To the Pierce County Council and All Concerned Citizens of Pierce County

From Tanya Stephenson

We all are very aware that homelessness is a growing concern in the Pierce County area with fifty known encampments in greater Pierce County. As highlighted in current research, often homeless struggle with untreated mental, behavioral, emotional health needs such as addiction and depression, suggesting a need for accessible, relevant services. Yet our county falls short in meeting the needs of our most vulnerable.

Yes, care has improved in recent years regarding police education, crisis response, and rapid intake points. The fact remains that access to services is only the first step, followed by engagement and support of long-term change, with many individuals getting stuck in a revolving door of service engagement and no access to long-term support.

Imagine yourself as a 20-year-old homeless, drug addicted woman who finally seeks help, completes treatment only to find—you have no money, so no housing.   Under the current system gaining funds for housing requires a person to be "street homeless" and apply for funds, often after leaving services, returning them to the same high-risk environment. Often the ones providing the access are just as frustrated with the process and would like to assist more than they are currently able to.

Yes, I understand it is a difficult problem and we all want what is best, yet do not have the necessary foresight to see what the outcome of our present choices may be. What I do know, however, is: if we continue to cycle our most vulnerable through an already overburdened system then our problem will grow. Given that currently it is unmanageable, what will it look like in even one more year?

Recently the News Tribune ran two articles, one espousing their county’s plan to sue pharmaceutical companies, the other to place toilets and running water temporarily (for four to six weeks) at various homeless camps, both of which sound "good" on the surface. However, neither provides for long-term change. In fact, suing a pharmaceutical company is both time and money consuming, something Pierce County cannot afford. Second, temporary water is just that—temporary. The fact is, our most vulnerable need to be served by programs which elicit and maintain long-term change. By expanding access points to housing and allotting funds for those who are active in a change process, we could truly begin to stem the tide. In fact, we have voted down our solution twice in the past. It is known as the one-tenth of one percent tax. This would provide a needed influx of cash within the next year. So, I propose to our council: vote in the bill. We know it works. It worked in multiple counties across Washington. Then, when our most vulnerable are more protected, we can look at holding the rest of the world accountable.

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen,

A concerned mother, care provider, and recovering person