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Pierce County adopts new plan to address homelessness

The $9 million comprehensive plan that leadership is hopeful will bring the county a step closer to ending homelessness.

TACOMA, Wash. — Pierce County leadership is hopeful a new plan to help homeless people that was approved and funded just last week will accomplish its lofty goal of “ending homelessness.”

Theresa Power-Curtis is a longtime community advocate who’s seen the ebb and flow of homeless people and witnessed different tactics to address the issue.

“There’s a whole group of people who’ve moved in here who I don’t know yet because of the sweeps,” said Power-Curtis, referring to a sidewalk encampment in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. “All we’re doing is we’re forcing people to move, and it doesn’t help anybody,” she continued.

Despite the new tents in her neighborhood, Power-Curtis said she feels hopeful.

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“It’s the first time I’ve really seen the county really recognize just how big a deal homelessness is and how we’re not going to end it by doing a patchwork," said Power-Curtis.

Last week, the Pierce County Council passed and funded a new $9 million “comprehensive plan to end homelessness.” The $9 million in funding is part of a larger $253 million set aside by the council to address homeless and housing needs and programs.

The money will fund everything from new temporary shelters to a brand-new regional office that will oversee the progress – a unified approach to the problem.

“This puts a really humanistic side to things. Asking the questions ‘how can we help you,' and 'what do support services look like for you?’ Ultimately how can we put you in long-term permanent housing?” said John Barbee, the community services program manager for Pierce County Human Services.

Homelessness is a problem that always existed but one that the county said was exacerbated over the last three years.

“I think when COVID hit initially, that’s what really kind of ripped the band-aid open and put the problem right in front of us,” Barbee continued.

On Tuesday, Tacoma plans to clear encampments near J Street from S. Seventh Street to S. 13th Street. These encampments need to be cleared so that the city can begin work on installing new sewer and water mains.