Homelessness in Tacoma; It’s a Problem

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.