The Skagit County Board of Commissioners approved Monday spending about $800,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding on a program that will serve as a test of a upcoming homeless housing project.

The three commissioners told staff to pursue leasing a block of rooms from a Mount Vernon motel to house the homeless while also offering social services to the residents.

Called permanent supportive housing, this model will be used at a housing project under construction in Mount Vernon.

Residents of this motel-based pilot program will be moved into the new facility once it’s completed, Deputy County Administrator Kayla Schott-Bresler said.

The county broke ground on the Mount Vernon housing complex, called Martha’s Place, earlier this month. It is scheduled to open in February 2023.

Catholic Housing Services will be managing that project, and will be contracted to run the motel program as well.

While the commissioners approved this use of the funds, they still will have to vote on a contract to officially authorize the spending, Schott-Bresler said.

“This is a strategy communities across the country are using, given that it takes a while to get permanent supportive housing projects off the ground,” she said.

The motel program would start with 20 people, and more would likely be added as operators get more comfortable.

“They’re just not wanting to overcommit up front,” Schott-Bresler said.

Commissioner Lisa Janicki supported the spending, but said she wants to see more than 20 residents being helped. Schott-Bresler said she believes that number could get up to 35 with the funding available.

Commissioner Peter Browning said at $800,000, the cost per resident at 35 people is about $23,000 per year.

“When you look at hospital costs and jails and everything else … that’s actually a very reasonable amount to be spent,” he said.

Skagit County was allocated $25 million in pandemic relief through the American Rescue Plan Act. About $23 million has been allocated or spent, Schott-Bresler said.

The commissioners also approved $7,000 to Mount Baker Planned Parenthood so it can purchase a vaccine refrigerator.

Schott-Bresler said the clinic has about 2,500 patients, and that about 60% of them have no other health care provider.

Browning endorsed the idea, saying it has a chance at reaching those who aren’t interacting with other health care providers already offering the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is a really good thoughtful avenue for further distribution,” he said.

Finally, the commissioners approved spending about $2 million more in American Rescue Plan Act funding on programs and salaries into 2022.

These allocations were made for 2021 and will be carried forward into the new year, Schott-Bresler said. Included are a number of county Public Health positions related to COVID-19 response.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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