Leaders work on plan to end homelessness

Whidbey leaders and residents have been discussing the issue of homelessness for years, but Island County will soon have a plan to end it.

The state is requiring that counties submit five-year homeless housing plans by Dec. 1. The plans must identify people experiencing homelessness, prioritize those with the highest needs, create “effective and efficient” homeless crisis response services, and project the impact of the fully implemented plan. The document is meant to be created without the assumption of additional resources, according to county Housing Resource Coordinator Joanne Pelant.

“It’s a big, big stretch for us here in Island County to end homelessness with the limited resources we have,” she said.

With additional coordination between agencies, Pelant thinks progress can be made. Representatives from county human services, Oak Harbor, Langley, WhidbeyHealth and local housing nonprofits have been meeting since July to create the plan, which they hope to complete by early November.

A major challenge facing the unsheltered population in the county is that once the people receive services and housing assistance, there still isn’t usually an affordable place for them to go, according to Pelant.

“It’s kind of the elephant in the room,” she said. “A lot of work being done for this population, it really all feels like it’s managing them rather than ending homelessness.”

The county also lacks supportive housing, which provides services for mental health or chemical dependency issues for high-need individuals who couldn’t stay in housing otherwise, said Langley Mayor Tim Callison, who has been involved in the plan.

The state Department of Commerce will be looking at performance measures to determine the county’s success. The document must describe actions and at least one milestone that will be completed before 2022, according to the department’s local plan guidance.

There has been some criticism that the state will be grading local jurisdictions based on factors not necessarily in their control.

Despite its significant hurdles, Pelant said it’s “encouraging and enlightening” to have so many local partners in one room attempting to solve the issue. Homelessness affects the entire island and can’t be solved in isolation, said Callison.

“The problem is a county-wide issue and it cannot be addressed at the district level alone,” he said in an email. “This issue knows no district boundaries.”

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