Seeking out the homeless along Puyallup’s Foothills Trail
The morning of June 22, Carlos Castañon and Brandon Ault started their work early.
Printed on the front of their blue jackets were their names and the Comprehensive Life Resources (CLR) logo. On the sleeves, “Homeless outreach.”
Around 8 a.m., they ventured into the trails that wind along the forested area alongside the Foothills Trail near the East Puyallup Trailhead at 13810 and 80th St. E., right on the cusp of city property.
As members of the CLR Homeless Outreach Team, Castañon and Ault visit homeless encampments often. This camp in particular, they last visited in May. It’s been there for years, they said, but it continues to grow, and they estimate there’s about 30 people living there.
Their mission that morning was to attempt to connect the people living there with resources provided by CLR, a nonprofit mental health agency.
It’s just one of the services the firm brought to Puyallup after an agreement was made between the agency and the city.
On April 3, Puyallup City Council approved a one-year contract with CLR to bring social-work services to the city. The 2018 city budget set aside $140,000 for the project.
CLR formed in the late 1950s and provides various services, from homeless-support programs to foster care.
For Puyallup, the focus of the agreement was for the agency’s Positive Interactions service, an outreach model for homeless individuals affecting businesses. It could be that someone is sleeping near the business during business hours, Castañon said.
“We can offer tailored services to the business ... and try to find the whole story of why the person is homeless and try to systematically take away those barriers and help transition the person out of homelessness,” CLR homeless outreach director James Pogue told the City Council.
“If they agree to that and it happens consistently, then we call that a success because we’ve negotiated something that works both for the business and that person,” Castañon added. “The businesses that have used us so far, the feedback that we have gotten is that they’ve appreciated us being there and appreciate our quick response times and appreciated us following up."
Castañon said he couldn’t release specific businesses that have used the service but did say they were located in the downtown area.
Another goal of the services is to redirect calls that would otherwise be going to law enforcement, city parks personnel and library staff.
“One of our accountability measures to the city, which is another way we kind of track success, is how many calls we divert away from (emergency management services), which frees those folks up to do the tasks they’re intended to do and not deal with homeless-related issues,” Castañon said.
Comprehensive Life Resources also measures success by the number of businesses it works with and how many people it connects to services. Overall, 10 percent of people the agency contacts enrolls in a service. As of April 2018, about 360 people identified as homeless in Puyallup, according to a Catholic Community Services of Western Washington report.
“(CLR) staff is going to really get to know our homeless population by name. They’re going to understand all their history,” CLR CEO Kim Zacher said at the April 3 council meeting. “So it takes time and success is pretty individualized.”
Castañon, a CLR homeless outreach team member for one year, and Ault, a CLR homeless outreach team member for three years, already know many of those staying in local camps, like the one they visited in Puyallup on June 22.
As they walked the trails, Castañon and Ault announced their arrival. Bikes, litter, clothing and other various objects were gathered along the trails.
Ault noted that the camp seemed bigger since he last visited, the tents built taller.
Some people were willing to talk. One man recognized Castañon.
Many either weren’t interested or weren’t there. Castañon pointed out that some people staying at the camp have jobs and go to work but can’t afford rent. The chronically homeless are the hardest to serve because of mental health or physical disabilities or substance-use disabilities.
“It takes consistency,” Castañon said. “How likely are you, the very first time you meet someone, to trust them implicitly? For us, the consistency, the building rapport, is really important.”
Castañon said that it can take years to get an individual connected with resources and that to see change can take time.
“People might say, you know, ‘Where are these big changes I want to see happen?’ It just doesn’t work that way,” he said. “To the people that we get home and get inside, it makes all the difference.”