Homelessness A Housing Issue, Local Leaders Say
With tents lining streets in downtown Tacoma and in neighborhoods across the county, it’s easy to see the issue of homelessness in our community. However, homelessness affects even more people than those we see out on the streets. A panel of local leaders working to address homelessness shared data and stories about the issue at a recent event hosted by City Club of Tacoma.
Gerrit Nyland of Catholic Community Services shared that as service providers they are only treating the symptoms, they can’t stop homelessness. Fellow panelist Pam Duncan, from the City of Tacoma’s Human Services Division explained that many of the most vulnerable, families or unaccompanied minors, try to hide out or blend in because being out on the streets is too risky. James Pogue, Homeless Outreach Director at Comprehensive Life Services added that many homeless individuals he connects with spend significant time in local hospitals and jails as well.
The panelists shared other insights into the current homelessness crisis:
- Although the 2017 Pierce County Point in Time count registered 1,321 homeless individuals, Catholic Community Services sees 4-5,000 people in Pierce County experiencing homelessness
- Every week, 135 people who have never been a part of the homeless system before are asking for help at Catholic Community Services
- Around 30% of people living on the streets deal with mental illness and addiction issues
- Even people who get rental vouchers can end up without housing because individuals can’t find a landlord or rental situation to match the subsidy
- Organizations participating in Pierce County’s Coordinated Entry say it is helping get more people into permanent housing
The panelists agreed that the homelessness crisis is actually a housing issue. Rapidly rising housing costs, a shortage of affordable housing, and rental barriers due to previous convictions, evictions, or credit problems are all driving people out of stable homes and onto the streets.
While there are many groups actively working to get people into permanent housing, working together is necessary to develop effective solutions. Pam Duncan pointed out that trying to tackle homelessness separately will never solve the problem. Gerrit Nyland suggested that looking at the total cost across all entities – organizations, hospitals, and emergency responders – would give a clearer picture of the true cost of the lack of affordable housing.
“When one organization spends money on an issue, it can save money for another organization,” said Nyaland. “If we looked at the community as a whole, maybe we could spend money in a way that helped serve everyone’s best interest.”
GTCF is committed to supporting community collaboration to develop sustainable and far-reaching solutions. Whether you’re a community leader, a volunteer, or a donor, if you care about making sure everyone has a home, you’re not alone.
Our nonprofit database lists 48 organizations addressing housing needs. Learn more by exploring the organizations’ websites, or reach out to GTCF’s donor services to find out how individual philanthropy can make a difference for the causes that matter to you.
Read about other impacts of the rapidly growing housing market in our previous blog post, Rising Rates, Flat Funding: What’s at Stake?