Service agencies from Lewis County addressed eight state and local elected officials at a forum at Cascade Mental Health in Centralia on Tuesday to express the issues they face and what they would like to see completed in the upcoming legislative session.
In all, there were 14 service providers that included the Human Response Network, Reliable Enterprises, Valley View Health Center and the Hub City Mission.
The providers touched on a lack of area shelters, a need to support early learning services and intervention for children, a diminishing number of private health care providers, and a need for increased funding to provide more staff or additional space to carry out the services currently being provided.
Tony Ketchum, with the nonprofit Human Response Network, said the organization is looking to build a $6.6 million facility with 60 beds to house survivors of domestic violence. He asked for financial support from the Legislature. Ketchum said the organization currently receives about three times as many requests for shelter than it is able to meet. Other nonprofits that provide housing are also at capacity, he said.
Mindy Greenwood, with Cascade Substance Use Disorders, asked legislators to not restrict funding for the opioid crisis.
“I don’t want to take away from that, it’s very large, but one thing we’re noticing in the field is the money is going toward that, but people are using all drugs,” she said.
Greenwood said the top five abused drugs are alcohol, marijuana, opioids, methamphetamine and heroin.
“It tells you we need to make sure we are watching out for all drugs, not just the opioid crisis,” she said.
Centralia College’s Child and Family Services stressed the importance of supporting and providing funding for ECEAP — the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program.
“I’d like you to continue to scrutinize revenue and expenditures to ensure all education, early learning through higher education, is funded,” Amy Spain said.
To address the lack of foster care facilities in the area, Brett Mitchell, of Reliable Enterprises, said his organization is working to remodel a house on 9.5 acres because of the tremendous need for foster care and emergent foster care both locally and statewide. Twelve kids from 6 to 13 years of age could stay at the facility as long as 60 days until a foster family is selected. The second phase of the project would include turning the area into affordable housing in the future. Reliable Enterprises has 113 units of affordable housing in the Twin Cities area. The newest addition received its certificate of occupancy from the city of Centralia on Nov. 30.
He asked the elected leaders to consider placing infrastructure such as water and utilities to make it easier for the housing developments to move forward.
Patti Nelson, the president of the Lewis County Autism Coalition, asked the Legislature to fully fund early intervention services in 2018 to provide children with the services they need. She also said there is a shortage of therapists and other specialists. She asked that policies and funding be adopted to help kids transition from public school to adulthood with the potential for employment and higher education.
Others asked for additional staffing to help more families, more housing dollars to help place at-risk individuals into homes, and for more investments in childcare.
This year, the panel consisted of 19th district Reps. Jim Walsh and Brian Blake, 19th district Sen. Dean Takko, 20th district Rep. Richard DeBolt, 20th district Sen. John Braun, Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund, Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza and Centralia City Councilor Peter Abbarno.
The forum was provided by Cascade and the United Way of Lewis County.