Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Feb. 8, 2023

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Homeless shelter will be a first for Tacoma. Where will it be and what makes it different?


Tacoma — Tacoma’s newest homelessness mitigation site will admit anyone over the age of 18, regardless of criminal record or history of substance abuse.

The low-barrier site at 3561 Pacific Ave. is set to open Wednesday afternoon. Up to 50 people will stay in individual tents made for ice fishing and will have access to food and hygiene services, including shower facilities, hand-washing stations and restrooms. Laundry facilities also will be available.

The low-barrier site is the first for Tacoma. The only other similar site with tents is the mitigation site at 82nd Street and Pacific Avenue, which serves only veterans.

“One of the things that we’ve consistently heard is we need to have a variety of shelter types available in order to connect the highest number of people with the services they need, and so this is our attempt to broaden the kinds of sheltering that we have available,” city manager Elizabeth Pauli told The News Tribune on Thursday.

A homeless encampment at 34th Street and Pacific Avenue, which is on private property, is scheduled to be removed beginning Tuesday. People at that encampment will be offered shelter at the mitigation site first. It will take about two to three weeks for the encampment to be completely removed.

Caleb Carbone, homeless strategy, systems and services manager for the city of Tacoma, said he expects the 35th and Pacific mitigation site to be at capacity by Nov. 21.

The Tacoma Rescue Mission will be responsible for the day-to-day operations. Carbone said those at the mitigation site will have a safe place to sleep, work on their stability goals, go to work, hang out at the community tent and have visitors from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. There will be employment and workforce development services on site. The site will have engagement officers 24/7 and a security guard. After curfew — 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. — they will be able to enter and exit the mitigation site throughout the night through one access point that will be manned by a security guard.

Carbone said the typical length of stay in an emergency shelter site is about three to six months.

“We’re very intentional about how we set up this space to be able to show that we’re not just throwing people from one end to the other, that we’re trying to create systems and structures for individuals so that they can feel more dignified and be proud of the situation that they’re trying to get towards,” he said.

Neighbors of the new mitigation site attended the media tour Thursday afternoon, asking who will be able to come into the shelter and what will be allowed. They raised concerns about the ability to leave and come in at any time, and being able to bring drugs or guns into the mitigation site.

“I do understand their concerns,” Carbone said. “It’s concerns that we hear a lot of times when we open up a shelter. Typically what we do find, though, on the other side is that it’s a lot more productive and that safety starts to increase.”

Carbone said 311 complaints on the city’s customer service app and 911 calls typically decrease in the area after a mitigation site opens.

Neighbors of the mitigation site will be able to join a community advisory committee to discuss their concerns about shelter operations.

The mitigation site is anticipated to cost the city $500,000 to $800,000 to develop. The operational costs are still being negotiated with the Tacoma Rescue Mission. The mitigation site development was funded by money from the American Rescue Plan Act. The first year of operations will also be funded by ARPA money. Future operations will be funded by the city.

The mitigation site only takes up a portion of the lot at 35th and Pacific. The city has started planning to add approximately 50 micro-shelters, which would be completed next summer. The remainder of the site would be for stormwater runoff. There are no plans for safe parking or RV parking, Carbone said.

The mitigation and micro-shelters site will be temporary. Deputy Mayor Catherine Ushka said Pierce County gifted the city the location, but the site will need to be developed in the future to include at least 80 units of affordable housing and have commercial frontage as a part of the agreement with the county. The site is expected to be developed in two to three years.

“In the meantime, we have this great opportunity to offer a critical shelter type for people in our community that are unsheltered and it’s going to open just before the holidays and just before the cold weather hits,” she said. “We know there are people nearby that need that help.”