Ending homelessness in King County will cost billions

Feb 9, 2023
Written by WR Communications

The woefully inadequate behavioral treatment system is a significant factor contributing to Seattle’s homelessness and crime issues. Seattle currently spends little money on mental health services because the responsibility lies mainly with the county and state. Depending on the day, the closest available psychiatric treatment bed may be as far away as Chehalis in Lewis County. Of note is that the King County Jail is the second largest mental health facility in the state—second to only Western State Hospital. Why? Because there is nowhere else to take people. The capacity issue also leaves no space for people caught committing retail thefts and other crimes.

Ending homelessness in King County will cost far more than the Seattle and county budgets have allocated. By comparison, it would be at least double what Governor Jay Inslee proposed to address homelessness throughout the state.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority estimates the fix would take approximately $12 billion, including more than $8 billion in capital costs, up to $3.5 billion in annual operating costs, and tens of thousands more units of housing. This amount would take up most of the county’s current $16 billion budget.

Local officials say that these numbers, released this week in the authority’s proposed five-year plan, are likely not far off — but beyond what they would be able to fund.

The fund’s source is unclear, although Dones thinks that local jurisdictions would likely need the help of a Congressional appropriation.

The draft prioritizes reducing homelessness, including those living on the streets, in tents, and in vehicles. Authority CEO Marc Dones stated that the county could end unsheltered homelessness within five years if the plan is strictly followed and the macroeconomic conditions remain stable.

The city of Seattle is the authority’s largest funder, providing $95 million of the agency’s $253 million budget. However, the city is facing dire revenue forecasts for 2023, and the $4 billion Inslee has proposed to build new housing to address homelessness throughout the state isn’t even close to the amount the plan suggests for King County alone.

See The Seattle Times for more


Return to newsletter