Thurston County declared homelessness a crisis in 2018 --- before I was elected to the Board of County Commissioners. I have taken that mandate seriously and worked consistently on this problem throughout my term.
When I took office in 2019, the County's partnerships --- and level of trust --- with our city leaders were broken. A starting point for rebuilding that trust was the formation of the Regional Housing Council, a new committee bringing city and county officials to the table to direct key funding decisions together. The next step was to bring a true regional vision to the work.
Over the last three years, the County has funded micro-shelters in downtown Olympia, worked with Lacey to acquire a hotel for transitional housing, supported regional programs like hygiene and case management for camps, and formed a partnership with Olympia on a long-term plan for RVs. The County partnered with Interfaith Works on a new shelter and day-center project, and bridged gaps in state and federal rent-assistance programs with County funding. The problems are large, but I have insisted that your county government be there at every step, working with our neighboring jurisdictions on durable solutions.
The most significant policy step I led was to create a County Home Fund. In 2018, the State Legislature passed a law authorizing counties to legislatively fund permanent supportive housing and mental health treatment with a 0.1% sales tax. I worked closely with the cities of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater to develop an agreement that would create this county-wide fund and create a shared decision-making structure for its use. I strongly believe this stable funding stream will allow us to best leverage state and federal monies to meet the goals of the County's five-year homelessness plan.
Local governments did not create the housing crisis, but we have been tasked with managing it. I will continue to prioritize this issue in an effort to increase our affordable housing supply and eliminate the need for homeless encampments.