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Additional funding is set to go toward helping homeless families in Lewis County. 

In the weekly Board of County Commissioners business meeting on Monday, the county approved an agreement with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to grant $161,439 to the McKinney Transitional Housing Program. 

According to Lewis County Housing Programs Coordinator Meja Handlen, the program aims to assist families with school-age children who are homeless find a temporary place to live, while using what she calls “progressive engagement” to help families through the various aspects of establishing a long-term foundation.

She continued by saying the program, to her knowledge, has existed in the county for five years. 

“It’s about engaging with a person in a way that’s going to get the maximum outcome for them to be housed stably and funding it themselves,” Handlen said. 

Handlen said she’s seen the program make a significant impact on the families it aims to help. 

She told the story of a family with grade school-aged kids, who ultimately had to leave their home after their father was injured on the job and their mother lost her part-time position. From there, Handlen said the family had to couch surf before they were given a motorhome that didn’t have a bathroom. 

It wasn’t until a liaison for the McKinney Program through the school district noticed and thought the family could be helped. She said the liaison collaborated with the Coordinated Entry program, the family got an assessment and were quickly added to the program. 

“It is an ongoing subsidy, but it doesn’t last a lifetime,” Handlen said. “It’s a time-limited subsidy that helps the family get back up on their feet.”

According to the agreement, $110,196 of the $161,439 is dedicated to rental assistance, while $40,668 goes to supportive services and $10,735 goes to administrative costs. The funding is slated to run through April 30, 2021. 

Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund pointed to the importance of a solidified home environment for children and the impact that could have on their schooling. 

“Thinking about a child in a homeless shelter being able to study, not having a computer, not having a library to do their work, how hopeful is that child’s situation if they can’t keep up in school?” Fund said. “If they have a stable living situation, it’s much better, so those children have a chance.” 

She continued by saying the children who get their education will have a better chance to establish permanent shelter of their own someday. 

“If we can get people into shelter and their kids have a stable home environment, they certainly will do better in school and absorb their education,” Fund said. 

As it pertains to the countywide response to homelessness, Handlen pointed to fears surrounding generational poverty. Still, she feels that if the children in the families are able to see whoever is raising them work toward finding a permanent living situation, the dynamic can change. 

She added the importance of assisting these families is heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The department continues to keep an eye on Gov. Jay Inslee’s eviction moratorium and how families that have been impacted financially will be affected. 

“This funding is more specific to families that are currently homeless,” Handlen said. “But the county has always seen a focus on families as being very important because if we can show mom and dad, here’s your pathway out, the children see that, see how hard parents work and understand that work is important.”

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