‘It will consume us': Pierce County moves to head off growing homelessness crisis

‘It will consume us': Pierce County moves to head off growing homelessness crisis

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The Pierce County Council approved a $2.4 billion biennial budget on Tuesday, with much of the discussion surrounding homelessness and plans to address it.

The budget adds $210,000 funding for nonprofits, a housing program and a homeless center feasibility study. The council also created a task force and a position to strategize and guide policy surrounding homelessness.

"I don't think we are ever going to have this solved completely, but we can't ignore what is happening in our community right now, and we must work toward finding solutions," Council member Connie Ladenburg told The News Tribune.

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Pierce County saw a 55 percent increase of those experiencing homelessness from 2017 to 2018, according to the Washington Department of Commerce's data on homelessness across the state.

The following was allocated in the 2020-2021 budget:

▪ $50,000 to Child Care Resources homeless child care program.

▪ $50,000 for a study to determine the feasibility of building a homeless care center somewhere in the county, at two locations in the City of Tacoma or using space at the county jail for shelter.

▪ $25,000 to Coffee Oasis-Tacoma Project, a nonprofit that would like to expand and add a coffee shop for homeless teens to work at and use as a "safe space."

▪ $25,000 to Tacoma Recovery Café. The money will be used for behavioral health recovery for those impacted by substance disorders, addiction, homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges.

▪ $25,000 to Beacon Center, a homeless youth and young adult drop-in center, for hygiene supplies and other personal care products.

▪ $15,000 to Washington Soldiers Home for furniture at the homeless veterans center, Orting Veterans Village.

▪ $10,000 to provide emergency housing for people experiencing homelessness in inclement weather.

▪ $10,000 to Puyallup's sole drop-in homeless resource center, New Hope Resource Center, for homeless services.

In addition, a Task Force on Housing for the Homeless will look at types of housing and services to curb Pierce County homelessness. Members will include representatives from the Tacoma Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness.

Also, a Human Services Department employee will be appointed as the homeless coordinator to coordinate services across the county and develop strategies to guide policies.

Ladenburg, who chairs the Human Services Committee, spearheaded many of the homelessness initiatives. She said government needs to take care of the people who are least able to care for themselves.

Ladenburg said the county needs to work in tandem with nonprofits to address homelessness across the county. She sponsored a bill creating The Task Force on Housing for the Homeless, which will give recommendations to the council on policy and programs.

With 10 homelessness initiatives approved in the budget, Ladenburg hopes the county will begin offering diverse housing options, like shelters, housing-first programs and permanent housing for those living on the street over the next two years.

Councilmember Pam Roach introduced a bill to add a homeless coordinator in the Human Services Department and to study potentially homeless center sites across the county, including the possibility of converting two Pierce County Jail towers into shelters.

"We have got to get a handle on the homelessness issue," Roach said. "If we don't, it will consume us."

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