Senate Republicans introduced a package of bills Tuesday that aim to reduce the number of homeless individuals on the streets, utilizing a number of tools to expand resources, compel homeless individuals to seek treatment for mental health disorders and substance abuse, and require proper enforcement of laws on the books when a homeless person commits a crime, according to Senate Republican leaders.
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Senators John Braun (R-30th District), Phil Fortunato (R-31st District), Hans Zeiger (R-25th District) and Steve O’Ban (R-28th District) released details of their respective bills combatting homelessness on Tuesday.
“We have reached a critical point in our deliberations about homelessness,” said Sen. Zeiger, speaking to the press on Tuesday. “Homelessness was once an issue that mattered to many Washingtonians, but it fell behind other concerns like the economy, education, and taxes. Now nearly one in three said homelessness was the top issue facing the legislature.”
Various causes that feed the state’s homelessness problem will be addressed by the Republican package of bills, which, respectively, try to fulfill the need for affordable housing, mental health care and substance abuse treatment, transitional housing, and public safety resources.
One of the bills backed by the Republican senate leadership, Senate Bill 6109, would allow local governments to appoint a guardian like a family member, social worker or another person to exercise power of attorney on behalf of a homeless individual struggling with mental health or substance abuse, according to Sen. O’Ban. The person to exercise power of attorney over the homeless person would be responsible for ensuring that the homeless individual got the treatment and resources they need when they refuse treatment for themselves.
“That person will see that the homeless individual gets the treatment they need,” said O’Ban, who sponsored the bill. “We need a guardian to substitute their consent for the adult who is refusing treatment.”
The bill would create pilot programs in the three largest counties in the state — Pierce, King and Snohomish.
“I’m hoping the legislature will pass this common-sense bill,” O’Ban said. “This is a population that isn’t getting care.”
Both of Braun’s bills that could mitigate issues surrounding homelessness, Senate Bill 6196 and Senate Bill 6201, address two aspects of solving the homelessness crisis. SB 6196 would create a homeless impact grant program that would provide money to county and city chambers of commerce located in areas with a homeless population of greater than 500 people. Money has to be used for sanitation purposes in the areas that chamber of commerce is located in.
Several of Senator Zeiger’s bills target the cost of building affordable housing, which would alleviate some of the financial costs on developers when constructing new residential developments. Impact fee relief would be key to some of these bills.
SB 6364, SB 6386, SB 6387 and SB 6388 all address impact fees in affordable housing. SB 6364 would incentivize housing developers to construct more single-family affordable housing by instituting a tiered fee structure based on square footage per bedroom of each home. SB 6386 would reduce impact fees for low-income housing. SB 6387 would allow a property developer to get their impact fees returned if the city or county doesn’t spend those dollars within six years instead of the current 10 years. SB 6388 would cap the impact fees paid for multi-family housing to the same amount paid for single-family housing.
“I think it addresses this housing security priority that we have,” Zeiger said.
Another bill Zeiger sponsored, Senate Bill 6185, would expand opportunities for potential homeowners to acquire down payment assistance. That bill includes a new provision that states other entities and groups can provide down payment assistance grants.
One bill sponsored by Senator Fortunato, SB 6460, addresses crimes committed by those who are homeless. “The graffitti bill,” as he called it, would require those who paint graffiti in a public space to clean it up.
“It’s like the broken window syndrome,” Fortunato said. “If you have one broken window and you don’t repair it, the entire neighborhood goes to hell. You can’t drive through Seattle without seeing graffiti everywhere, and by focusing on the small things, we will send a message that we will not tolerate this type of behavior.”
Similar efforts to address issues caused by the homeless population in communities around the state include authorizing local authorities to pick up homeless individuals off the street if it appears they are not keeping themselves clean. This “blue flag law,” as Fortunato called it, would allow authorities to remove that person to assess that person for further health issues.
“You would be able to remove that person for a 72-hour evaluation because there may be other issues that affect that,” Fortunato said. “We have mental health issues, we have alcohol and drug addiction issues.”
In addition, Fortunato sponsored Senate Bill 6502, which would remove local prosecutors’ authority to prosecute someone acquitted of a “homeless crime” if that person is released once. After re-committing such a crime, which the bill defines as a property offense, prosecutors would be required to prosecute these individuals if his bill becomes law.
“It’s not tolerable to have a society that has people commit 30, 40, 50 crimes and they’re back out on the street doing the same thing,” Fortunato said. “It disincentivizes law enforcement to enforce the law.”
Another Fortunato effort, The Shelter Act, would provide a secure place for homeless people to go where they can find a safe place to sleep, police protection, counseling and resources.
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