Pierce County councilwoman wants to use empty jail beds to house homeless

VIDEO: Pierce County councilwoman wants to use jail beds to house homeless

A Pierce County councilwoman believes she’s come up with a way to help the homeless by using empty jail beds to house people who are living on the streets.

Pam Roach sent out a mailer to residents in her district in December asking for their input.

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“The people in the 2nd Council District are overwhelmingly in favor of opening up empty spaces to allow those that are out on the streets today a place to stay,” said Roach.

Ed Troyer, with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, said it's not a good idea.

"You have to consider the mental health issues, the disease issues. What's going to keep the people from showing up that are homeless from fighting? There's just a whole lot of issues we see on the streets that, if you brought into a contained facility, would bring us lots of problems,” he said.

Roach wants the county to add a new jail entrance and keep criminals and the homeless separate. Troyer said that's nearly impossible.

“We use the same elevators, same services, same cooking, same laundry, and it's jail. Once you get in there, it's jail,” he said.

Roach's flyer said there are 700 vacant jail cells, but Troyer said the number is closer to 160. He said there isn't enough county funding to keep it full.

Roach said she will continue collecting mailers and report the findings to the council. She believes her approach is the most cost-effective way to help the homeless population in Pierce County.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of the homeless in our area, and it's time to get serious. This is a way of doing it in the least amount of money to help the most people and to get them connected with the services we know they need,” she said.