portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting oregon & cascadia

community building | homelessness

Tacoma's Step Toward Working WITH the Homeless

I met a man today who taught me about a new program in our city. Tonight I know he is not out sleeping in the cold and rain. Tonight I know he has a place to call home.
I was riding the bus home. Three men boarded who had the "homeless" look about them. They were all wet even with their rain slickers on. One of them sat across the aisle from me. He was carrying a bright yellow plastic "OPEN" sign about four feet long. To start up a conversation, I jokingly said "hmm, you're open for business". He laughed and told me he was a landscaper and it was his business sign. We laughed about a few other things and he said with a great big beaming smile "I'm on the way to MY PLACE". He wasn't shouting out "MY PLACE", just emphasizing it heavily, happily and joyfully. He said "you've heard of Homeless First". I actually didn't know about it so I said no and asked him to explain.

He told me he had been homeless for twenty years. Recently six people came as a group and approached him where he camped out. They explained the program they wanted to help him get into and he went for it. What did he end up with? One year of free housing!
What a time for this to come as the winter months approach and the rain some days seems endless. His eyes told the whole story in the pride he took in being able to say - "MY PLACE". My stop came and we said goodbye.

At home I looked for the program on the internet and was glad to learn about the Housing First Encampment Elimination Program. I didn't know it existed.

In September of this year, 1.3 million dollars was dedicated for the first year of the new project which involves both the City of Tacoma and social services. The city studied the problems associated with the homeless and determined that roughly 300 people lived in about 14 encampments. Members of Comprehensive Mental Health and Greater Lakes Mental Health's PATH outreach team try to encourage living in one of the encampments to accept a housing unit. These must have been the ones who approached the man I met on the bus.

"Each person who accepts housing within the selected encampment is assigned a case manager, who will provide assistance with the housing and serve as a liaison between the landlord and the individual. The individual is also offered a variety of services, including mental health and substance abuse services, to ensure that they will be successful in housing."  http://www.cityoftacoma.org/Page.aspx?hid=4043

The downside is that it is estimated that 100 people will be able to secure this housing. That leaves approximately 200 homeless who will be displaced from their encampments. Overall, I believe it is a step in the right direction from what has previously occurred and I won't soon forget those beaming eyes and the big smile when he proclaimed - "MY PLACE".

 http://www.cityoftacoma.org/Page.aspx?nid=642
Sites: There are 14 known encampment sites around the City and they're currently being surveyed. Sites will be selected and prioritized based on social resources and how many housing units are available to move individuals in to.

Process: Clean ups will occur in conjunction with the provision of housing and supportive services using the Housing First model. Once contact has been made with persons living within the encampment, the persons will be given 72 hours to either accept supportive housing with a case manager who will provide assistance, move to a shelter or simply just move on. Once the camp is vacated, the clean up process will begin.

What happens to those being displaced?
Each person who accepts housing within the selected encampment is assigned a case manager, who provides assistance with the housing and serves as a liaison between the property owner and the individual. The individual is also offered a variety of services, including mental health and substance abuse services, to ensure that they will be successful in housing.
How will the sites be monitored?
Following the clean up, TPD will regularly monitor the areas that have been cleaned. If a site is repopulated, TPD will remove trespassers within 24 hours of a report.

Key players:
City of Tacoma: Public Works/Streets & Grounds, TPD, Fire, CED, HR&HS, Tacoma CARES Community Contractors: Greater Lakes Mental Health, Metropolitan Development Council,Tacoma Rescue Mission Community Partners: Comprehensive Mental Health, Greater Lakes Mental Health, Veterans Administration Funding Partners: City of Tacoma, Pierce County, MultiCare, Franciscan Health

Role of the Social Service Agencies: The agencies will coordinate the housing and case management for the individuals who enter the Housing First program, and will be the ones to sign leases with the landlords

CATHOLIC SERVICES DOING A BETTER SERVICE 23.Nov.2006 00:54

TACOMAN not Taco-Man

Guadalupe House provides room and board for some of the homeless who seek transitional housing...but only have facilities for about a dozen....they also provide showers and phone access as well as a community meal and service every Teusday....

They do not put up fences...which are what I am seeing more and more of here in town.

Of course, who am I to complain...I'm not homeless---yet. And besides, rather than fencing out the homeless and forcing the problem into other communities...I suppose they could instead be fencing them in....I did hear something about a prison built on the tide flats.

There 23.Nov.2006 14:15

is no contest

for who or what is doing a better service

Guadalupe House of the Catholic Workers organization has long supported the homeless community with needed services in Tacoma. I love Guadalupe House! Likewise, nearby is St. Leo's Church which prepares hot breakfast and lunch meals five days a week to the homeless amid the many other services they offer. Spread throughout Tacoma are other organizations and churches which reach out.

My writing wasn't meant to measure the Housing First program against other programs in the community. My intention was to share the story of a bus ride, what I learned about this program and the joy it brought to someone who is receiving assistance from it.

Homelessness is an ongoing situation in many cities. In Tacoma, like any other city, the more effort that the community puts forth in helping to resolve the roots, the better off we all are. No single program is going to be able to fund or to staff (especially when many volunteers are needed) to meet all of the needs. Diversity and cost/labor sharing are key factors.

I do place value in the fact that a city has not only stepped forward to initiate this program but has taken the most important step - dedicating funds - to aid in its success. It also seeks to address the needs the homeless and the concerns of property owners, whether commerical or residential.

I also believe that going one step further in cleaning up the encampments is important to Mother Earth and other sentient life. Let's face the facts. Most urban encampments easily and quickly can become trash sites. Aluminum cans, broken bottles, jagged edges from tin cans, plastic and discarded personal belongings left to rot can generally be found, let alone the human waste that builds up. Restoring these encampments to a more natural state is healthy.

Will other encampments spring up? Will there still be homeless? You know the answer is yes. After a year's time, will some of the homeless that enter this program be successful in ending their own individual homelessness? The answer to that question is also YES!