A new law signed today by Gov. Chris Gregoire will streamline and strengthen state privacy rules in order to speed housing and other assistance to the homeless.
“The faster we can connect people who are homeless with the services they need, the sooner we can stabilize their situation and put them on the path to housing and a better life,” said Larry Springer (D-Kirkland), the lead sponsor of the new law (HB 1811).
Springer’s bill allows personally identifying information about homeless individuals to be collected over the phone for use in the Homeless Client Management Information System. This is the state database that links people up with needed services and guides decision-making about which services are most effective in reducing homelessness.
Homeless individuals previously had to provide written permission—in advance—before their personal information could be entered into the system. The problem is that available help is often fleeting. For example, openings at job interviews or emergency shelters can often disappear before the homeless client is able to meet face-to-face with a service provider and provide written consent to share the information.
Advocates for the homeless united in support for the Springer bill at public hearings in February and March.
“I feel very strongly that this is an important bill,” said Kate Budd, who testified on behalf of the Council for the Homeless in February. “It allows the clients to be served and entered into the homeless system as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
No one testified against the Springer proposal, which passed the House and Senate unanimously.
“We’re not only providing faster access to help, we’re actually strengthening privacy safeguards,” said Springer. “Case managers will still need to get written permission at the earliest face-to-face opportunity, and we’re adding a new requirement that the information be safely destroyed when it is no longer necessary to help the person.”
Linda Olsen, the House Project Coordinator for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, testified in favor of the privacy and confidentiality safeguards.
“We feel like our concerns have been addressed. This provides a wonderful opportunity for our constituency—domestic violence survivors—to enter into many vital homeless services, from prevention to housing,” Olsen said.