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Inslee-backed bill would target homeless encampments in public right-of-way

The proposed state office would be in charge of working with local governments to house those living in encampments on WSDOT-owned property.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee is pushing the legislature to pass Senate Bill 5662, which would create a new state office dedicated to transitioning people living in homeless encampments on the "public right of way" into permanent housing. 

The public right of way includes encampments along sidewalks, below overpasses and bridges, alongside I-5 and state highways, and any other right-of-way under the control of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). The state estimates there are more than 1,750 unsanctioned homeless camps on public rights-of-way managed by state agencies.

The Office of Intergovernmental Coordination on Public Right-of-Way Homeless Encampments would be in charge of working with local governments and state agencies to move people from encampments on state-owned land into shelter space. 

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and Seattle City Council President Debora Juarez joined Inslee in supporting the bill at a press conference on Thursday, citing difficulty accessing homeless encampments on WSDOT property. 

"Our inability to coordinate with multiple jurisdictions was a major obstacle to housing those in need," Juarez said. "Senate Bill 5662 is the solution as a truly collaborative effort between all levels of government and the tribes to shelter our relatives."

Should the bill pass, the office will establish regional coordination teams tasked with identifying housing resources and determining when enough shelter space or housing units are available to begin transitioning those in encampments. 

The office would also be charged with forming a data analysis team to track the outcomes of individuals connected with housing in order to report annually on the program's success.  

Inslee proposed the bill in conjunction with an $815 million plan to address homelessness in the state in 2022, including $300 million to set up rapidly available housing and $40 million to coordinate transportation, security and treatment for those moving into supportive housing.

Lawmakers said, should the program pass, they're hoping to see results in a matter of months should enough housing become available. 

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