State of the County: Constantine discusses homelessness, environment, cameras for deputies

On March 7, King County Executive Dow Constantine gave his “State of the County ” speech, outlining some of what he considers to be successes of the county government during the past year, as well as some of the challenges the county will face in the future.

Constantine highlighted the county’s efforts in mitigating the homelessness crisis in the region. He made the point of framing the homeless as “neighbors” in the community, maintaining that the unhoused are “not an annoyance to overlook, but a challenge to overcome.”

It has been nearly two years since the county announced the launch of the Health Through Housing Initiative, which sought to buy unused hotels during the pandemic and convert them into permanent supportive housing for those transitioning out of homelessness. The goal is to help them find shelter and services to get back on their feet.

Constantine said the county has purchased 11 different properties across the region and has housed more than 600 previously homeless individuals. Along with the nearly $24 million the county has invested in affordable housing, he also touted the county’s jobs and housing program, which has helped create over 600 homes for veterans and those transitioning out of homelessness to access housing and gainful employment.

Constantine applauded the county’s efforts to mitigate climate change with the Conservation Futures Fund, which he said received approval from 70 percent of county voters in November. He said that’s a sign of our region’s interest in protecting the environment and our region’s natural resources.

Constantine pointed to several river restoration projects such as one that removed a levee on the Green River, restoring the river’s natural floodplain and fish passage habitat. Constantine also mentioned a future river restoration project on the Cedar River, which he said will be announced soon.

He also highlighted that the county’s public transit added 40 electric battery-powered buses, a significant step in meeting the county’s goal of posing a net-zero emission fleet in the next decade or so.

Constantine boasted of the county’s criminal justice efforts, naming expanded diversion programs that aim to keep certain criminal offenders out of the criminal justice center in favor of more holistic rehabilitation and community justice programs.

Constantine announced the King County Sheriff’s Office will soon begin using body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras in the name of transparency and accountability.

He said the King County Sheriff’s Office has worked hard to combat the deadly fentanyl drug crisis in local communities with over 750,000 of the dangerous pills having been taken off the street by their agency.

Constantine urged support of the Crisis Care Levy that King County voters will decide on in the April 25 ballot. He said jails and hospitals are “bursting at the seams” as the region continues to experience a mental and behavioral health crisis without the proper infrastructure to mitigate the problem.

With no equivalent of an urgent care clinic for mental health crises and a severe lack of treatment beds in the region, Constantine said the passage of the Crisis Care Levy could fund five crisis care centers across the county and would help build the healthcare workforce and bed capacity needed to mitigate the crisis.

Constantine was critical, however, of the state laws that cap how the county can raise taxes to fund what he considers critical programs and initiatives. He said the capped percentage for raising tax rates has not kept up with inflation and called the policy “shortsighted” as it may force the county to make “harmful cuts.”