Pierce County Executive, Bruce Dammeier announcement.
Last night (and this morning), I was out in the field as part of our annual Point in Time (PIT) count of chronically homeless residents. Each year, our Human Services team leads a community effort to conduct this “Count” to meet a Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requirement. It is a big effort.
In the weeks leading up to the Count, teams are collecting food, Gatorade, clothing, hygiene kits and other items to distribute. In addition, they are bringing together counting teams made up of service providers, Human Services staff, community volunteers – and several County elected officials! They also prepare maps of the County so we can fan out to count and interview many of the chronically homeless living unsheltered in our community. Other teams count those living in shelters.
I look forward to this night every year, but not in a “like to do it” way. As I have said many times before, there is no substitute for seeing people’s lives firsthand. Talking with people who are living on the street is more powerful and more important than just looking at numbers on a spreadsheet. And talking with our professionals who are working directly with people trapped in homelessness gives me valuable perspectives and insights. Finally, spending a long cold and wet January night out talking with folks without a home gives me empathy. Because, when I am done counting and exhausted, I get to head home to my nice warm bed.
I was fortunate enough to be out with Orlando Stumvoll again this year along with two of his colleagues from Comprehensive Life Resources (CLR). We were joined by Councilmember Dave Morell and LeighBeth Merrick of the Council staff. Our assigned area was broadly around the Tacoma Mall – including the encampment behind the Post Office on South Pine, close to the Tacoma Mall Plaza building.
Here are some observations from my time counting:
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the number of people living on our streets is up from last year. While the PIT is not a perfect science and can be affected by many factors – like weather – I think we all see this in our own travels around the county. For many reasons, chronic homelessness has been increasing and will not decrease on its own.
The encampments I visited were still incredibly unsafe and unsanitary. I saw evidence of crime and violence – and significant amounts of untreated mental illness and addiction. There were more RVs and more people sleeping in their car this year than in my previous counts. While in most cases, the RVs and cars were broken down and surrounded by squalor, I also saw some in relatively good condition.
It breaks my heart to witness this in our community. But I saw something else this year that gave me hope. For the first time, I saw several people express an interest in getting help and getting off the streets. In the past, our outreach workers would be prompting folks about services. This year they came up to us and asked about getting support. Later, when talking with other Count teams, I heard many similar stories.
Let me share three specific interactions:
KWC is a 43-year-old man who has been homeless for 18 years. He told me he has been clean and sober for nine months but also has a significant untreated mental illness. He does day jobs – most recently helping to build a fence – and his girlfriend is expecting a child. As we talked, he shared he is finally ready to find a home for the chance of a more stable life.
Roger is in his late 20’s and has been homeless for more than five years. He is currently living in a large encampment, has his tent surrounded by a fence, and suffers from mental health issues, likely compounded by drug use. He is finally ready to try a tiny home. Roger has an appointment with a CLR outreach worker for this coming Tuesday morning at 10:30.
Lolita is a woman in her early 30’s. She has not been homeless for long and is living in her car – which just broke down. She works part time. CLR is following up with her early next week. She looks like a great candidate for a transitional housing program – and hopefully can get back to stability quickly.
My interactions last night/this morning reinforced my commitment to our Pierce County Village proposal. KWC is exactly the kind of person who could benefit from the housing and services planned for the community we envision. I believe Roger also is a good prospect. And I heard many other stories of people whose lives could be restored with supportive on-site services.
I shared our hopes for the Village with our CLR outreach workers, who hadn’t heard of it. When they learned it was not a short-term housing option, but a place where folks could get stable, healthy, and live out their lives they were excited. They felt it would give them an option for people trapped in homelessness that currently does not exist.
So, despite the heartache of last night, I have hope for the future.
