(The Center Square) – In a report to the Washington Transportation Commission, experts take up the issue of homeless encampments near highways. They look at both how rights-of-way are being held open and the significant costs for doing so, at nearly $340,000 per available bed in King County.
The opening slide of “Homelessness and State Highway Right of Way” gives a breakdown of 2,121 homeless encampments on Washington State Department of Transportation rights-of-way statewide.
The top five counties with the largest concentrations are King with 922 encampments, Snohomish with 218, Pierce with 215, Clark with 205, and Spokane with 112.
Those numbers are based on WSDOT maintenance data collected in the 2022 calendar year, which did not include “data regarding site size, number of individuals, or hazards present.”
The report goes on to note by way of illustration of what is untallied that costs related to encampment cleanups alone grew from $200,000 annually in 2008 to $2.8 million annually in 2022.
A significant portion of the presentation is dedicated to the Rights-of-Way Safety Initiative, which received $45 million in funding allocations from the budget adopted on March 31, 2022..
According to the legislation, anyone using grants from the initiative “may not transition individuals from public rights-of-way unless they in good faith offer individuals a housing option that is safer than their current living situation.”
Of the $45 million from that funding source, $16.6 million was allocated within King County, which the report projects having a total of 145 available beds in the 2023 fiscal year.
This means, assuming 145 beds total, the cost per bed was approximately $114,623.06 for the 2023 fiscal year, and that’s just from the budget appropriations from one source.
There are additional costs associated with evicting these tenants from public rights-of-way, as the report notes “safety of both our employees and unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness is our top priority.”
The cleaning up of each encampment via WSDOT policies requires 72 hours posted notice, storage of personal belongings for up to 70 days, social services including health care, housing, food and clothing, and security provided by local law enforcement.
Those costs need to be accounted for but, given that WSDOT recently told the Discovery Institute there “currently are not enough available beds to offer,” that appears to be a limiting factor in clearing camps.
The report lists a potential source of funds for those additional costs, another $32.5 million in funding allocated within King County from two other state funding sources.
That brings the total allocation for the Rights-of-Way Safety Initiative in King County to $49.2 million, or $339,410.68 per bed available in the 2023 fiscal year.
The report goes on to note that this is just a pilot program focusing on King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane and Thurston counties before expanding the program statewide.
As of 2022, there were approximately 25,000 homeless individuals statewide, according to the report.