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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Republicans in Washington Senate offers package of bills designed to fight homelessness

Mike Quesnell, 66, is all refreshed after cleaning up in the Shower of Hope mobile shower, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2019, in the Spokane Valley Partners parking lot. The city of Spokane is expected to approve the use of $317,000 dedicated by Spokane County for homeless assistance to pay local nonprofits to assist those at risk of losing shelter in Spokane Valley and other, more rural parts of the county. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Daisy Zavala

OLYMPIA – To reduce the number of homeless people in Washington, some Senate Republicans want to take a market-based approach to create more affordable housing as well as crack down on criminal activity they link to homelessness.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said reducing homelessness will mean providing people with stable housing, offering resources to help with mental health issues or substance abuse, and taking public safety into account.

“It has to be about law and order, and I don’t say that without compassion,” he said. “The services do no good if you don’t have rules that you follow within society.”

At a separate press conference, Senate Democrats said they were looking for bipartisan support for bills to address homelessness.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to work across the aisle,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said. “We don’t have a final plan yet.”

Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, proposed bills to address criminal activity he contends are related to homelessness.

They include a “Blue Flag” law, which would allow officers to take a person who exhibits “poor personal hygiene, unpleasant aroma, unexplained injuries, exposure to elements or other unsafe behavior” for a 72-hour evaluation. The evaluation would try to determine if they suffer from addiction or mental health issues.

Another bill would require King County and Seattle prosecutors to charge people who commit repeated property offenses.

To succeed in reducing homelessness, Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, said lawmakers should address housing and restoring neighborhoods while helping people recover from mental illness or substance abuse so they can become self-sufficient.

“I’m offering a package of impact-fee-relief bills designed to kick-start construction of affordable housing,” he said.

Fortunato also wants to remove impact fees on housing and building permits to ease the construction of small starter homes.

Another Fortunato bill would provide shelters for homeless individuals and make available social services such as childcare, mental health and job counseling.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, said the state doesn’t have strategies in place to reduce chronic homelessness and instead waits until people choose to receive treatment for substance addiction or receive shelter.

“It’s time that we think of these individuals as if they were our own children,” he said.

O’Ban would set up a special type of guardianship that would allow local governments to appoint a family member or a social worker to be responsible for a homeless individual who needs treatment for addiction or a mental health issue. The court-appointed guardian could give their consent for the person to receive treatment if that person refused but is found to be impaired.

They also have proposals to improve medical treatment in local jails and launch employment programs for homeless adults, including putting them to work on beautification projects.

“The crisis of homelessness is, in many ways, a humanitarian crisis,” Zeiger said.