I want to express my deep appreciation to Heather Moss and her amazing Human Services team, including John Barbee and Delmar Algee. I was particularly excited to see Nate Bonton, who recently joined Human Services, providing key data analysis of our homeless services. I also want to thank Council Chair Ryan Mello and Councilmembers Dave Morell, Jani Hitchen, Paul Herrera and Robyn Denson for joining this year’s Count.
Finally, a very special thanks to Jeff Rodgers from Human Services who did all the planning, preparation, and implementation of this year’s PIT! I hope he gets a weekend off to recover!
Thanks for reading.
Chas. Ames says
I was out on the streets as well, but as a Counter. Along with my two fellow Counters, Lynn and Marissa, we scoured our designated region, University Place. And about the time we found the reward of reaching out to this outcast demographic, it was time to head back.
I’m sure we will be back next year- until Homelessness and been properly addressed… and conquered.
Jackie Furrey says
I have lived on Key Peninsula for 30 years . The Peninsula has been a haven for folks who either by law or preference, live off the grid.
I think homeless and other marginalized people move here for several reasons:
* tolerance for atypical people and their behaviors
* peace keeping attitudes
* social services: you can’t go hungry on the Peninsula. For example, there are two or three food banks within 20 miles of each other, two senior centers and numerous church-associated meal programs
* a free medical clinic
* minimal presence of the law, unfortunately
* an abundance of wooded areas, providing natural shelters
* numerous vacant homes – vacation and weekend homes
* numerous vacant boats
* edible nature: clams, oysters, fish, berries, nuts and some legumes are there for the
I know of several homeless encampments, one about a 1500 feet from my property. My concern is for myself, my property, and for the health and safety of those campers.
I don’t have a big answer and wouldn’t expect an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the idea of setting up an intentional village of formerly homeless, but that is what I see as a possible, viable approach.
There are so many motor homes and RVs being dumped that could provide good homes for so many.
I would like to see the county get behind this kind of approach.
Ann Marie Nadeau says
Where is Key Peninsula?
Mike Tucci says
I admire Bruce Dammier, the counsel and the staff who went out to see the problem first hand. It is encouraging to hear that there are some people who want some help. I hope “the Village “ happens here. I have seen the information about the Austin Texas village and it would be a long term solution here for those have been homeless and want to change their lives.
John J. Fradet says
I appreciate the review of your experiences while doing the survey.
Thanks for your efforts and relating your thoughts about your time in the field. From Puyallup.
Jackie, I’m shocked there wasn’t a reply from the PIT crew about your excellent suggestion. Makes so much sense those that want to be homeless and I used to help in my area with their so called emergency needs till after 18 mo it was primarily the same 100 ppl with emergency needs every night n day anyway your suggestion is very smart they can live in the woods out off the streets trees giving them cover for warmth food from water. The only thing I’d be afraid of someone starting fires for warmth an it not taken care of then the trees get caught and a massive burn
Jon Harrison says
Unbelievable, I live in the heart of the beast, Lincoln District, not in North End, Fircrest, UP, many, not all are manipulating criminals. They extort from the Asians , steal, vandalize contribute nothing. I travel abroad extensively, to poor undeveloped countries, no homeless, little crime. Take the millions out of homeless entrepreneurs and that will be a start!
John Arbeeny says
Sometimes it’s cruel to be kind and kind to be cruel.
Ever see a situation where a grossly obese person, unable to get out of their house, is somehow supplied with the huge amount of food to support or even gain their weight? They are getting if from somewhere aren’t they, often supplied by a relative. It’s called a “codependent relationship” but that aspect is often never examined. The focus in on the weight, the result, not the cause, a toxic relationship both with food and the enabler.
I’d suggest that we have the same relationship between government and the “homeless” which maintains and even increases the homeless population. When you support a certain behavior you’re likely to get more of that behavior. That support is seen as being kind but that “kindness” is actually cruel: no one should be encouraged or enabled to live out on the streets in some cases for years. Perhaps a different approach of “hard love” where “cruelty” discourages this kind of behavior is the kindest thing government can do.
