Pierce County looks to Texas for new plan to combat homelessness

TACOMA, Wash. — Pierce County officials said they have a new plan to combat homelessness that could serve as a model for other counties across the state.

The plan would spend $50 million to build a tiny home community.

While the approach may sound familiar, officials say it has some new components.

“Every community with a homeless problem has to deal with a subset of that population. The chronically unhoused. These are folks that have been on the street for more than a year, have a health problem, addiction, or both. What do you do with these folks?” said Pierce County Executive officer Steve O’Ban.

For months, O’Ban searched for answers across the country.

“I looked at how other cities were doing it. (I) was not impressed,” he said.

But then, inspiration struck in Austin where he found the Community First! Village.

Tiny homes are spread over a few acres with jobs, community gardens and addiction services all within walking distance.

The community allows formerly homeless residents to put down permanent roots with everything they need to thrive onsite.

O’Ban wants to replicate the village in Pierce County by building 300 tiny homes on 20 acres. But with a $50 million price tag, residents still need some convincing.

“As far as are tiny homes better than tents? In theory, yes. I just don’t know enough about the logistics to say whether I support it or not,” said Pierce County resident Kevin McCann.

O’Ban believes the key to reducing homelessness is community.

“We’re talking about a place designed for them, where they have an opportunity to thrive. To get a dignified income, where they can make relationships that matter,” said O’Ban.

Just like any other community, residents have to pay rent and obey the law.

O’Ban admits the plan’s success will be a challenge but said Pierce County can’t continue on like it is now.

“Would you rather have folks living in encampments and in right of ways causing all sorts of problems to the communities around them? Or, would you rather have them in a planned community where they’re living in their own micro homes? I think the answer is pretty clear,” said O’Ban.

O’Ban did emphasize that the plan is not a quick fix.

The Pierce County Council will vote on the plan in October. If it passes, the project could begin in 2024.