County Council approves plan to end homelessness

The Pierce County Council adopted a Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness meant to serve as a roadmap to engaging the multifaceted issue that is the region’s homelessness challenge.

The plan designs a system to end homelessness by achieving a state of “functional zero” — that is, any person starting a new homeless experience having immediate access to shelter and a permanent housing intervention.

Six goals outlined in the plan include creating a unified homeless response system, ensuring interventions are effective for all populations, preventing homelessness, making sure adjacent systems address needs of people experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness, meeting the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness, and expanding the permanent housing system to meet need.

“This plan gives a data-driven strategy that is people-orientated, using data in coordination to tackle homelessness as a region in Pierce County,” Councilmember Dave Morell said during the March 15 meeting. “Within this data we need transparency and accountability so the public knows where we’re spending these dollars.”

“Council took bold steps at the end of 2021 when it adopted the biennial budget that included significant allocations aimed at increasing affordable housing options and reducing homelessness,” council Chair Derek Young said in a press release. “We dedicated $253 million to fund housing and homelessness programs, including a $19.9 million set-aside for affordable housing development in the county and $22.3 million for development of a future micro-home village for supportive housing.”

The council also used $65.6 million in one-time funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to pay for community response and resilience programs with amounts explicitly dedicated to homeless resources like increased shelter space and emergency shelters and foreclosure prevention counseling.

Young got to the crux of the situation during the meeting.

“Here’s the problem, though: It’s way more expensive to not house people,” he said. “I want to make that really clear. It’s not as though these people just disappear. It’s not as though they just don’t impact the system. We see it in everything else we spend lots of money on.”

The current “muddle-through” approach has resulted in emergency rooms and jails filling up and has seen people cycling in and out of homelessness, he said, calling it a “spectacular failure.”

“So, this is an approach that basically is attempting to actually address the core problem of homelessness, and that’s housing people,” Young said.

Councilmember Amy Cruver was sympathetic to the goals of the plan, calling it a “noble vision” she could not support, saying there should be more of a focus on public safety that considers the realities of inflation, massive government spending and rising energy prices.

“However, I’m just not seeing how this humanitarian vision aligns with today’s reality,” she said.

The plan establishes a regional office on homelessness. It also directs the Human Services Department to convene a plan implementation advisory board, requires a semi-annual report back to the council with updates on how the plan’s implementation is going, integration of the plan into existing county plans that address homelessness, revision of homeless prevention services eligibility by June 30, 2022, and development of a strategic funding plan by Oct. 31, 2022.


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