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Pierce County Council announces spending plan to fund mental health services

The sales tax in Pierce County has inched up a penny on every ten dollars to help fund mental health and behavioral health services.

TACOMA, Wash. — Last week, the Pierce County Council approved a budget that funds mental health and behavioral health services through a sales tax increase.

The county began collecting the tax last July, which amounted to a penny for every ten dollars. The county is estimated to collect almost $14 million per year through this tax.

One of the key goals is investing in prevention, and making sure that programs and resources are available to those who need them to address their issues early on.

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Debora Underwood said her daughter, Syretta Brown, struggled with mental health and addiction prior to her death.

Brown was also homeless and jailed multiple times, but Underwood said jail may have done her daughter more harm than good.

“Everybody on the streets don’t need to be in jail,” Underwood said.  “We don’t have a place… for people like my daughter. If you have a mental problem or a drug problem, that’s the worst place to be at, in jail.”

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Phebe Brako-Owusu, a Tacoma based therapist, says that without the proper resources, people could find themselves in a cycle of imprisonment, leaving them in an even worse position.

“People who are finding themselves in these kinds of spaces have the added stress of being in that environment, where instead of getting that support of having someone to talk to, having the different resources to learn those coping skills, they’re not getting that,” Brako-Owusu said. “So they get sucked back into the system, so they’re not getting the help that they need.”

According to Pierce County Human Services, the county’s rate of individuals with a serious mental illness was 24% higher than the state average in 2019.

In response, the spending plan sets money aside to support at-risk parents and those caring for children with complex behavioral and developmental needs.

Brako-Owusu said the county’s investment in these families in particular are critical, not just for the specific individuals, but the overall, long-term health of the community.  

“They are the core of our society," Brako-Owusu said. "So if we’re able to take care of them, we’re not just talking about the right now, we’re talking about the generations that come after that, because this is a multi-generational thing." 

She continued, “These are the families that’re more likely to be torn apart, more likely to experience homelessness, more likely to have the cops called on them for various disturbances. If we are able mitigate and step in before it gets to that point, I think there’s more room for growth and more room for change.”

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