Addressing homelessness in Tacoma

By Ayden Bolin

The City of Tacoma has recently started addressing its issues of homelessness after a state of public health emergency was declared earlier in 2017.

The website for the city of Tacoma contains lots of information regarding the plan.  It states, “On May 9, 2017, the Tacoma City Council passed Ordinance 28430, declaring a state of public health emergency. The declaration was in response to the growing concentrations of people living in encampments in Tacoma. Encampments pose safety and health concerns for people living in them and around them as they create concerns about human waste, garbage, exposure to communicable diseases, exposure to violence and other human health concerns.”

The plan set forth is called the “Emergency Temporary Aid and Shelter Plan,” and it is divided into three phases: mitigation, temporary transitional centers and short-term transitional housing options. The phases are meant to deploy rapid resources to homeless encampments, provide social and health services, establish transitional center locations and then to move people to more permanent housing situations. The city is investing $3.4 million into this project, but as of the extension to 2018, the cost could approach $7 million, according to the City of Tacoma.

The city of Seattle proposed a similar plan in 2015, inspiring the change in Tacoma. According to King County All Home, an organization designed to mitigate homelessness in the King County area, 11,643 people experience homelessness in the City of Seattle. Of that, 47 percent experienced unsheltered living, while 53 percent were in transitional homes or an emergency shelter.

In Tacoma, there were 1,321 people counted that were experiencing homelessness as of January 2017. Of that, 62 percent were sheltered, while 38 percent were not, according to the Pierce County Point-In-Time Count. Demographics are also important to note on the causes of this issue: 72 percent of the homeless population reported physical disability or mental illness, while 18 percent reported substance abuse and 9 percent reported a developmental disability. Tacoma’s new mayor-elect, Victoria Woodards, has cited homelessness as a key issue for the city.

“I think first of all, it’s becoming more of a pervasive issue in our country, and also, when you compound homelessness with other issues that people face, homeless people have such a complex set of issues that they face. Finding solutions for these issues such as addiction, crime, access to education, are entirely different when you look at homeless populations. A lot of the inequities and injustices in our society are reflected in homeless individuals,” Kayla Lovett, a senior who has worked extensively with the homeless population in the Tacoma area, said.

Lovett recommended that students at the University get involved in the community. The Tacoma Rescue Mission is an organization that provides food, shelter and services to “homeless and hurting,” people, according to their website. Project Homeless Connect is another organization run through Pierce County that provides “services that address the basic needs; basic medical and dental care, access to education, employment and benefits systems, chemical dependency assessments, flu shots, haircuts and much more,” according to the Sound Outreach website. For volunteer work on the food justice side, Hilltop Urban Gardens (HUG) in Tacoma is a good place to start. The organization “is a community-based urban agriculture, justice and equity organization in Tacoma, WA. HUG partners with the community to grow healthy food, young people and neighbors,” according to the Hilltop Urban Gardens website.

Homelessness in the Pierce and King Counties is far from being solved, but the cities of Tacoma and Seattle are investing time and money on a large scale into the issue.

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