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Tacoma homeless ‘stability site’ could lose funding despite promising results

(Aaron Granillo, KIRO Radio)

It was always supposed to be a temporary solution; a large, FEMA-style tent with 60 smaller tents inside. The goal was to offer wrap-around services 24 hours a day to get Tacoma’s growing homeless population into permanent housing. Nearly two years later, the city’s “stability site” has shown promising results, although funding is set to expire at the end of 2019.

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It’s the first industrial-sized tent for homeless people in the region. Kerrie Cureton, 39, moved in about two months ago after living in and out of homelessness since she was 13.

“I was at a point where I couldn’t do it on my own,” Cureton said. “I needed assistance.”

Cureton receives hot meals, laundry services, counseling, and other services inside the large white tent, located near the Port of Tacoma. Eventually, she wants to move into her own place.

“I want to be able to have a key to my own door,” Cureton said. “Or just shut the door when I want to. Or ring my own doorbell. Just something.”

The opportunity may soon come — also at the stability site is another community made up of about 40 homes that resemble tool sheds. These pallet shelters have bunk beds, electricity, and doors that lock. If a person meets certain goals in the big tent, they can move into one.

It’s an added incentive to do well, said Melissa Moss, director of homeless adult services with Catholic Community Services, which oversees the site.

“It’s been beautiful because it gives them this practice run at being housed in a sense,” Moss said.

The Tacoma stability site opened in June 2017 after the city declared a state of emergency over homelessness. It cost about $900,000 to set up, and city officials expect to spend $2.3 million to operate the site in 2019, before the funding sunsets.

Moss said the site has ambitious goals to move people into permanent housing with 90 days.

“As long as they’re making meaningful goals and completing those things, we can extend them after the 90 days,” Moss said. “But, if we have people that are here that are not willing to engage with any kind of services, aren’t making any meaningful steps to getting themselves employed or housed, then we exit them from the site.”

The strict policy along with the pallet shelters have produced good results so far. The site has permanently or temporarily housed nearly 40 percent of households seeking shelters as of November 2018, according to Tacoma’s Neighborhood and Community Services Department

That caught the attention of Seattle City Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda. She brought the pallet shelters to City Hall Plaza earlier this month for a demonstration. A work crew built them in about 20 minutes, no tools necessary.

“I think that this is really incredible — you saw how fast this was put up.” Mosqueda said. “And, we really want to underscore this is a temporary solution.”

Mosqueda was unsuccessful last year, when she asked for $3 million to be designated for an industrial-style tent shelter in Seattle. The request did not make it in the 2019 budget.

She said she’ll study up on what’s working in Tacoma before she pitches her pallet shelter plan to the Seattle City Council.

Mosqueda also stressed that any new funding would not take away from existing programs.

“We need to be adding to the amount of funding that we’re creating for housing and these short-term options,” Mosqueda said. “This is how we’re going to actually save money in the long-term.”

On a recent afternoon in Tacoma, Ronalee Roberts mingled with resident outside her pallet shelter. She said it’s helped prepare her as she plans to move into her own place in a few months.

“I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait, but I will miss it here.” Roberts said. “But, now I’ll feel better getting a house.”

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