Pierce County councilmember calls for housing homeless in vacant jail cells

Jan 20, 2019, 8:49 AM | Updated: Jan 21, 2019, 10:14 am
Pierce County Jail...

A proposal to house the homeless in vacant jail cells from Pierce County Councilmember Pam Roach has irked the county sheriff. She stopped by The Jason Rantz Show Thursday evening to clarify her position.

RELATED: Pam Roach looks to keep injection sites out of Pierce County

Councilmember Roach sent out a mailer to her constituents — roughly 28,000 people she says — asking for their opinions on whether it would be a good idea to create access to 700 empty beds for the homeless in Pierce County Jail.

“Almost 70 percent of my constituents said ‘yes, it’s a great idea,” she told KTTH’s Jason Rantz.

Roach’s idea would create a separate entrance for the homeless, and use social workers to monitor and manage the facility.

“County jail is like a beehive — it has seven separate cell towers, only three are filled by inmates, [and] the four remaining cells could hold up to 700 homeless people,” she described.

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor sent a note to Roach on Jan. 8, outlining that he should have been consulted before her mailer went out.

In the letter, Pastor also cited the liability risk that housing the homeless in a county jail would pose, as well as logistical issues with prison operations he claimed she wasn’t aware of.

“When almost 70 percent of the people agree with you, then now I have the authority of my constituents backing me to move forward,” she argued. “The fact is that I was told during my tour of the Pierce County Jail last summer that there were 700 extra beds — we talked about the 700 beds, (Sheriff Pastor) never challenged it then.”

According to The Tacoma News Tribune, the jail houses a total of 1,800 inmates, with budget constraints keeping the occupancy at an average of around 1,166 at any given time.

An alternate proposal currently being considered involves a decision from November arrived at by Pierce County Council members to bring tiny home developments to Pierce County, a plan Roach is vehemently opposed to.

RELATED: Pierce County spent $3.3 million, didn’t let the public know

“I could take my foot and shove it through a single-wall construction tiny home — this probably isn’t the best way to spend our money when we have cells that are already paid for,” she said.

As for using the open beds, Councilmember Roach doesn’t see any reason to keep them empty if they could be put to better use.

“What are you going to do with 700 extra beds? Wait for Armageddon?” she posited. “It should be discussed — to dismiss it out of hand is irresponsible.”

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Pierce County councilmember calls for housing homeless in vacant jail cells