Walsh-sponsored funding will bring $900,000 for transitional housing

Rep. Jim Walsh announces $900,000 grant to help shelter Grays Harbor County homeless

The recently enacted 2021-23 capital budget includes a $900,000 allocation to convert a publicly owned building into approximately 40 units of transitional housing.

The funding for the Gray’s Harbor County pilot project — sponsored by Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen — gives local government more control over the development and operation of facilities of this type. The 19th District lawmaker says that allowing communities to tailor homeless housing projects to local needs is a better, more cost-effective strategy for getting the homeless off the streets.

“The pilot project in Grays Harbor County tests a powerful concept: local governments can provide cost-effective results when the state empowers them to make choices appropriate to local situations,” Walsh said. “Elected officials at the city and county levels tell me that Olympia’s homeless-housing policies are one-size-fits-all. This new strategy changes that. It gives local governments more control over the solutions available in their communities. The bureaucrats might not like it-but I think the people of Washington will.”

Walsh’s original bill, House Bill 1101, was narrowed by the House Capital Budget Committee into this pilot project that, if successful, could be replicated all around Washington state.

“For the past few years, people all around the 19th Legislative District have been asking me the same question: ‘Why can’t we convert unused public buildings into homeless housing?’ So, I did some digging and came up with a plan for doing that,” Walsh explains. “I believe this plan will work. Using state money wisely, we can produce good transitional housing that costs much less than the six-figure per-unit amounts Washington taxpayers have been paying.”

At a legislative wrap-up forum held by Greater Grays Harbor Inc. on Thursday, Walsh said the pilot program was something he had “been working on for a few years,” and that the state capital budget has “project funding in there for a test run of converting unused public buildings into homeless and transitional housing. We’ll be working with the county commissioners to get that rolling. We need to get the details hammered out on how to use those funds, and I think it’s a good step in getting people off the street in Aberdeen and Hoquiam.”

Walsh credits Grays Harbor County commissioners Jill Warne, Kevin Pine and Vickie Raines with providing critical support in moving the project forward. Under the pilot program, Grays Harbor County will use the state grant money to acquire and rehabilitate the transitional housing facility. Once that facility is completed, the county can contract with a credentialed nonprofit organization to manage the facility.

The commissioners had this say about the pilot project funding:

“Urban-centric, state-defined programs don’t meet the needs of many rural counties. The best example of that is the low-barrier shelter model that the state keeps promoting. This pilot project stops that insanity by offering local governments the ability to define the best methods to sheltering and helping the homeless living in their communities. I applaud Rep. Jim Walsh’s work getting this funded and started first in Gray’s Harbor County,” said Warne.

“This pilot project gives people the help and direction they need to get back on their feet. Unlike many low-barrier housing programs, which have been a disaster, treatment first-dry shelter is the direction we need to go. This program gives enough local flexibility so we can do that,” said Pine.