A Pierce County pilot program is meeting the homeless where they're at with a van that will bring health and human services throughout the county.
Pierce County has been fighting a losing battle. No matter what it does, it can't seem to keep up with the constant need for more money and more bodies to tackle the health care crisis.
"In a county this size, there's always a need for more crisis services, more prevention and intervention services," said Peter Ansara.
As the Director of Human Services for Pierce County and working the field for 20 years, he's seen the need continue to climb.
"We see a significant uptick in opioid use and drug use, and that has a lot to do with how people live and what their future looks like," he said.
Many of those people don't get the help they need. They either don't want it, don't think they need it, or just don't care. Many are homeless, maybe addicts, or just off their meds and need a little help.
"This makes things better because you're meeting people where they're at," said Ansara.
He's talking about a new pilot program comprising a six-member team of health care professionals and a modified van outfitted with a wheelchair ramp, a desk and storage for medical equipment, and some food.
Three members of the team will help manage the case load and other supporting roles, and three others will be in the van, reaching out to people in need.
"Whether it's on the street, under a bridge, on the river, wherever they may be," he said.
But it won't be in Tacoma. The point of this program is to hit the hotspots; areas of the county not currently covered well. In the van, a nurse to handle medical treatment, along with a chemical dependency professional, someone who has been down the same path as they people they treat.
"I think it's important, because that's somebody that can share their story with the individual that they're speaking to. They can relate," said Ansara. "They can create more trust that way."
And building that trust is important. As word spreads, they hope to reach more people and eventually add another team to cover more of the county. County Executive Bruce Dammeier pushed for the $500,000 to fund the program, which he hopes will ease the burden on other critical services.
"To get some of these folks out of our jails and out of our emergency departments, which are the most expensive, least effective ways to deal with mental illness," said Dammeier.
It's a much more proactive approach than anything the county has done thus far.
The goal is simple, said Ansara: Move people from the street to a much better proposition of putting their head on a pillow at night.
The county hopes to have everything in place and the team hitting the streets in the mobile van by the beginning of September.
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