The number of homeless is rising across Pierce County, but the City of Tacoma’s housing program seems to be a success. Still, several residents at a joint session of city and county public safety and human services committee weren’t happy with the overall situation.
Richard Anderson-Connolly, a professor at the University of Puget Sound, provided to the councils what he called a "progress report" based on polling of those who entered the city’s program to move homeless persons off the streets and into houses.
He provided statistics which show that, so far, the program is a success. Visits to the emergency room are down, and visits to other healthcare facilities are up. Those moved into housing self-report less victimization. Surveys showed that, on average, those involved report they feel safer, happier, more hopeful, less depressed, less lonely, less angry and less tired.
"Every change, you could say, moves in a beneficial direction,” Anderson-Connolly said.
The county, which pledged last year to cut homelessness in half over the next decade, reported a 14 percent increase in its 2006 count, though it hopes the count will be down in this year’s count. The biggest challenge it faces, a county representative said, is recruiting agencies to help. He said the county has the capacity for two or three more agencies.
Pierce County also reported that 65 percent of those placed in housing programs are leaving before one year.
"Often we don’t know where they’ve gone," he said. "Are they homeless again? We can’t tell."
Anderson-Connolly likened the homeless balance between the city and the unincorporated parts of the county to a balloon – squeeze it, and the volume doesn’t change; it just moves. He said that can actually be problematic because a lower density of the homeless and can make it more difficult to help.
The homeless encampment behind Kmart at East 72nd Street and Portland Avenue was discussed and was a central topic when the floor was opened for comments. Stacy Emerson, a community activist who grabbed attention by posting a video of the clothing and medical supplies dumped in the wetlands, e-mailed The News Tribune earlier in the week and wrote that the camps are flourishing.
Emerson vented her frustration about police response to calls. Three-quarters of the Kmart parking lot is city property, she said, and when she reports something to a Tacoma Police Department, a Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy responds. She wanted to know who to contact to get things done.
"It seems I get instruction, I follow the book to the letter, and there’s no resolution," she said.
Annie Dean, a North End resident, is a new mom and said she’d like to move out to the county. With the homeless problem, that won’t happen.
"You shouldn’t have to live in the North End to feel safe," she said. "And right now, that’s how I feel."