New fee will help homeless

A new $10 fee added to the filing charges for some public records will benefit the least fortunate people in society — the homeless.

A state-wide goal of cutting the number of homeless people in Washington in half by the year 2015 is the reason for the fee. A local task force will use the funds primarily for preventing homelessness, not providing a quick fix.

“A lot of the effort concentrates on keeping people from being homeless,” said Steve Gulliford, director of Island County Housing Authority.

Gulliford will likely lead a county-wide team in developing a course of action for the funds, which are estimated to be approximately $125,000 per year.

“The top priority is for permanent, affordable housing,” Gulliford said. “My viewpoint is that the reason we have homeless (people) is because we don’t have enough of that.”

According to a one-day census in January of this year, 84 people in Island County were classified as homeless. Of those, 23 were classified as chronically homeless. This means that they were homeless at least four times within the year or have been continuously homeless for a year or more.

Lisa Clark, director of the Island County Opportunity Council, said that the face of the homeless person in Island County is much different than the common perception.

“Because we don’t have the guys with the signs, it is perceived that it doesn’t exist,” she said. “The vast majority of the people we assist are families with children.”

According to state data, King County had 8,000 reported homeless, of which 2,500 were chronic.

Clark said that the priorities of the task force will be focusing essential services and trying to prevent homelessness.

“Our role will probably be the delivery of services,” Clark said of the council, which provides assistance to low-income people.

The Housing Authority and Opportunity Council, along with other civic groups, teamed up to build Marjie’s House, an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims and homeless families.

Clark said that the biggest cause of homelessness in Island County is the lack of affordable housing.

“Affordable housing isn’t $600 per month when you’re bringing home $850 and you have two kids,” she said.

The funds collected will be pooled in a fund that the county maintains. The committee must have a plan in place by the end of the year. From the $10 fee, the Island County Auditor’s office keeps 20 cents for administrative costs. Island County then keeps 60 percent of the remainder, or $5.88 for the fund. The remainder goes back to the state.

The remaining 40 percent goes into a pool that local jurisdictions can compete for as a grant.

The fund will benefit the cities as well. So far, however, Oak Harbor has not signed on to participate with the county. A city can choose to develop its own plan and will receive a portion of the funds available.

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