Island County plan aspires to end homelessness

Local leaders and residents have been discussing the issue of homelessness for years, but soon Island County will have a plan to end it.

The state is requiring counties to submit five-year plans to end homelessness by Dec. 1. The plans must identify people experiencing homelessness, prioritize those with the highest needs, create “effective and efficient” homeless crisis response services and project the impact of the fully implemented plan.

The document is meant to be created without the assumption of additional resources, according to county Housing Resource Coordinator Joanne Pelant.

“It’s a big, big stretch for us here in Island County to end homelessness with the limited resources we have,” Pelant said.

However, she said that with additional coordination, she does think progress can be made. Representatives from county human services, Oak Harbor, Langley, WhidbeyHealth and local housing nonprofit groups have been meeting since July to create the plan, which they hope to complete by early November.

A major challenge facing the unsheltered population in the county is that once the people receive services and housing assistance, according to Pelant, there still isn’t usually an affordable place for them to go.

“It’s kind of the elephant in the room,” she said. “A lot of work is being done for this population. It really all feels like it’s managing them rather than ending homelessness.”

The county also lacks supportive housing, which provides services for mental health or chemical dependency issues for high-need individuals who couldn’t stay in housing otherwise, said Langley Mayor Tim Callison.

The state Department of Commerce will be looking at performance measures to determine the county’s success. The document must describe actions and at least one milestone that will be completed before 2022, according to the department’s local plan guidance.

There has been some criticism that the state will be grading local jurisdictions based on factors not necessarily in their control.

Despite its significant hurdles, Pelant said it’s “encouraging and enlightening” to have so many local partners attempting to solve the issue together.

“This issue knows no district boundaries,” Callison said in an email.

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