More than 500 city residents are living “far below the income threshold to survive in Edmonds.”
Those words come from Shannon Burley, deputy director of the city’s new human services office.
They are not all, said Burley, homeless, but the city considers them “vulnerable.” The 500 people all receive benefits from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. From students, to families, to the disabled, to veterans, to senior citizens, they are struggling to keep or find housing.
For the first time, the City of Edmonds has unveiled what it calls “short- and long-term strategies to address homelessness.” In announcing plans crafted by his Homelessness Task Force, Mayor Mike Nelson said, “This situation affects far too many people and is present across our entire region, not just Edmonds and we need to work together toward solutions”.
The mayor outlined the focus of the plan:
- Increase regional and countywide shelter options,
- Provide more homelessness prevention assistance,
- Stop the overnight and unlawful use of public space.
The task force recommendations point out that there is no shelter facility anywhere within Edmonds’ city limits. The one shelter in South Snohomish County, in Lynnwood, has room for 17 women and children, but has a two- to four-month waiting list. The city now say it will collaborate with Snohomish County and the cities of Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace to develop “long-term solutions.”
Burley said that “we’ve been in great discussions with the county on increasing shelter; we’ve stood up and said we need some help in South County.” She added: “We need that story to be told loud and clear… not any one city will do this alone…all of us are at the table and are willing to have that conversation.”
She knows creating more shelter beds will take time and will depend on each city’s political and financial commitment. Burley said that county administrators are watching what the Edmonds City Council does on budget amendments and proposed budget cuts. There is an amendment to cut funds from the new human services office.
To cover shelter needs now, the city is looking at more motel vouchers, additional partnerships with churches and nonprofits, and more emergency cold weather shelters. Burley said that COVID relief money from the state and federal governments and the county’s new increased sales tax percentage dedicated for housing will help to provide funds to build a stand-alone shelter in South County.
The county shelter in Everett’s Carnegie building could become a model for a smaller facility in South County. The idea, said Burley, would be to offer “wrap-around” services such as drug detox, work training and transportation for medical needs as well as a place to stay.
The recommendations also include a new partnership between the city’s human services office and the police department. The human services office is “very close” to hiring a full-time social worker who will work closely with police.
“Building relations and offering support is a critical first step in helping an unsheltered person consider and connect with available resources,” Police Chief Michelle Bennett said.
A small first step could come as soon as next week when the city will distribute what it calls “urgent need” care packages in every police car. They will contain hand warmers, rain ponchos, wipes, a small first aid kit, stocking hat, knit gloves and scarf, and wool socks, as well as an information card in several languages that lists resources and contact information.
To prevent people from becoming homeless, the city has set aside $3 million in federal Household Support Grant Funding.
- Residents whose household earns less than 60% of city median income may qualify
- They are eligible for up to $2,500
- Funds can be used for rent, child care, utilities, medical bills, car repairs or other household expenses.
To see if you qualify for household grants, go to the city website.
“This is a grant, not a loan, meaning you are not asked to pay it back,” Burley noted.
As part of the Homelessness Task Force recommendations, the mayor has also directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance to ban the overnight or unlawful use of public spaces such as parks, buildings and open space. That is an attempt to keep those who are homeless from creating camps. The ordinance must go to the Edmonds City Council for a vote before it can become law.
You can see the complete list of the Homelessness Task Force Recommendations here.
Next month, the human services office will send a report to the city council that will include new data on the scope of homelessness in Edmonds and could become a blueprint for further programs citywide, Burley said.
— By Bob Throndsen