Homeless funding: Housing or services?

Source: The Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE — The future of what happens to Chelan and Douglas counties’ homelessness dollars is being debated.

The two counties and the city of Wenatchee are in discussions of how best to spend close to $3 million in funds that help combat homelessness, Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay said.

Overbay said he and Douglas County Commissioner Marc Straub would like to set aside $300,000 a year toward a future low-income housing project. It would be a similar idea to the apartment complex being built now by Catholic Charities on South Mission Street.

But city of Wenatchee officials handling the funds fear it would impact agencies that assist with rent payments  and provide emergency shelters, Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said.

Organizations like Women’s Resource Center, Habitat for Humanity, SAGE, YWCA and others receive funding from the Homelessness Steering Committee.

Overbay said he is concerned that in the past 10 years little impact has been made on reducing the number of homeless in both counties. The number of homeless people has stayed around 450, he said.

“Is what we’re doing is it really making a difference?” Overbay asked.

There are about 170 families looking for housing in the city of Wenatchee, Overbay said. Instead of giving providers funding the counties should save to build low-income apartments.

Kuntz said he fears that taking away that funding would hurt local agencies that help homeless individuals now.

“I think some of the providers think we’re doing it right and we’ve actually accomplished a lot and we should stick with the program,” Kuntz said.

While the number of homeless in the past 10 years hasn’t decreased, he said, it also hasn’t become as bad as some other areas in the state.

“Do we have homeless people? Yes,” Kuntz said. “Do we have a tent city? No.”

Part of the discussion is whether the Chelan-Douglas Homelessness Steering Committee can even set aside money for a low-income project, Kuntz said. A third of the agency’s funds comes from a Consolidated Homeless Grant, which has certain restrictions.

The other two-thirds comes from document filing fees from each county’s auditor’s offices.

The other issue is whether the Wenatchee City Council would vote for a plan that set aside funding for low-income housing, Kuntz said.

The majority of the funding does come from Chelan and Douglas counties’ funds and the Homelessness Steering Committee votes on how the funding should be used, he said. But the Wenatchee City Council has the final vote on how the funds are appropriated.

“There are people on the street doing this every single day,” Kuntz said of organizations that help the homeless. “We need to listen to them. I am not an expert. Commissioners are not experts.”