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An initiative to remove homeless camps from roadways needs more money to continue next year, according to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, after burning through $143 million in a little over a year.
“You can’t do this with zero dollars,” Inslee, a Democrat, told KOMO News. “We’ll need the legislature in January to step up to increase funding so we can continue the progress we’re making.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee visited a right-of-way site in Seattle that was in the process of being cleared in March 2023. About 35 people had been living there, according to the governor. (Screenshots via X)
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Inslee’s statewide Rights-of-Way Safety Initiative began in June 2022 with the goal of removing homeless camps from state property near roads and offering housing to the people living in the camps.
On Friday, Inslee toured a tiny home village in Olympia funded by the initiative that will soon provide shelter to 50 people who previously lived in an encampment along I-5, KOMO reported. The governor said during the tour that the safety initiative is out of money and, come January, camps will remain on state lands if the legislature does not allocate more funds.
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“We’re very proud of the work state agencies have done in our right of way initiative working alongside local officials and service providers,” a spokesperson for the governor told Fox News in an email. “We will take as much funding as we can get to continue this work.”
Washington has spent more than $143 million on sweeping camps, funding housing and other costs from the initiative so far, according to Washington State Department of Commerce data.
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About 1,300 people were swept from roadside camps as of July 31, with roughly 430 of those rejecting help getting into temporary or permanent shelter. That means it took $165,000 per person to clear the camps and house 870 people.
The department says 126 people have successfully exited the program into permanent housing like a rented apartment or are living with a family member.
The Commerce Department did not respond to Fox News’ questions about the data, but told independent journalist Brandi Kruse funding “includes capital allocations, which should be amortized over at least 30 years when looking at costs.”
A homeless community of tents sat on the edge of the freeway in Seattle, Washington on July 22, 2022. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Washington has the fourth-largest homeless population in the country (25,211), exceeded only by California, New York and Florida, according to 2022 Housing and Urban Development estimates. About half of Washington’s homeless are believed to be unsheltered and many are stuck in a pattern of chronic homelessness.
The governor’s office said the safety initiative has helped keep neighborhoods safe and get nearly 1,000 people “access to housing and services they need to escape the cycle of homelessness.”
“This represents a fraction of the problem though, and much more state investment is needed to continue this work that benefits our communities in so many ways,” a spokesperson wrote.
Hannah Ray Lambert is an associate producer/writer with Fox News Digital Originals.