Like many cities across Western Washington, leaders in the city of Tacoma are trying to find solutions for the homeless. A few weeks back, after several issues, the city and WSDOT removed people who were living in an area known as “Tacoma’s Jungle,” not far from the Tacoma Dome. At any given time there were 50 to 150 people living there, but when everyone moved out, only three took shelter vouchers and another three to five accepted treatment.
So what happens now?
“That is always the $100,000 question, and if we adjust for inflation, probably the $10 million question,” said Pamela Duncan with the city of Tacoma. “We have to always look at that end goal of how do we create stable, affordable, permanent housing? We are working with our community partners to address that because certainly, no one entity can do it alone. The city can’t do it alone; the county can’t do it alone, we all have to come together.”
Since the “Tacoma Jungle” was cleared, many of the people who were living there have been trying to re-enter the land they were living on.
Tacoma Jungle cleared but many want to return
“Post cleaning of the jungle, what we’ve seen is an increase of folks living on the street, going to other encampment areas, and we constantly struggle with folks who want to go back there,” Duncan said. “The fencing that has been put up has been breached several times, the locks have been cut, so we’re replacing those, it’s a challenge.”
The city knows that this is a very complex issue. Duncan said it is not as simple as finding affordable and available housing, it’s also working to address substance abuse and mental health issues that may exist.
“When you couple with that substance abuse, mental health disorder, or what is known as co-occurring disorder, so it’s mental health and its substance use, you encounter additional changes and barriers for people getting into housing,” Duncan said. “We are working on how we can meet people where they are, and at the same time transition them into more stable, permanent housing.”
The city’s investment in solving the problem has increased over the past several years. In the 2017-2018 biennium, they are investing around $10 million, around a $4 million increase from their investment just a few years ago.