Despite many local attempts to solve Tacoma’s increase in homeless population, homelessness appears to be getting worse throughout Tacoma.
Homelessness has become a common sight in the South Sound.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition has attempted to make progress on decreasing homeless encampments across the city by continually cleaning up the “hot spots” where gathering is taking place. It is widely unknown whether displacing the homeless previously occupying these areas has helped or hurt the individuals staying in the “hot spots.”
The Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition for the Homeless is spreading their message regarding shelters. Organizations across Pierce County are currently taking in more people than their capacity allows—previously 150+ people a night were turned away—allowing more individuals the opportunity to get out of the increasingly cold weather.
According to Matt Driscoll of The News Tribune, “The goal [for the shelters] for the winter is to make an emergency shelter bed available to anyone that needs it.”
Yet the issue progressively appears to be getting worse.
Taking a monumental step in homelessness prevention, shelters have granted individuals the opportunity of the possibility to have a roof over their heads by turning away less.
Homeless families have been a key emphasis of the Tacoma Homelessness Coalition, in an article written by Jordan Schrader of The News Tribune, “The count of homeless students has increased by more than half since 2008 – growth that may be partly due to districts doing a better job keeping track of homelessness.”
Currently, 3% of Washington State students are homeless, 32,494 students were reported in the 2013 – 2014 school year across the state—this record has been broken every year since the Office of Superintendent of Public Institution begun taking the statistic in 2008.
According to the 2008 and 2014 Homeless Survey Report held by the Pierce County Government, homelessness has actually decreased by 8% from 2008 (19.2% to 11.3%). Currently, the amount of people living without homes varies from approximately 2,000 – 3,500 individuals per night according to the 2014 report. There are approximately 3.5 million American citizens struggling with homelessness.
The mission for the Tacoma Coalition states it strives to, “Preserve and create affordable housing, prevent homelessness, restore homeless persons to stable living environments and promote community awareness of homelessness issues.”
However, in dealing with the homeless, Tacoma City Official tactics has been heavily criticized by Tacoma citizens. In June, the city filled strips of grass with large boulders on Earnest S. Brazil St. at Tacoma Avenue South (just south of the Tacoma Library). Tacoma Avenue South is one of the most common places where the homeless gathered, according to the city of Tacoma. When the rocks came, many Tacomans described the action as “throwing rocks at the homeless.”
When the rocks were placed a group of individuals in the Tacoma area hosted a lunch-in protest on June 12th to spark the conversation about the mishandling of homelessness in Tacoma.
“This was not done to get rid of the homeless; we don’t want people congregating there, period,” said Homeless Services Manager, Colin DeForrest. DeForrest describes the placement of the rocks as “Site Hardening” in the Driscoll article and that “it’s one strategy to remedy multiple issues in that area, which include drug use and other illegal activity.”
This is just one example of the actions the city has used, a bad one. However, Tacoma has implemented some successful practices, such as Housing First models, something Seattle has also dabbled in.
Housing First is a nationally recognized best practice model which centers on providing housing to homeless individuals and their families quickly. It differs from other models because instead of short-term housing, Housing First emphasizes the value of people having sustainable permanent housing. The housing units are located in various apartment complexes in Tacoma and across Pierce County.
Cleveland, Albuquerque, and Denver are also some cities throughout the United States that have programs similar to Tacoma’s Housing First.
As of current, there has been no “set” plan to decrease homelessness in Pierce County. However, allowing more occupancy in shelters seems to be a promising beginning.