Little Park Restaurant property update

[UPDATE: The Flying Tomato, formerly a restaurant between South Hill and Graham, has purchased the Little Park Property. They plan to open their restaurant there. You can see there is activity on the site, clearing out old furnishings.
We have not learned what other property will be considered for tiny homes.]

[UPDATE 7-31-21: Note from Councilmember Amy Cruver that there are a couple other plans in the works to make the Little Park a restaurant again.] [Editor: However, the state may still continue to find another location. In my opinion, they could use a couple pieces of Terry Brink’s lots where the homeless are already congregating and making a mess. That way the situation would be more controlled.]

[Editor: It is a busy week for me, but you need to see this if you missed the article in The News Tribune regarding a homeless. Here is the text from the Trib: ]

The News Tribune:

Pierce County starts plans for homeless shelters in Fife, Lakewood, and Spanaway
By Josephine Peterson, 7-26-21

Pierce County is changing its tune about homelessness and has started to look outside of Tacoma as the next locations for homeless shelters.

The county has pivoted to a more regional plan, with a Nov. 1 deadline to end street homelessness. Discussions are underway with Lakewood, Puyallup and Fife over hotel-based shelter programs, and the county has secured state funding to add a tiny home village in Spanaway.

Pierce County’s Human Services director Heather Moss said years of having homeless services concentrated in Tacoma is not working to address homelessness across the county.

“At this point, we’re all recognizing it can’t get much worse. What we’ve been doing hasn’t worked well enough. So let’s try something different,” Moss said. “There’s models out there that work. We have resources, we have a lot of political will and we have a lot of community support.”

Thirteen of Pierce County’s 16 overnight shelters are within Tacoma’s city limits.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards previously told The News Tribune she is in support of a regional approach to homelessness.

Woodards said she understands many homeless services are in Tacoma and there needs to be a regional approach, but that requires more of Pierce County to provide resources. Last year, she said she’d like to see more homeless services in other Pierce County cities.

Pierce County has seen an overall decrease in those experiencing homelessness. In 2019, the county reported 3,900 people experiencing homelessness. In 2020, there were 3,500 people unhoused, according to the county. Currently, the county reports 3,200 people experiencing homelessness.

In Tacoma, that number of people without homes has increased from 6,664 people in 2017 to 10,858 in 2020, according to data from the Pierce County Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).

Maureen Howard is the spokesperson for the Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness. The group of service providers and volunteers has been advocating for a decentralized approach to homelessness in Pierce County for years.

Howard said three things have stopped their efforts: political will, money and not listening to communities.

“There are more resources than I ever imagined possible with energy coming out of Pierce County we have never seen before and a new level of commitment,” she said.

The coronavirus pandemic provided the funds to invest in shelters.

To help respond to the impacts of the coronavirus, Congress allocated $186 million to Pierce County in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) last year, and $175 million in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds this year.

“If scarcity of funds is not an issue, it’s easier to say yes to something,” Moss said.

Pierce County’s Human Services received $12.9 million last year in CARES dollars for rental assistance, emergency shelter and sanitation and hygiene services. In ARPA funds, the council has pledged at least $2 million over the next four years to respond to homelessness and provide resources like shelter space and a connection to resources.

“I would say that the availability of ARPA funds from the federal government is opening doors to conversations — between the County and cities, and among nonprofit and business leaders who want to do their part — that might not otherwise happen,” Pierce County council member Hans Zeiger said in an email.

Moss said 90 percent of the people counted in the county’s annual Homeless Point In Time Count live within five miles of their last known address.

“They belong to all of us. So we’re getting to that collective awareness or collective philosophy, but it’s going to take a little while still,” she said.

Homelessness plan

Moss sees the homelessness plan as two-pronged: Tacoma and everywhere else. Tacoma is home to almost all the shelters and resources now.

“It’s a regional issue, because you can’t solve homelessness in Tacoma, and then have homelessness just outside the borders of Tacoma,” Moss said. “I think that other jurisdictions are a little farther behind because it’s not been as much of a problem for them, frankly. It’s kind of recently becoming more of a problem.”

Tacoma spokeswoman Megan Snow said the city is working in partnership with Pierce County to create a comprehensive plan.

“We are in support of a regional shelter approach,” she said in a statement. “We recognize that addressing homelessness requires everyone to work on innovative solutions together, so that people can access the resources they need in their communities.”

Building up services in East Pierce County is a priority for the county.

Pierce County can no longer depend on churches to carry the weight of homelessness during inclement weather, Moss said.

“We know now with COVID, that there are many fewer settings, like churches, that are even open or able to house that large of a population even for a short period of time, and then deal with all the cleaning and the health and safety standards that you would want to comply with COVID,” she said. “COVID not only could lead to an increase in the population, but it’s really significantly changed how we provide services for our homeless community.”

The county is bringing in politicians, activists and nonprofits to “develop and implement an aligned plan to provide adequate shelter for all unhoused individuals,” with a tight turnaround, the county website said.

The plan was created and approved by the “Ad Hoc Committee to end homelessness,” a new county committee of representatives from cities, towns, the county and service providers.

The committee has been broken into two further groups.

A steering committee will develop a comprehensive plan to be presented to the Pierce County Council in November. The plan will outline steps, participants, timelines, process and resource needs to end homelessness in Pierce County, according to the county.

The second committee is a “Shelter Work Group” that includes service providers, advocates and elected officials to create and implement a plan to end street homelessness by Nov. 1.

