City to spend $1.6 million to help expand homeless shelter at Tacoma Rescue Mission

The Tacoma Rescue Mission will expand this year to serve more people experiencing homelessness.

Tacoma City Council unanimously approved a $1.6 million agreement on Tuesday to help add 50 beds to the Rescue Mission’s emergency shelter.

The project will convert an existing storage facility on site to a 24-hour emergency shelter.

The shelter will focus primarily on serving women and couples and will include bathrooms, showers, laundry space and offices.

“It’ll include the capacity in this new space for people to continue to meet with case managers, mental health professionals, employment specialists, education counselors and also be introduced to our regional recovery program with the opportunity to join that,” Rescue Mission Executive Director Duke Paulson said Tuesday.

The agreement is part of the city’s response to a public health emergency in regard to homelessness that it made two years ago.

At the time, the city “acknowledged there was a shortage of shelter beds, we acknowledged that simply sheltering wasn’t the solution,” Deputy Mayor Conor McCarthy said. “But it’s a step in the path toward stable housing.”

The Rescue Mission transitions about 30 to 40 people per month out of homelessness, Paulson said.

Currently, there are 400 beds available at the Rescue Mission for single adults, families, youth, young adults and survivors of domestic violence experiencing homelessness.

It’s not enough to accommodate the number of people seeking shelter.

The city’s emergency shelters turn away 60-70 individuals and families each night, according to the agreement.

The city declared a homeless crisis in May 2017 and developed a three-part emergency response plan, which included developing the Dome District stability site, or a “tent city.”

The stability site has transitioned 80 people out of homelessness since it opened in 2017, said Linda Stewart, director of neighborhood and community services for the city of Tacoma. Currently, there’s an 80-person wait list for the site.

The emergency plan also set aside funds for phase three: creating a “Readiness Site,” or short-term transitional housing for those moving out of the stability site.

City staff determined that the model of the Readiness Site “was not a financially feasible or sustainable option.”

Council will instead use the money for the Rescue Mission expansion project.

In addition to $1.6 million from the city, two private donors will contribute $600,000 to the project and the Rescue Mission will provide $450,000 of its own funding for a total of $2.65 million, according to the resolution.

Permits are expected to be issued in June with construction starting in July. A projected opening is December 2019.

The city plans to conduct community outreach, including door-to-door efforts along Center Street, Jefferson Street and Delin Street.

The Rescue Mission anticipates hiring five new staff members for the new shelter. It currently has about 70.

City staff anticipate providing $200,000 per year to the Mission for operational funding. A separate agreement will be drafted for those funds and describe duration of the funding.