Pierce County homeless shelter summit foresees growing need

December 21st is not only the first day of winter it’s also the longest night of the year. The day also marks the 30th anniversary of the Homeless Person’s Memorial Day. It’s a time to honor those who died while living unsheltered.

In November alone four people experiencing homelessness died in the South Sound, advocates revealed. Those working to help others living unsheltered said people in Pierce County may be more are at risk this year.

"Not only should we have shelter, we should be able to find them a home," said Mayor of Tacoma Victoria Woodards.

She joined the Tacoma Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness’ virtual Safe Shelter Summit on Monday. Elected leaders and homeless service organizations discussed the growing need for shelter and support services among a historic pandemic.

"The solutions are there, it’s the commitment we need," said Kevin Glackin-Coley.

The summit aims to identify where system gaps exists and urge elected leaders to ensure struggling renters are not pushed to the streets.  Advocates also pleaded for an end to encampment sweeps and warned of a desperate need for basic so people can follow pandemic health guidelines.

"It’s getting worse and worse," said Rebecca Parson from Tacoma Housing Now.

Parson says the organization performs direct action in an effort to illustrate the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Some encampments’ conditions are so bad, the group filled trash bags with garbage and debris from a camp this weekend, then delivered the refuse directly to Tacoma’s City Hall.

Last month the group also occupied an empty elementary school demanding it to be used for emergency housing.

The structure was deemed too dangerous for habitation and Tacoma Housing How demonstrators left the facility after a protest. Even so, Parson says area hotels, homes and other structures currently unoccupied should be converted to emergency housing to keep the homeless safe.

"The people living in tents are living in Hoovervilles," said Parson.

The name Hooverville is a throwback to the Great Depression where broke families built structures on the Tacoma Tide Flats. The only difference today are families instead live in tents.

Demonstrations will continue until substantial efforts are made to care for those most vulnerable," said Parson.

"We will keep taking direct action until you house everybody," she said.