I was concerned to see several significant errors in Linda Iasella’s Aug. 28 “Saturday Soapbox” article, titled “Homelessness or Hope? What’ll it be, Yakima?” Chief among my concerns was the unequivocally false statement that “Our county Human Services Department has decreased the funding for Camp Hope by 46% based on unwarranted hostility and ill feelings toward Camp Hope.”
As the director of the Yakima County Human Services Department, I can definitively state that Camp Hope, operated by Grace City Outreach, has not experienced a reduction of funds in the last year.
If anything, they have received increased support through the nearly $900,000 that the Yakima County Human Services Department spent this year to purchase and construct portables onsite at their encampment, for them to use free of charge. They were also offered an additional $17,859 by the department to go toward assisting with paying for hotel and motel vouchers to get people off the streets in February, which they rejected without explanation.
They are currently in year two of their two-year agreement with the county, and their contract is for the exact same amount as their previous contract had been.
The amounts for both years were clearly defined in the budget section of their year one contract, which went into effect in October 2020.
These contracts, and all others under the Homeless Housing and Assistance program, can be found on the county’s website: yakimacounty.us/2436/Programs-We-Fund
Additionally, I did not appreciate the claim that the county’s funding decisions are made in response to the personal feelings of our staff. The funds awarded to Camp Hope were determined through a competitive application process — the same process by which the other sub-grantees under the Homeless Housing and Assistance program were selected. Full details of this competitive process can be found published online on the county’s website (yakimacounty.us/2393/Homeless-Housing-and-Assistance-RFP).
A review of those documents will show that in September of 2020, Grace City Outreach applied for a two-year grant for Camp Hope, requesting $275,559 a year. As the only applicant in this grant cycle, Grace City Outreach was awarded the full amount available — a two-year award of $269,703 a year, of which they are now in the second year. They were funded in 2020 for nearly the entire amount they applied for, and are still receiving that exact same amount.
The article published on the 28th expressed great concern that the county was not providing enough support to Camp Hope, so I wanted to provide some additional context to that statement as well. The largest contracts under the Homeless Housing and Assistance program are rental assistance contracts, which are funded and mandated by the state. In those contracts, the vast majority of the funds — nearly 70% — are required to go directly to the payment of rent to private landlords. When taking into consideration only the funds that are available to cover agency and program costs, Camp Hope receives the largest single sum of money for any program in the county by a wide mile.
I am confident that the individual who wrote the previous “Saturday Soapbox” article did so with the best of intentions, given what she believed to be true. I respect and appreciate the compassion she showed for the vulnerable members of our community — it’s a level of engagement that I encourage everyone to adopt in their own lives.
I’m sure the world would be a better place if everyone cared as deeply about their neighbors as Ms. Iasella clearly does.
For questions about funding, or anything else related to human services, the Yakima County Human Services department can be reached at HumanServices@co.yakima.wa.us, or by phone at (509) 574-1365.
Please visit our website, where we publish information about our programs, at yakimacounty.us/2333/Human-Services