By Hunter George, Pierce County Communications director
Two Pierce County departments that provide “safety net” services to some of the most vulnerable people in the community will merge under a plan adopted by county leaders.
The Pierce County Council unanimously voted Tuesday, Dec. 14, to approve Executive Pat McCarthy’s plan for implementing the merger of the Department of Community Services with the Department of Human Services. The combined department, to be named the Department of Community Connections, will serve the truly needy in Pierce County.
“The name ‘Community Connections’ reflects the intent to connect people with vital programs and services that make our communities strong,” Executive McCarthy said. “The county’s team of experts determined that combining these departments will result in operating efficiencies that enable us to deliver more ‘lifeline’ services to more people.”
Council Chair Roger Bush (District 3) noted that Pierce County is moving to strengthen the safety net for its most vulnerable citizens at a time when other levels of government are cutting those areas.
“Pierce County is once again leading by example,” he said. “The citizens we serve expect that we are spending their money wisely and effectively. Combining these programs and staffs will result in an efficient model that reaches more people who need these services. The Council will remain vigilant for other opportunities to gain efficiencies in county operations.”
The Department of Community Connections will provide assistance to the homeless, low-income families and individuals, those with developmental disabilities and those in need of mental health, chemical dependency or aging and long-term care services. The department will have 295 employees and an annual budget of $63 million, most of which are grants from the federal and state governments.
The Executive recently hired Helen Howell, who has more than 20 years of public policy and advocacy experience, to lead the combined department. Howell has previously held policy positions with the White House, U.S. Senate and in former Washington Gov. Gary Locke’s administration. Her appointment is subject to confirmation by the County Council.
“This is an exciting opportunity to improve the way we deliver key services to the community,” Howell said. “It will take a lot of hard work by dedicated and compassionate Pierce County employees to implement the merger. All of us at Community Connections would appreciate the patience and support of partner organizations during this time of transition.”
Many employees of the combined department will move to new work spaces in January. The old Puget Sound Hospital building is closing as a cost-saving move, and employees will be split between two Tacoma locations as follows:
Community Connections and WorkSource Building
1305 Tacoma Ave., Suite 104
Department Director, Administration, Fiscal, Operations, Aging and Long Term Care, Arts, Community Development.
Sound View Building
3602 Pacific Ave.
Deputy Director, Chemical Dependency, Community Action, Development Disabilities, Housing, Mental Health, WSU Extension.