If there’s one thing about homelessness, it’s that it exists everywhere, in every community. There are varying degrees and factors, to be sure, but no town can claim it’s immune from people who don’t have a place to sleep tonight. And that stinks.
Gig Harbor has a reputation for being an affluent community, and with that comes a great deal of philanthropic support, from those who give their resources to help others, or from those who simply volunteer their time.
Ignoring the issue of homelessness certainly won’t solve the problem. Neither will pointing fingers at those less fortunate who may have made some poor choices along the way. In fact, some may be out on the streets due to no fault of their own.
Help out there for those who know where to find it. The Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank is a wonderful resource with a deep volunteer base, and the Key Peninsula Community Services Food Bank provides similar services from its location just across the Home bridge. Yet for some, there is no home.
Volunteers spent last Thursday attempting to take a 24-hour snapshot of the homeless population. It was the 17th year of the survey, conducted by the Department of Community Connections and the Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness.
John Oldham, who led a Peninsula Communities of Faith group on this side of the Narrows bridges, wasn’t all that pleased with the results. They counted 13 people in Gig Harbor and on the Key Peninsula, down from 20 last year and 60 in 2011.
Oldham says it’s not accurate due to the nature of counting people in a 24-hour period. The results are shared with county officials, who determine how to spend between $2.5 million and $3 million that Pierce County receives each year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for social programs.
Because the money is largely apportioned based on the homeless population number, the isolation and inaccuracies on the peninsulas means Tacoma and other areas with a more complete count of their homeless get the majority of funding.
That’s the unfortunate part, because our communities’ other services show a greater need. For example, FISH counts 142 local homeless people in its database, 10 times more than the dozen folks who were contacted last week. Volunteers countywide counted 1,997 transients last year, 192 of whom didn’t have a place to live. About 750 transients located were children.
If you just look at the numbers, you’d likely come to the conclusion that Gig Harbor doesn’t have a homeless problem compared with other areas of the county.
So, where is the discrepancy?
Oldham said many homeless people would rather live in Gig Harbor or on the Key Peninsula than in an urban environment like Tacoma out of concern for their own safety. Living on the streets potentially could be more dangerous than finding shelter in the woods. The result, however, is that the homeless population on the peninsulas can be spread out in remote places that are difficult to track. And when that’s the case, they’re also far from many social services.
Since bus service to many parts of the Key Peninsula is infrequent — it’s worse now that Pierce Transit has cut its service to the Key — homeless who have medical problems can be stranded without access to a hospital for critical periods of time. That concern is behind the creation of a free weekly clinic at Key Peninsula Community Services. It will be held on Thursday nights starting Feb. 21.
While programs like that help a part of the population that often gets overlooked, our area ultimately suffers because it struggles to get a fair portion of funding. If volunteers can’t find the homeless during the annual survey, it’s hard to prove the problem exists.
Unfortunately, that perpetuates the issue.
We live in a caring community that gives what it can to help any underserved population, from veterans and active-duty military members, to schools and clubs, to those who are hit with tragedy in their lives.
Organizations such a Peninsula Communities of Faith and Backpacks for Kids are making good strides with serving those less fortunate, but it’s still an area that needs a better focus.