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Pierce County diversifies approach to homelessness, including converting hotel to housing

Pierce County looks to end the year by adding more than 100 homeless shelter units.

TACOMA, Wash. — Pierce County is setting up beds for its most vulnerable by converting a hotel into an emergency homeless shelter.

The hotel, a former Comfort Inn, is located at 8620 S. Hosmer St. and was bought by the Low Income Housing Institute with the help of the City of Tacoma, Pierce County and the City of Lakewood for $8.8 million. 

The facility has 94 units and can house around 120 people.

John Barbee, who works as Pierce County’s Community Services manager, says it’s all part of a plan to give people shelter in the present while it works to set up more permanent shelters down the road.

“We literally want to build our way out of homelessness,” Barbee explained. “This model of the emergency response of the shelter with the long-term idea that there will be permanent supportive housing is one of the things we really believe in.”

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Barbee said that although Pierce County wasn’t able to meet its goal of ending street homelessness by November, a lot of useful lessons were learned along the way.

One of those lessons was that the answer to homelessness in Pierce County should include all of Pierce County.

Currently, 13 of Pierce County’s 16 overnight shelters are within Tacoma’s city limits.

Barbee said the county is looking to spread resources more evenly to make sure one area of the county isn’t faced with dealing with homelessness alone.

“We need to diversify where we put these locations,” Barbee said. “We’re Tacoma-centric right now with a lot of our shelter and services, and we know homelessness has no boundaries or borders, whether it’s city or rural areas, and that’s our concept as we want to be able to support the county as a whole.”

Pierce County is also looking east, and is in the early stages of setting up a similar shelter in the Fife and Milton areas, to address homelessness in different parts of Pierce County and make sure the entire county is being served.

Maureen Howard, who advocates for the homeless community in Pierce County, appreciates the action and hopes it continues.

“Every meeting you go to, every person you talk with, wants to solve homelessness,” Howard said. “They may not agree on how to do that, but they want it to happen”