We must work together to help our most vulnerable

During this legislative session, I’ve had the honor of working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to craft the mental and behavioral health section of the 2017-19 capital budget. One of my personal goals is to drive a more comprehensive approach for meeting critical needs, boosting wise investments in our safety network – particularly in our rural communities. Last summer, I began urging our five counties in the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization to work together to prioritize and prepare a list of project requests that addressed the greatest needs. I was so proud of their efforts, as they delivered a thoughtfully constructed list at the beginning of the 2017 session designed to maximize our continuum of care for those struggling with behavioral and mental health challenges. The projects they requested are included in the House capital budget proposal.

The 2017-19 capital budget will make significant and desperately needed investments to help strengthen our communities and build out our safety net, including investments in: supported housing for the chronically mentally ill; crisis triage and stabilization; residential treatment; 90/180 day community hospital commitment treatment; secure detox; childhood intensive treatment; improving the quality of state forensic care, and critical housing.

Most families I know have been touched in some way by the difficulties faced by the most vulnerable in our society. My late husband and I spent more than 20 years sharing our hearts and home with hundreds of teens and young adults, many in trying situations. It is with this perspective I offer some key facts for our community’s understanding regarding the media reports about Ryan’s House for Youth and its quest for public funding.

In 2016, Ryan’s House submitted a grant request to the Washington State Department of Commerce for capital improvements at the facility. The concerns that have been discussed publicly have primarily focused on the mixing of two vulnerable, distinct populations of youth, minors 12-17 and young adults 18-24. Those concerns are legitimate and shared by multiple professionals in our communities, all dedicated to serving vulnerable youth and adults. However, there is something more fundamental to the story that has not been reported.

In each county, Commerce has a lead agency responsible for managing resources to maximize public investment in the continuum of care. Here, that agency is Island County Human Services (ICHS), which is comprised of dedicated individuals who do outstanding work for our communities. They are responsible for setting a higher level of transparency and accountability when public dollars are being requested. Unfortunately, Commerce failed to consult with ICHS on the grant request from Ryan’s House. Had they done so, they would have understood the safety and management concerns that led ICHS to withhold funds. Once Commerce communicated with ICHS, the department withdrew their recommendation in alignment with their lead agency.

I appreciate the vision of Ryan’s House and the efforts of their wonderful volunteers. It is my hope they will take this opportunity to work with ICHS collaboratively going forward. However, it is important to recognize that other organizations and professionals in our communities also bring best practices and years of experience working with children and young adults in difficult situations. We must work together and learn from one another, using our resources effectively. If we do that, we will be better equipped to help the most vulnerable in our society overcome obstacles and pursue their hopes and dreams.


Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, is the ranking Republican on the House Technology and Economic Development Committee, and the assistant ranking Republican on the House Capital Budget Committee.

State Representative Norma Smith, 10th Legislative District
435 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7884 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000