By John Larson
The Stability Site, a facility that the city of Tacoma operates as a homeless shelter along Puyallup Avenue, has had some success in terms of getting people out of unauthorized encampments and into a secure location with supervision. It has served 304 people since it opened in June 2107.
Tacoma City Council heard a presentation on the topic during the July 16 study session. The presenters were Linda Stewart, director of the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services,
Erica Azcueta, manager of the department’s Homelessness and Household Stability Program, and Captain Shawn Gustafson of Tacoma Police Department.
They explained to the council that there is generally a waiting list for a spot in the shelter. The Stability Site has room for 100 individuals. It currently has 87 residents. Of them, 77 have completed a housing stability plan. Fifteen have enrolled in the employment connections program, and six have become employed as a result. The number of people enrolled in coordinated entry is 46.
The overall number of adult and family shelter beds available on any given night in Tacoma is around 400. An additional 160 are made
available during inclement weather. About 40 beds are available for young adults between the ages
of 18 and 24. There are 117 beds for victims of domestic violence. There are currently six residential crisis beds for youth ages 12 to 17, with another 12 planned for Tacoma Housing Authority’s Arlington
facility. The Stability Site has 100 beds.
They discussed some of the success of the Homeless Outreach Team. An innovative partnership between NCS and TPD, it sends five police officers and two NCS outreach workers around the city to places where the homeless gather. They coordinate responses to unauthorized camps and ensure monitoring so the homeless do
not return there in the future. It has been collaborating with other government agencies that own property affected by the homeless, including Metro Parks, Tacoma Public Utilities and Washington State Department of Transportation.
Gustafson is pleased with the ongoing efforts with WSDOT. “We have learned that when you close an encampment, you must clean it up right away,” he remarked. He noted the number of people encountered in such camps who accept an offer of help is up by 56 percent.
Councilmember Catherine Ushka said the cooperation of WSDOT is huge, adding that she and Mayor Victoria Woodards arranged meetings with staff from the state agency regarding unauthorized camps.
There were 127 camp cleanups in Tacoma in 2018. Through March of 2019, there have been 38. Stewart said the type of camps being cleared out recently have been smaller in size, and thus less expensive for the city to clean up. Recents cleanups have been in the range of several hundred dollars each, while some of the bigger
cleanups done in the past average $1,000 each.
The city recently switched the provider of mental health services. Two employees of that organization ride along with officers when they go into camps. Gustafson said the number of contacts with the homeless is up, which he considers a good thing. Many of these contacts result in someone who needs help getting connected with people who can provide the needed services.
“The secret sauce at this site is the case management,” Councilmember Conor McCarthy observed.
Stewart said tours of the Stability Site have been held for people who work for the city government or non-profit agencies in Everett and Seattle, so they can get ideas they can brings to those cities up north.
Gustafson mentioned the 311 telephone service, which citizens can call in non-emergency situations for information on a variety of services offered by the city government or non-profit organizations. There were 2,069 calls made in 2018. He said many are from residents complaining about homeless people camping out near their home or business. “We get those calls all the time,”
Gustafson remarked. He added that it is extremely hard for police to enforce the no-camping ordinance.
“We cannot do some of the enforcement that the public seems to expect from us,” City Manager Elizabeth Pauli.
Councilmember Keith Blocker said he has heard reports safety at the Stability Site, and that some homeless people are scared to go stay there.
There is an ongoing effort to shift Stability Site residents out of their personal tents into a small, more permanent structure. Stewart said the nylon tents used by many of the homeless are not safe as they are not durable.