MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon City Council will continue discussions on helping to fund Burlington’s homeless shelter project after members agreed Wednesday they want to support it in some capacity.
After hearing a presentation from Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton, members thanked him for heading up the project and said they want to help however they can.
Sexton’s proposal consists of putting 50 small shelter units on a city-owned lot at 465 Pease Road, and include 24/7 management and connections to social services in an attempt to alleviate the county’s growing problem of homelessness.
“This project won’t be 100% successful,” he said. “My vision is if it’s 80% successful, we’ve got a big piece of that problem taken care of.”
The Burlington City Council agreed Jan. 14 to cancel the lease with the existing tenant of the property, effective April 15. Sexton said he wants to open the shelter in some capacity by May 1.
While the project will start relatively small — 50 shelters and portable bathrooms and showers — Sexton said he plans to renovate the building to include a laundry facility, permanent bathrooms and space for mental health, substance abuse and social services counseling.
Rather that duplicating services that already exist in the county, he said he wants to bring in providers and give them access to a concentrated population of those seeking help.
“I think that’s the key to really seeing an impact on the situation we have,” Sexton said.
Council member Melissa Beaton said she’s seen numerous negative comments on the project on social media, but said those commenters don’t understand the homelessness situation won’t get better by ignoring it.
“We can’t not do something because we don’t have all the answers,” she said.
Council member Richard Brocksmith said he supports the idea, but wants to see a detailed plan and budget before he would be comfortable committing city funds.
In an earlier interview, Sexton said he thinks the project will need about $500,000 to get started.
Operations are expected to cost $500,000 to $600,000 a year, he said.
Skagit County has committed the bulk of the funding needed — $400,000 in start-up costs and $468,000 a year for at least two years — and the city of Burlington has about $75,000 to contribute.
Renovations to the existing building will happen once grant funding is found.