Moss said there will be more homeless shelters in Pierce County by November, but everything being planned won’t be completed until sometime in 2022.

“Hopefully we will be in a place where we have lots more shelter. I’m not going to say we’re going to have it all in place, because some of these projects take longer than others,” she said. “But we will definitely have a plan and we will be well into implementing that plan for shelter.”

County Council members who represent where discussions of shelters are taking place have been supportive of the county’s new strategy on homelessness.

Moss sees the county’s role as being the coordinator to help cities and towns decide what makes sense for their communities and find resources to complete projects.

Projects

There are four jurisdictions in discussion with the county over shelter projects: Puyallup, Fife, Lakewood and Spanaway.

Last summer, Pierce County submitted an application to the state that included three projects: a tiny home village in Tacoma, support for a womens’ shelter at the Tacoma Rescue Mission and a new low barrier shelter in East Pierce County.

The City of Puyallup and the county opened a hotel-based shelter program in February. The 20-room shelter on Meridian has been successful, according to the service provider Catholic Community Services and city staff.

The Puyallup City Council is exploring options for a tiny home village, after the hotel program ends next March.

Fife is in discussions with Pierce County over a hotel-based shelter program. A provider has not been identified, but Moss is confident the city can contract with a provider for services.

City Manager Hyun Kim said addressing homelessness is one of the council’s top priorities, and some of Fife’s ARPA funding could be allocated to organizations for wrap-around services like mental health and drug treatment facilities. The city is anticipating more than $2.8 million in federal funds.

The county and Tacoma are in discussions with Lakewood over the purchase of the Comfort Inn at 86th and Hosmer.

Pierce County and Tacoma are planning to each spend about $5 million to purchase the hotel, and Low-Income Housing Institute is expected to own and run the shelter, according to initial proposals. The 85-room hotel is expected to be run as an emergency shelter until 2023, then become transitional housing, Moss told The News Tribune.

The hotel is on the border of Tacoma and Lakewood, where the council is still deciding whether to help foot the bill.

“The City of Lakewood is reviewing documents and discussions are ongoing as to how the transaction will proceed,” Lakewood’s spokesperson Jim Kopriva said.

This year, the state allocated $1.5 million to build a tiny home village at 17106 Pacific Ave. in Spanaway, according to a proposal from the Legislature to the Washington State Department of Commerce

The village in unincorporated Pierce County would be run by Low-Income Housing Institute. The proposal estimates the village would have between 40 and 60 beds and full-time case managers who would work with residents to support their transition into permanent housing and find access to health care and employment opportunities.

According to the initial proposal, a former restaurant would be converted into hygiene and community facilities. The tiny house village was initially expected to be completed by July 2021, with a more permanent shelter completed between 2022 and 2023.

Pierce County is waiting on the state to release those dollars, Moss said.

Commerce’s communications director Penny Thomas said the state is waiting on more funding to be secured before plans move forward.

Moss believes the shelter will be up and running by early next year at the latest.

Community involvement

Local leaders are working together and broaching the idea of overnight shelters in their communities.

Howard pointed out that with stricter capacity restrictions at current shelters due to the pandemic, homelessness has become more visible.

“That means more people on the streets,” she said.

In Fife, Kim said the status quo on homelessness is not working, and the council is ready to look at providing shelter space.

“Regardless of where you are located, no place in Fife is untouched by the impacts of homelessness. Everyone bears the brunt,” he told The News Tribune. “That is not sustainable.”

Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson said the council is exploring the hotel, but it’s too early to say whether the city will invest. He sees shelters as part of a bigger “puzzle” to address homelessness.

“It’s only treating a symptom of homelessness,” he told The News Tribune.

He believes there needs to be more county and state dollars allocated to provide more mental health and drug facilities, affordable housing and higher-paying jobs in Pierce County.

“Cities our size are not normally service providers, and we set aside some funds to help organizations, but social services generally should come from the county and the state,” Anderson said.

Zeiger, who is a Republican, represents Fife and Puyallup. He told The News Tribune via email he wants to address homelessness in East Pierce County.

“I am heartened by Fife’s willingness to be proactive about addressing the needs of people experiencing homelessness within its city limits,” he said. “I have also been very encouraged by the collaborative approach that the Puyallup City Council has been taking on homelessness.”

He wants homeless services that emphasize work, recovery, and accountability, like transitional employment.

Democratic County Council member Jani Hitchen represents the Lakewood and Parkland/Spanaway area. She is excited about the county’s new direction.

Before becoming a County Council member this year, Hitchen was a teacher. She recalled one story of a teacher holding teacher/parent meetings in a tent behind a bar. Within the last year, she said homelessness has become more prevalent in communities.

“People used to say we don’t have a homeless problem,” she said. “There is a homelessness issue in every district of the county. The pandemic did a really good job — unfortunately — of exposing systems that are broken. It really is your neighbors on the brink of homelessness. It used to be more hidden, and it became clearer.”

Hitchen remembered students who were experiencing homelessness and families had to drive to downtown Tacoma to receive services.

“People will choose to not accept services because they don’t have an option close by,” she said. “We desperately need services outside of Tacoma. Travel can prevent people from fixing things.”

Despite differing reasons on why people become homeless and debate on next steps, Howard said everyone wants something in Pierce County to be done.

“Whatever they fall onto why people become homeless, the community’s voice is to do something,” she said. “And we are in a position now to say yes.”

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