Brian Borgelt says
The fundamental question seems to be: Are we solving or perpetuating the problem?
As Bruce observed, there are many, not all but many, who choose to live a life of homeless addiction, which imposes negative circumstance on others, simply by making it a choice for others.
People can’t gravitate down to a level that simply isn’t there.
Misapplied empathy can become a Siren’s song.
We see this in the public school system today, where kids are allowed to identify with things that don’t hold promise for their future, simply because they want to and are allowed to. That system ever-more encourages contrary behavior based on an ideology of diversity, equity, and inclusion, over rational decision-making, standards, and accomplishment.
I agree with Jackie above, that an intentional village is the answer for this homeless demographic, complete with services and security.
Let it stand as an example for what it is.
It must be illegal to live homeless anywhere else.
It’s either that or begin critical homeless studies in elementary and highschool, because kids are looking for direction.
Carol baxter says
Ithink transitional housing is just as dangerou as living homeless my daughter worked a short speii for tansitional houseing in mt vernon and during her interviewshe saw amanget beatin down by 6 other guys weilding bats in the parking lot lot and she said shouldent woldole call police ? They said police wont do any thing due to the fact they:ve have cost the tax payers enough money. and there was one lady that is raped damn near every night and know one will help her its discusting i dont care how much they have costed the tax payers they deserve to be safe
Victoria N. McCormick says
It’s called tough love!
Just me says
No that’s not though love that’s cold hearted no one should have to get beaten or raped
Brian Borgelt says
No one should be become so low as to allow themselves to be beaten or raped.
Those who are behind the perpetuation of this problem through gaslight-sympathy, also want to disarm the general public, in the name of public safety, rendering us vulnerable to attack as well.
No one ever raped a .38.
David Boardman says
Well add me to your count I choose not to go with the crowd of other homeless folk. I rather stay low-key and drive my car to certain parking lots and sleep the nights off in my car alone and freezing as my car doesn’t produce any heats because my radiator blow apart twice and I just recently flushed my heater core and anyways I’d love to live a normal life and find regular employment and have a place to reside and dream of gaining custody of my 19month child and living a healthy sober proud life. But I have a problem with asking for help or socializing with people I’m aware I have a few mental issues and I not like to feel like I’m being judged and I’m insecure depressed etc. There’s got to be many others such as me that are not around to be included in any counts. I like to be clean and take showers and eat food but I not want to do any of that with the average homeless people’s not do I want to hangout with the average homeless person I also might not want to hangout with non homeless people either but I’d rather shower and eat with them if I had to pick. Off topic. Anyways life is short everybody don’t spend to much time working or struggling
Angela Schick says
I know many people support the village; however, most people don’t support the location selected and the costly building of developing the land select by the builder and executive office. There are many issues with the site selected such as wetlands, the environment and the current zoning as a residential resource with the goals the TMR has. The county is bending the rules for a government funded project that would never be allowed under normal building conditions or private land owner. It is an egregious abuse of power. This project has no long term sight for the unintended consequences. Not to mention this project will cutting this group of marginalized people off from resources such as access to needed jobs, transportation and medical care and basic needs like grocery stores. I have worked with a number of these communities, NGO and government funded programs. They only allow people to see what they want to see. They clean them up for the pats of the backs, press and when big wigs are walking through for funding, promotional sake and the next racket. This building project is very costly and the operation budget is just as enormous. In a time of recession our governments should be focused on balancing budgets and cutting out fat rather than lining pockets, taken advantage of a untapped market and finding more ways to funnel tax payers dollars away from the true needs of the community. Buttering up the claims while providing little data is a very unhealthy way to manipulate people’s beliefs. We all know what the problem is. We see it every day. Many of us personally know people who need help and can’t get them help because the mental health and treatment centers are not taking patients and are stretched beyond capacity. They simply don’t exist. Your trying to put a band-aid on a wound that is bleeding out.