People living in tents along state highways cannot stay if offered shelter, Gov. Inslee says

People living in encampments along state highway right-of-ways will soon have to make a decision, Governor Jay Inslee said: take shelter or move.

Inslee made the comments in a press conference Wednesday at the state capitol. He was proudly promoting an $800 million plan approved by the state legislature early this year for funding rapid housing for people living unsheltered.

He called it "a new approach to scale up rapid capital acquisitions," to fund the purchases of hotels and building of tiny house villages. It’s money that would go cities and counties.

He used strong language, indicating his patience is wearing thin for people living along the highways and rejecting offers of shelter.

For years, the state has been criticized for not doing enough to curb the growth of encampments along state highways like Interstate 5, and dealing with them once they are established.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell threatened to tear up a memorandum of understating between WSDOT and the City of Seattle, which allows the City to access state property and deal with the encampments.

"[It's] Because I do not want to move at the pace the state wants to move," Harrell told FOX 13 News in April. "I want to move at our pace, which is fast."

WSDOT has long said it’s in the business of building and maintaining roads, and is not equipped to deal with people living along the highway.

However, Governor Inslee emphasized the new program will stand up shelter housing for people living on the highways quickly. Cities and counties get to use that money with a major caveat: if local agencies use the state money to build shelter housing, people removed from state highway right-of-ways get priority.

"They just can't ignore the people living on the interstates, they are going to have to cooperate" said Inslee. "Frankly, a couple of cities I won't mention haven't done that yet."

The state’s plan will rely on teams of individuals, some state workers, some from nonprofits and the local government to provide the outreach.

"If we provide these housing options for them, there is no reason people should not avail themselves of it," Inslee said.

If people refuse offers of shelter he said, "They will simply have to comply with the law, which is to go."

When asked if he agrees with the City of Edmond’s new law fining people or charging them with a misdemeanor if they refuse to leave an encampment erected on city property, the Governor said he was okay with the idea of fines.

"If it takes a fine to move their tent, then I would say yes," said Inslee.


City sweeps homeless encampment at Woodland Park, park closed through the week

Woodland Park is closed this week while the city tears down a homeless encampment that has sat there for months.

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He said Washington State Patrol could be called in to enforce the long-standing no camping and trespassing laws on state highway right-of-ways if people don’t leave.

"If you are pitching a tent on the shoulder of I-5, and we provide shelter with supportive services, then you will need to move, there's just no question about it," he said.