In Washington state, one in five homeless people are under the age of 18.
On Jan. 31, 2020, state volunteers and organizations met at a homelessness event on the Pierce College Puyallup campus to discuss various resources for those in need and raise awareness of the issue. Homelessness services and treatments are costly for Washington cities, especially when 22,000 people use them. Sickness, poverty, elemental exposure, violence and mental illnesses are some of the issues the large homeless population face on a daily basis.
“How would I describe it? Out of control,” said Joy Stanford, a representative of Shared Housing Services.
Rent increases in Wash. have led to an influx of homelessness, and there are no homelessness shelters in Puyallup; instead organizations and churches have had to step up. 12 percent of two-year college students have experienced homelessness. Paying for college can be costly, and low-income students often overestimate their abilities to pay. College students, children, families, seniors and those of special needs alike are struggling with housing issues on little to no income.
“I think it’s fairly significant. Especially at the Community College level, because I think that there’s a lot of kids who might come in on a foster system or who just don’t have a lot of parental support,” said Nancy Dahl from the League of Women Voters when asked about the homeless crisis on a scholastic level.
The Puyallup School District’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Services program aims to remove preventional barriers that hinder youth from excelling in school. The Adult Homesharing program hosted by SHS in Pierce County reduces housing costs and offers companionship and security by making use of existing housing. Forward Operating Base Hope is another organization in King and Pierce counties. They connect with homeless veterans and build trust, supplying them with gear or finding temporary shelter. These organizations were just three of the many who came to an event at Pierce College Puyallup to further their outreach.
Wash. has become a sanctuary state where people seek various forms of help—however the temporary solutions aren’t doing enough for a long-term problem. Currently drug and alcohol treatment and housing are the main sources of help for homeless people, and in Puyallup the seniors and those of special needs are at the heart of the crisis. Churches supported by the Freezing Nights program, shelter between 50 and 80 homeless people overnight with free meals. With large gaps in mental services and permanent housing, it’s hard to keep people safe. Currently, 75% of homelessness in Pierce County is related to the economic system regarding jobs and housing.
“Sometimes it is more expensive to manage the problem than to solve the problem,” said Chad Mackay of the Third Door Coalition.
The cost of three days at Harborview Medical Center is equal to three months in King County Jail, which equals one year of permanent supportive housing. Their vision is to create and provide housing first with the help of businesses and taxpayers, a more cost-effective approach than emergency services, jails, shelters and hospitals. The federal definition of a chronically homeless person is someone who has been homeless for one year with four or more homeless episodes, is of special needs and/or possesses a secondary disabling condition. Some of these may include physical health problems, diabetes, substance abuse or mental health issues.
“If you send somebody through treatment, and then you dump them back on the street, you’ve just wasted the entire amount of money on treatment. The fact is they’re gonna relapse,” said Mackay.
The criminalization of homeless individuals is often linked to chronic homelessness. According to a study in Seattle, 98% of the homeless population wanted to seek help if offered safe, affordable, and healthy housing. It’s up to the community to combat the stigmas of homelessness with a positive outlook on helping humanity, proving the myths aren’t always true.
“The number one issue across the country—with the leaders that I speak to—is homelessness and how do we address that. The scale may vary, but the issues are the same. Homelessness is a national crisis and it’s going to take all of us working together to find solutions,” said Puyallup Mayor, Julie Door.
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