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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

January 28, 2015 at 1:51 PM

Activists, lawmakers rally at Capitol to end homelessness

OLYMPIA — Activists and lawmakers rallied inside the Capitol on Wednesday for legislation to end homelessness.

Among the bills and policies the group discussed were Senate Bill 5404, the “Homeless Youth Act,” and working to ensure that the Housing Trust Fund, which helps low-income families and provides transitional housing, is fully funded in the state budget.

Also part of the rally: Senate Bill 5123 would provide protection for potential renters against costs in the tenant-screening process by making landlords accept a free “comprehensive screening report.”

Susan Russell, a vendor for the weekly publication Real Change,  said afterward she’s optimistic legislation will pass.

“We have to solve [homelessness],” Russell said. “[Lawmakers] need to make the right decision, our lives depend on it.”

Russell spent six years living on the street and time before that couch surfing. She’s now in transitional housing thanks to the Housing Trust Fund.

“It brings you back to being human,” she said of gaining a place to live. “When you are homeless, the majority of the public pretends you don’t exist. That just destroys a person.”

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, and First Lady Trudi Inslee spoke at the conference. Afterward, the group brought a gong to the Capitol steps to ring for each person counted in this year’s One Night Count of the Homeless, held last week. In King County, volunteers Thursday night into Friday morning found 3,772 people on the streets and in cars. The count did not include homeless people staying in shelters.

“The awareness of the problem has grown so significantly in the last year,” said Rachael Myers from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. “The increase in numbers both in the King County One Night Count and the homeless school children, I think there’s a new understanding that this is only going to get worse if we don’t do something to solve it now.”

Bill Hinkle for the Rental Housing Association of Washington, which represents landlords, said his organization supports the idea of accepting comprehensive screening reports and some landlords already accept them. But he said the legislation goes too far in requiring landlords to accept the reports. The screening reports are a new way of getting background on potential renters, and Hinkle said it’s too early to tell if they’re as effective as standard reports that landlords charge for.

“The idea that you’d mandate a product before you know how it works in the market is kind of foolish I think,” Hinkle said.

Myers said finding new revenue to fund some of the legislation to help the homeless is another political hurdle. In a big-budget year, being a priority for receiving money isn’t easy.

“There’s absolutely nobody that says ‘we shouldn’t end homelessness,'” Myers said. “It’s just a matter of getting past those obstacles to do it.”


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