Lewis County commissioners are entertaining the idea of forming a citizen advisory committee to take a closer look at contracts between Lewis County Public Health & Social Services (LCPHSS) and homelessness service providers.
The consideration comes at the behest of Commissioner Sean Swope. In early July, LCPHSS interim director Meja Handlen brought various contracts to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) for renewal before the board tabled action on the contracts until they could meet with the providers and learn more. Swope at the time spoke about what he felt was a lack of “accountability” written into the grants and said he thought government was failing homeless people.
He added Monday, “these aren’t charity donations going out, this is my money, your money going out. There has to be accountability in how it’s going out.”
After the conversation weeks ago, Swope said he discovered the county has allocated $22 million in Department of Commerce grants to services for homelessness since 2020.
The fact that the number was so high, yet the county has not yet found $300,000 in funding for a peer-to-peer mental health counseling program at the Veterans Memorial Museum, was “extremely frustrating,” he said.
“I want people to get well. If mental health is the issue then why aren’t we funding mental health (programs)?” Swope told The Chronicle.
On Monday morning, Handlen, the BOCC and Amber Smith from the Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office were brainstorming the creation of a citizen advisory board on the topic. Details of the potential advisory committee are still being ironed out, including whether it will be ad-hoc or a new indefinitely operating county group.
Swope said in his vision, representatives would include city council members from Chehalis and Centralia, service provider agencies, law enforcement, community members and mental health counselors.
There may also be representatives from county offices on the committee for advisory purposes.
Commissioner Lindsey Pollock also mentioned that the smaller cities of Lewis County should be represented so that the county isn’t just “moving issues from (Interstate 5 Exit) 77 to 63.”
“From what I've gathered with other health and social services, when I've made a statement that, ‘we have 7,000 jobs in Lewis County for people to get a job’ and then (that is) followed by, ‘A lot of these people can't get a job because of their mental health.’ And then we have $0 being allocated towards mental health of the $22 million, I think there's a big hole. A gap that we have to fix,” Swope said.