Grays Harbor County Commissioner Randy Ross said the County won’t split the monthly cost of operating the City of Aberdeen’s temporary homeless camp behind Aberdeen City Hall as requested by letter from the City last month because funds the county currently receives from the state don’t seem to allow that use, but he is open to looking for a funding source in the future.
City Council President Dee Anne Shaw said at the council meeting last week that she received an informal email from Commissioner Ross in response to a letter from the council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Homeless Response signed by Mayor Pete Schave and council members Tawni Andrews, Karen Rowe and Shaw, and that the county’s answer is “no.”
The letter proposed that the county split the City’s monthly expense for the city hall camp. That would be $13,800 a month from the county, plus $45,000 in a one-time expense of moving to the camp to another location, as yet undetermined. The city asked for the money until the county can build a permanent low-barrier shelter, as described in the county’s five-year plan to deal with homelessness.
The County said sharing the costs is not allowed under the contract that funnels state funds to the county for services to deal with homelessness and that there’s not enough money for what the City is asking for.
Ross said on Friday that the funds must comply with a legal use as directed by Department of Commerce housing grant guidelines, which do not currently allow for the use of funding for “emergency sheltering.” The temporary camp behind City Hall currently shelters participants in tents.
“It does allow for the use of funding for low barrier permanent sheltering, which was not asked for in the City of Aberdeen’s request,” he said.
Ross wrote in the email to council president Shaw, “One of the first areas is to find a strategy and plan to fund a permanent low-barrier shelter, which probably does not constitute the usage of tents but facilities with walls and beds.”
Commissioner Ross said that the denial was not the end of the conversation.
“The city will be invited to the table in the form of a combined task force to explore ways and programs which would help relieve the enormous burden the city of Aberdeen in shouldering with the homelessness issue. I think all of the (county commissioners) believe the homeless issue is an entire county problem and not just a city of Aberdeen problem. I believe there are many more conversations to have on how to find additional strategies to address the problem, find funding streams and grants, and work together collaboratively to find solutions which help alleviate the chronic homelessness issue and promote permanent supportive housing for the most needy.”
Shaw said at the council meeting that the County’s response was “disappointing.”
“It appeared reasonable to assist the City until such time as the county achieves its goal of a shelter for the chronically unsheltered who are the hardest to find housing for,” Shaw said. “It’s not gone to the full Board of County Commissioners, but this is what the recommendation is apparently going to be,” she said.
The county commissioners were expected to discuss it at a meeting Tuesday morning.
The City has reached out to Rep. Brian Blake who said the City should be eligible for state and county assistance, Shaw said.
“He’s going to help us quickly determine whether it’s legal for the County to assist us, and investigate funding options with people more familiar with this issue in the legislature and see if something can be done,” she said.
Shaw said Friday that she’s been told by the Department of Commerce that up to $13 million in new funding for emergency shelters could be available as soon as April 1, and that they are “very open to receiving a request from Aberdeen.”
“My preference would be for any funding to come to us via the county’s contract with the state because, as we have stated before, the county is already set up for this and being rural it would be an unnecessary duplication of services for both Aberdeen and the county to have contracts with the state. I remain hopeful the city and county can partner on this,” Shaw said.
The current permit for the homeless camp behind City Hall expires on March 15. After taking no action on the issue at the meeting on Wednesday, the council’s last chance to decide what their next step is going to be will be at their next meeting on March 11. With no money from the county to help move the homeless camp to another site, the council may choose to extend the permit for the camp.