quality of life for all of us. And yet the issue should not be viewed as one that can be solved simply with an influx of tax dollars. It is essential for city, county and state leaders to constantly evaluate programs and ensure that money is going to areas that have demonstrated effectiveness.

Such effectiveness dictates that homeless services must be viewed as an investment in our communities. With an estimated 40,000 homeless school children in Washington, the issue promises to have long-lasting consequences. Comprehensive housing, mental health and addiction services, and outreach will be required to mitigate that impact.

With that in mind, Clark County’s Council for the Homeless is updating its Homeless Action Plan and seeking community input. “Homelessness is a hot topic right now, which is great because people are interested and people are sharing ideas,” executive director Kate Budd told The Columbian.

It is only through such a commitment that we can reduce the number of our homeless neighbors.

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