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In visit to Spokane Washington Governor talks housing, homelessness

Washington State has spent more than $24 million dollars in Spokane to close a homeless encampment on state land, and create long-term services.

Range Media reporter Carl Segerstrom spoke with Governor Jay Inslee about the state's approach to homelessness in Spokane County and Camp Hope, formerly Washington's largest homeless encampment. You can hear the full interview on Range’s website.

Here is an excerpt of their conversation:

Segerstrom: “You know, there's been a lot of back and forth, a lot of finger pointing regarding camp between the city, county and state. How would you characterize your relationship with local leadership here in Spokane?"

Inslee: "We're always looking for the positive, so we think there's some good things happening. First off, no matter what has happened, we're heading in the right direction on Camp Hope. We've gone from 650 people down to 55 or so. Regardless of the storm and drang that Ozzie (Knezovich) caused, and all those problems, we're making real progress. I'd like to focus on that.

I was really excited about the training program, you saw like 20 people go their certificates to get on the road to getting a new career, to me, that's such a positive thing for people to get there feet underneath them and really move forward. We've had positive developments going into the catalyst building, getting sustainable housing for folks. So, there's been a lot of ink spilled, but the fact is we're making progress and that's what I want to focus on."

Segerstrom: "Focusing on the positive, do you think the almost $25 million investment that the right of way project (has made) here in Spokane has been a success?"

Inslee: "You never declare it a success until the buzzer has gone off at the end of the game, right? We're in the process, but we've made a lot of progress. When you go from 650 people living in very difficult conditions to 55, yes, that's a lot of progress that has been made.

A lot of these folks have significant challenges as well, so its not the easiest thing to do. We've been trying to achieve the goal of removing the camp, but also have the solution so they also don't end up back on the street in somebody else's neighborhood.

We've always believed it really wasn't a solution to move people out of Camp Hope and then into somebody's park, or on their corner. That's not what we're really after here. So that would have been the facial, "success." But we don't consider that success, just moving people from one neighborhood to another. Making your problem somebody else's problem is not really a solution."

Segerstrom: "Since the badging has gone in, at the Camp, and the fences have gone up, still somewhere around half of the people who are left are unaccounted for, so they're not in housing, what do you see the continuing role of the state in the local homelessness response here?"

Inslee: "Well the most important thing is that this is not, it doesn't sound like rocket science, but it needs to be said over, and over and over again. We've got to build housing. We simply do not have enough housing for people in the state of Washington. We've had a million people move in, but we've only built about 340,000 housing units in just over the last decade.

The fundamental problem is we don't have housing. We have to build housing. And we particularly have to do two things. One, we have to make more lots available for building, in the legislature this year I think we are going to make progress on this to remove some of the unnecessary zoning restrictions that prevent us from actually building housing. Number two, we have to have a very substantial public investment to finance the housing that the private capital market will not finance. In fact, they will not finance housing for people in the bottom 20% of the economic pyramid. It won't happen unless the public makes these investments. So, we've got to build housing, all kinds of different housing from tiny housing villages to converted motels, as fast as we can, to permanent multi-story apartments.

We also have to do it not just for low-income folks, but for working people whose rents now make housing unaffordable to them. We also need a sliding scale building that help working people. One of the things that folks have filed to realize is this is not just a homelessness crisis for those who are homeless today, it’s for those who could be homeless tomorrow. We have to build housing, kind of the middle housing solution for them as well. These are working people, these are not the people with mental health, chemical addiction problems. So, we have to build housing throughout that spectrum, that's very important."