While the pandemic has touched all aspects of our lives, making struggles that were difficult before seem almost impossible, many counties have stepped up to solve food and supply shortages, childcare affordability, communications problems and much more.
In Pierce County, Wash., the County Council has found a new way to face an old issue exacerbated by the pandemic: Homelessness, which counts nearly 600,000 nationwide, according to a pre-pandemic federal study.
In Pierce County, which has more than 3,000 homeless, councilmembers decided the county would take part in purchasing a hotel to provide shelter for the homeless. The county has long been looking for solutions, programs and services that can help ease the burden and recently partnered with the Non-Profit Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) as well as the cities of Lakewood and Tacoma to purchase a 94-bed Comfort Inn.
“We watched the successes others experienced and decided it was something we wanted to pursue here in Pierce County,” said Heather Moss, director of human services. Discussions on how to tackle this complex issue have been going on in the county for years.
The search for a suitable facility began in the summer of 2020 and progressed on a tight schedule. The council hoped to have a plan set to address the crisis by November 2021.
Ending homelessness “is probably one of the most challenging tasks our county — and others across the nation — face,” said Councilman Ryan Mello.
With a few modifications and repairs, the hotel-turned-homeless shelter is expected to open in December as an emergency shelter that can house 120 residents. Long term, the council expects the facility will become Permanent Supportive Housing. Funding from the American Rescue Plan played a large part in the ability for the group to purchase this property. Pierce County dedicated $5 million to the initiative.
Talks are already underway to purchase another hotel, as well as increase the available emergency housing in other ways like camping, tiny homes, motels and more.
Mello said he encourages other counties to reach out to non-profits in their communities to rely on their expertise and become funding partners to groups whose sole focus is providing “services and connections” to those in need.
“Homelessness is not unique to our county,” he said. “It is not confined to one city, town or our unincorporated areas...we know through communication, coordination and the pooling of resources with our municipal and local nonprofit partners we will have a higher success rate of tackling this crisis.”Hero 1