Currently shelters have had to reduce the number of shelter beds they can offer due to COVID and CDC guidelines. Homeless service providers and shelter operators have called out to community partners that may have access to available space (cafeterias, auditoriums, etc.) to help expand temporary winter shelter capacity.
Since many public venues are currently closed for normal operations due to health restrictions, we can share some of this burden by providing vacant public facilities as a temporary solution to meet needs caused by the pandemic. Warming Centers are just one example to potentially accommodate the demand. These centers are established under the authority of the Public Health State of Emergency on Homelessness.
Not all public facilities are equally suited to meet the same operating needs. MPT has worked with city staff and other providers to identify opportunities, as COVID-19 numbers remain at higher than desired level.
In it Together
Throughout the city—we have activated vacant MPT facilities through philanthropic support and Federal funding (COVID/CARES and HUD Emergency Solutions Grant) to help individuals through new challenges brought on by the pandemic. Current programs include:
- People’s Center in Central Tacoma is serving as a morning hygiene center for unsheltered teens and adults; it also serves as an extended learning center for children experiencing homelessness to have a warm place to access the internet to do their daily school assignments with adult mentors. An average of 33 students receive distance learning support, meals and wrap around services daily.
- STAR Center is in South West Tacoma, in partnership with the Tacoma Public School District and the Tacoma Rescue Mission, has a program to People’s Center, and supports extended learning for unsheltered youth. This site also provides three meals a day and structured activities for elementary and middle school students. An average of 20 students receive distance learning support, meals and wrap around services daily.
- Eastside Community Center in South East Tacoma was opened in October—managed by Valeo (third party non-profit—funded by the City of Tacoma) to provide a winter Warming Center for up to 55 individuals. Individuals receive meals, showers and a safe and warm place to sleep. This site operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to overnight guests, an average of 18 additional individuals report to the center every day, to access food and warm shelter. Individuals at this location have been referred to more stable shelter at the Temporary Emergency Micro-Shelter and drug and alcohol treatment.
- Norpoint Community Center in Northeast Tacoma has not been activated for a number of reasons, primarily due to the facility location and access to appropriate services. Unfortunately, a recent community check-in conversation may have caused confusion as opposed to transparency. This was not our intent.
With passion and compassion, we have received an overwhelming level of concern from the northeast community regarding our decision to use public facilities to support unsheltered individuals. We appreciate the candor and respect the concerns expressed, however there are many inaccurate assumptions being made and we are simply in the fact-finding stage of assessing potential use of this site.
We realize that Northeast Tacoma has limitations and many additional resources would be necessary to support unsheltered individuals at this location. It may simply be unrealistic. However, MPT and the City of Tacoma are investigating if Norpoint Community Center has merit to:
- Serve as a short-term evening warming center until an expansion of the Tacoma Rescue Mission at Holy Rosary and added expansion at the Tacoma Rescue Mission provide approximately 70 new beds.
- Emergency Only Warming Center—in case of inclement weather dropping under 32 degrees as a last resort to avoid loss of life.
- Additional need to serve unsheltered elementary and middle school students during the day to help with extended learning.
The city continues to evaluate many other sites. Norpoint Community Center was identified based on the building amenities (gym, showers, kitchen, etc.) within the facility. The type of facility alone does not mean it will automatically be selected. Staff agrees with many of the concerns voiced by the northeast residents and this location may not be an ideal site. We apologize that through our vetting of sites and options misinformation has caused panic in the community—however, we continue to capture the community issues and concerns as part of the feasibility period.
- Listening Forum – Northeast Tacoma Residents to share issues and concerns with MPT & COT – Details to follow
- Findings – Results of findings and highlights of COT research to serving individuals experiencing homelessness during January—March due to the impact of COVID.
- City of Tacoma Website – Warming Center Information
- McKinney Vento – Distance Learning support for students experiencing housing insecurity provided at STAR and People’s Centers.
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