The city unveiled an informational map a month ago that showed the known homeless encampments around the city and the status of removal and clean-up. The site also allowed residents a way to report the sighting of new encampments that spring up on public properties, in back woods and under bridges.
People have since viewed that encampment response map more than 2,000 times through web browsers, apps and database links. The map was developed after three public training sessions and briefings with neighborhood councils about real-time information on individual encampments. It includes the location, status of the concern, any action taken by city officials, and the health or safety concern of drug paraphernalia, crime, trash or human waste if a resident reported the site through the TacomaFIRST 311 service.
“We’ve received positive feedback from the community about the encampment map, which provides information about the city’s response to reported encampments and gives an explanation about how cleanups occur based on property type,” said city spokeswoman Megan Snow. “…The city is continuing to work on Phase 3 of the Emergency Temporary Shelter Plan and the Emergency Declaration has been extended to the end of the year.”
That declaration will almost certainly be renewed and be a matter of discussion as the City Council works on the biannual budget this fall at a time when police, fire and other departments are looking to continue to backfill their staffing levels that were deeply cut in the 2015-2016 budget. The City Council passed its first emergency declaration to address homelessness within the city last summer and has extended that declaration twice since then. But its longer-term future comes at a time when the city’s five-year forecast shows revenues again falling short of expenses unless something changes.
“It’s going to be a tough conversation,” City Councilmember and Chairman of the council’s Community Vitality and Safety Keith Blocker said. “This issue is bigger than what the city can handle.”
He said the state and Pierce County need to do more for homelessness programs, so that the city doesn’t have to bear all the expenses of what is a complex, state and regional issue, often involving addiction treatment and mental health programs that are already overwhelmed.
The initial declaration called for $3.4 million in additional spending on homelessness programs, particularly the creation of a stability site, located on Puyallup Avenue, to shelter people while connecting them to services and programs. The final phase of the plan, were the city is now, involves developing programs, partnerships and methods to transition people out of temporary shelters and into permanent housing.
The stability site costs taxpayers $60 per person every day and currently houses and provides program counselors to 84 people.
“I’m hoping we can find a way to keep it open,” Blocker said. “We didn’t project how long we would have to keep the stability site open (when it was created last summer.) We just knew we had to do something.”
The county’s point-in-time count of homeless people earlier this year found that 1,628 people were homeless. About half were people of color and a quarter was families. About a third had mental health issues, half had physical disabilities or health conditions and one in five suffered addiction issues.
More information about the city’s efforts to address homelessness is available at cityoftacoma.org/homelessness.