United States

Pierce County struggles to find city partner for homeless stability site

(The Center Square) – Pierce County is struggling to find a low-barrier homeless stability site outside the City of Tacoma.

According to the county, there are currently 1,318 units of shelter and 1,726 beds in various locations across Pierce County. However, the bulk of shelter beds are non-congregate and are located within Tacoma.

Non-congregate shelter is the term used for emergency shelters that provide accommodations in a way that provides private space for guests.

Last year the average utilization rate for shelter beds across the county was 73%.

Pierce County’s 2024-2025 biennial budget dedicated $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan dollars to establish a low-barrier homeless stability site. Key requirements included a location outside Tacoma, hygiene facilities, garbage collection, food preparation space and established safety expectations.

However, the Pierce County Facilities Management Department, or PCHS, notes that purchasing property could easily use much or all the $2.5 million budget.

Timing constraints on the American Rescue Plan funds might also create significant challenges.

PCHS believes it may have to establish two or more sites due to cities outside of Tacoma being too small. Pierce County Councilmember Robyn Denson said the council is open to the idea of having multiple sites.

According to the department’s recent conversations with local staff, the cities of Lakewood, Puyallup, University Place and Fife are either not interested or not zoned for hosting additional emergency shelters in their communities.

PCHS is exploring potential offers to partner with Gig Harbor, Sumner, Auburn, Orting and Bonney Lake.

“Having a willing city partner would enable us to locate shelter close to resources and/or transportation,” wrote PCHS Director Heather Moss in the stability site progress report. “The disadvantage is the time it would take to find a willing jurisdiction, a location, and a provider/operator.”

This spring, PCHS received almost $20 million in requests for continued and expanded shelter capacity across the county, but its homeless housing program funding recommendations to the county council include only $6.5 million for shelter.

“There is a huge demand from our current provider system to operate shelters,” Moss said at Wednesday’s Select Committee on Homeless meeting. “We already can’t afford to keep all of the shelter we have open and running into the future.”

PCHS requests greater flexibility in order to fund current revenues, including new scattered sites and tiny home villages. Pierce County councilmembers are looking to submit a request for funding proposals soon.

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