Politics & Government

Tacoma expands emergency homeless shelter service for $235,000

Three Tacoma shelters for homeless residents will provide extra beds through the winter months ahead.

Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax announced the city will spend nearly $235,000 to expand shelter space for individuals and families. The money will be split among three nonprofits to provide an additional 230 bed spaces through the end of March.

There are 14 emergency shelters for the homeless and domestic violence survivors in Pierce County, but only three are outside Tacoma, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tuesday.

“Tacoma alone cannot carry the full responsibility in providing services,” she said.

But the city is willing to do as much as it can.

“It is a moral obligation,” she said.

Tacoma alone cannot carry the full responsibility in providing services.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland

Shelters usually have a limit to the number of people they house and often turn individuals and families away when they are full. But when the weather is below freezing or it’s 35 degrees coupled with wind and rain, they make room for more people by clearing tables from cafeterias or other common spaces, Tacoma’s homeless services manager Colin DeForrest said last month

“We just tell them to serve as many as they can,” DeForrest said.

It costs more to provide toiletries, meals and showers for more people, DeForrest said. He estimated that local shelters turn away 100 individuals and 50 families every night even when the weather doesn’t fall below freezing.

This change means another 230 homeless residents will have a consistent place to stay every night through the end of March, regardless of weather conditions.

The Salvation Army and the Tacoma Rescue Mission started accepting more homeless residents on Dec. 1, according to city spokeswoman Megan Snow. The city will pay the Rescue Mission $40,800 to house 80 individuals and 50 families. It already offers 214 beds for a combination of families and individuals.

The Salvation Army will expand its family shelter by 50 beds for $43,800. Outside of emergency conditions, the Salvation Army shelter can house 14 families and six individuals overnight.

Tacoma also will pay $150,000 to Community Youth Services for 50 beds for young adults aged 18 to 24, who will be housed in the Beacon Senior Center at night, when the city-owned building is otherwise unused. A public meeting about the plan is scheduled for Thursday (Dec. 10).

$235,000 Tacoma plans to split the money among three nonprofit organizations to provide extra capacity for homeless residents.

Catholic Community Services will also provide another 80 beds when temperatures drop below freezing, in addition to its usual beds for 167 individuals and five families.

Not everyone is interested in shelter life, DeForrest said.

“There will still be people (living outside) on Tacoma Avenue. There are a small portion of people who are going to choose that and they may be mentally ill, and going inside is overwhelming,” DeForrest said. “These are human beings, and they have choice.”

Last year, Tacoma and Pierce County vowed to open a youth shelter together. Broadnax said the city has pledged nearly $3 million for the shelter’s acquisition and operations. It hasn’t opened, but plans are ongoing, he said.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports

Young adult shelter meeting

What: The City of Tacoma will host a discussion about using the Beacon Senior Center as an overnight shelter for young adults, aged 18-24, from Dec. 14 through March 31

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Beacon Senior Center, 415 S. 13th St., Tacoma

Information: The city of Tacoma will open the city-owned building to youths aged 18 to 24 seven days a week from Dec. 14 through March 31. The emergency shelter will operate seven days per week from 6:30 p.m. until 7 a.m.