Don’t gut vital funding for homelessness prevention

March 7, 2014 

When did the poor, homeless, mentally ill, sick, vulnerable, suffering or all of the above start hanging on by a thread at the very middle of the political divide? Why is it that virtually every session ends with a bill that provides critical support for these groups of people?

With 14 years in the Legislature under my belt, you would think I could figure it out by now.

This year, we’re ending with a whopper of a bill, one that will affect thousands of vulnerable people – homeless women, children, veterans, the disabled and the mentally ill. The minimal $40 fee on documents that people pay when buying or selling a home will expire, and so will more than $50 million each year to end homelessness.

The Legislature in 2005 directed the state Department of Commerce to develop a statewide homeless housing program and 10-year strategic plan with the goal of reducing homelessness in our state by 50 percent.

Since 2006, the rate of homelessness in our state has decreased by 29 percent in spite of the Great Recession and housing foreclosure crisis, which further strained these programs. The plans and programs that were put in place are working.

On the cusp of the 10-year mark, the funds are set to sunset and jeopardize the valuable progress that has been accomplished over the last 10 years. Our state’s social safety net is still filling in holes from devastating cuts during the recession, and we shouldn’t shred it further.

A report recently published by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction states that there are now more than 30,000 homeless students in our education system. We know that for some students, attending school is the only stable place they can go. I can’t forget the earnest young boy who spoke at a children’s forum in Tacoma that he worried that the dome light would go out in his car before he could finish his homework.

We can do better, and we must do better for the thousands of anxious families that wonder where they will spend their nights.

The $40 document filing fee that helps provide assistance to homeless individuals and families is working; the Legislature must act this session to make sure that system can still run smoothly without making devastating cuts.

Senate Republican leadership and Sen. Jan Angel killed the House version of a bill to fix this problem in her committee. She seems to think that the sunset on the fee can be addressed next year – but the unforgiving truth is that we can’t wait.

Essential housing assistance programs will need to begin cutting costs as early as this fall if funding is reduced. Why would we continue to delay or deny the funding source for programs that help fight homelessness?

Is $40 too much to pay when buying or selling a house or dealing with real estate documents to make sure that homeless veterans, families and children in our state have a safe place to sleep and call their own? I have been trying to figure out why this issue is being ignored by the Senate majority this year, and I can’t come up with a good answer.

It is imperative that a solution that everyone involved can support is allowed to come to a vote on the Senate floor so that our most vulnerable aren’t left out in the cold.

State Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee and is a member of the Law & Justice and Rules committees.

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