(The Center Square) – A Monday presentation by Tacoma Rescue Mission Executive Director Duke Paulson to the Pierce County Select Committee on Homelessness highlights the issues facing the county’s homeless support system.
Paulson said that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused local supportive services in parts of Pierce County outside of Tacoma to diminish. In turn, there are gaps in shelter and supportive services to homeless people in local communities, causing other services to reach full capacity.
This gap in homeless services comes as the 2023 Point-In-Time count revealed 2,148 people living on Pierce County streets on a single night. That count also found a total of 6,500 connected to the county’s homeless response crisis system.
The Tacoma Rescue Mission provides shelter, substance abuse programs, clean and sober housing and supportive services in the Tacoma area. According to Paulson, the organization served more than 3,000 people in 2022.
The organization provides emergency shelters for families, men and women. There are no requirements for people to be accepted into shelter and they can stay up to 30 days. During a person’s time with the Tacoma Rescue Mission, they will engage with staff to address the barriers preventing them from finding housing.
Paulson notes that the organization can extend the 30-day stay, but its shelters have been at full-capacity since the weather cooled in September. Waitlists for available shelter beds range from 20 to 30.
“If you’re working with us, we’ll continue to let you stay – because our ultimate goal is to help people move out of homelessness and into a safe and secure housed environment,” Paulson said at the committee meeting.
Committee Chair Marty Campbell asked about the nature of the gaps in homeless services provided by the Tacoma Rescue Mission. Paulson said there is a lack of basic needs including socks, winter clothing and feminine hygiene products.
The organization has also seen a gap in mental health support for homeless people. Paulson said the Tacoma Rescue Mission hasn’t been able to fill its mental health counselor positions for four years.
Paulson also noted that the demographic of people coming into the shelter has changed, including an uptick in elderly people accepting services. There is also a range of 80 to 120 youth living on Tacoma Rescue Mission property.
Pierce County has partnered with the organization with a pledged $5.5 million for its shelter expansion project. The funding stems from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which aids local jurisdictions with recovering from the pandemic. The organization anticipates that it will have a total of $14 million for the project.
The shelter expansion project is anticipated to finish in 2025.