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County homeless shelters could lose funding

Emergency shelter programs for homeless families are bracing for a possible funding gap that may force closure of some of the few shelter residences in south King County.

The potential predicament faces facilities such as the one operated by the Multi-Service Center (MSC) at the Nike shelter off South Military Road.

The 58-bed Nike shelter makes up 38 percent of the total of 153 shelter beds available in the south King County area.

Linda Purlee, director of family support service for MSC, said the problem arises from a switch in funding being considered by the Legislature.

Current funding comes from the federal Emergency Shelter Assistance Program (ESAP) and is passed through the state budget to local agencies. Those agencies use the ESAP funds, along with other grants from various sources, for low-income, transitional and shelter housing operations.

The Legislature’s current plan is incorporated into Substitue House Bill 2060, which is awaiting final reworking by legislators. The proposal would eliminate ESAP funding and replace it with funding generated by a $10 document fee that local governments wouldcharge on real estate transactions. The fee could generate $12.5 million a year for housing assistance programs without significantly affecting the cost of individual property purchases, officials said.

In the long run, that would increase funding for desperately needed homeless shelters in the Puget Sound region, according to Purlee.

But in “the short run, as the state begins to collect the funds and develops the processes and procedures for dispersing them to shelter and housing providers, the ESAP funds will have disappeared, and the new funds will not be available yet,” said Purlee. “It could take a year or more to get the funds collected and get the application processes in place. In the meantime, a significant portion of the funds we require to keep our shelter program open will disappear without a replacement funding mechanism.”

The center is recommending an overlap of the two programs to assure continuous support for what officials predict will be an increased demand for shelter in the current economic climate. In fiscal year 2001, 49,800 homeless people were served statewide by Emergency Shelter Assistance Programs. Of those, 694 were housed at the Nike shelter.

“The need already far out-strips the resources,” said Dini Duclos, chief executive officer of the Multi-Service Center. “Every day we turn away families looking for shelter help. Our program turns down about 11 families for each one we accept, purely because we have no room.”

SHB 2060 has been passed by the House and the Senate and requires the governor’s signature to become law.

Rep. Jim Dunn of the 19th District, who sponsored the bill, couldn’t be reached for comment.

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