The Homeless in Tacoma Essay

Introduction

On any given day, you can go to downtown Tacoma and see the hundreds of homeless that populate the city. Near the County City Building on Tacoma Avenue, there are always some homeless looking to buy or sell some drugs. There’s the stereotypical parking lot surrounded by a chain link fence where dozens of transients wait in hopes to get work at Labor Ready. It is common to see the Tacoma City library packed with the homeless trying to get out of the heat or the cold. At every corner there seems that there is a beggar asking people for money as they pass by. For numerous reasons, there are hundreds of homeless in Tacoma and they are not going away.

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On top of the cities homeless problem there are thousands of poor people in Pierce County that spend over half of their incomes on housing, leaving them on the verge of homelessness. A missed paycheck, a health care crisis, or an unpaid bill can easily push these poor families over the edge into homelessness. (UWPC 2004)

Study of the homeless population

Homelessness is caused by a variety of problems. The main cause is unaffordable housing for the poor. Secondary causes include mental illness, physical illnesses, substance abuse, lack of incentives to work, poor work ethics, and, I would like personally to address, the lack of decent education. The National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty reports that; “over 3 million men, women, and children were homeless over the past year – about 30% of them chronically and the others temporarily. In many cases, people are in and out of the homeless system, which includes shelters, hospitals, the streets, and prisons. The chronic users of the system that utilize up to 90% of the nations resources devoted to the problem.” (Homeless 2004)

“A minority of the homeless population is capable but unwilling to work – they may resent the minimal wages they would receive if they could find work. It would be irresponsible if we did not consider that, a minority of the homeless may be “lazy”, or substance abuse has made them so. In these cases the there is little help the system can offer that will bring about positive social results. There is a gray line between those who are mentally ill, substance abusers, and other disabled homeless.” (Homeless 2004)

It has been reported that the types of assistance homeless adults felt they needed most were help finding a job, help finding affordable housing, and help paying for housing. However, the main types of assistance they usually received were clothing, transportation and help with public benefits. Few homeless actually receive help finding housing, likely, because caregivers know it is unaffordable or otherwise unattainable for people of their social status.

For the Mayor, city council, and even homeless providers it may seem that placing homeless people in shelters is the most inexpensive way of meeting basic needs. I believe that this is deceptive. “The cost of homelessness can be quite high, particularly for those with chronic illnesses. Because they have no regular place to stay, people who are homeless use a variety of public systems in an inefficient and costly way. Preventing a homeless or ensuring a speedy transition into stable permanent housing can result in a significant overall cost savings.

According to a U.S. Conference of Mayors, the homeless population is diverse:

20% work.

22% are mentally disabled.

11% are veterans.

34% are drug or alcohol dependent.” (Homeless 2004)

Health Care and the Homeless

Homelessness can often be caused by serious health problems. Illnesses that are closely associated with homelessness include tuberculosis, AIDS, and severe dental problems. Other health problems in society such alcoholism, mental illnesses, and physical disabilities are even more debilitating for the homeless, since they may have no shelter or money to manage the problem. People without shelter could easily get frostbite, get infections, or be victims of violence, even in public shelters. They are also more likely to cohabitate with drug addicts, alcoholics, and/or others with disease. (Homeless 2004)

Each year millions of homeless people in the United States need important health care services but most do not have health insurance or cash to pay for medical care. Finding health care is an enormous challenge for the homeless. (Homeless 2004)

Finding Assistance and the United Way of Pierce County

In Pierce County there is no one system, to manage the agencies that provide services for the homeless. I have found that the United Way of Pierce County is by far one of the most helpful agency available to the homeless. The United Way assists people in our community by connecting them with the human services they need through the largest free information and referral network in Pierce County. (UWPC 2004)

I believe that it would be extremely effective if Pierce County had a computerized system for delivering services and benefits to the homeless. If you could coordinate the benefits, the homeless receive through all of the agencies it would be possible to provide benefits and opportunities based more on need. I strongly believe that this should be done on an ethical manner. You must pay attention to properly documenting and safeguarding personal information so that there is no invasion of privacy.

Agencies that Provide the Basics, Food, Shelter and Health Care

During my observation of the homeless population where I am volunteering for my Field experience, the needs of the homeless I interacted with were of an immediate nature. I observed the immediate needs of the homeless came before employment and affordable housing. These immediate needs are Emergency Shelter, Health and Medical care, nutritious hot meals and food assistance.

The three agencies that I will be providing an overview of all serve the Tacoma, Pierce County area and provide their resources free of charge to the homeless population. There are no specific requirements to be provided these services such as have a mailing address or a certain income level. These services are provided free to the homeless, there may be a limit to the quantity or duration of the services you receive. To receive Emergency Shelter and Health care, intake requirements may require that you register with the service provider. The composition of the staff that manage and provide services to the homeless are varied. They all minimally operated with paid staff and all rely mostly on volunteers to provide their services. Of course, the providers of Mental Health, Medical and Counseling services are required to be licensed by the State of Washington.

Providing Emergency Shelter to the Homeless

These Men’s, Women and Family shelters are open year round and provide a safe, clean and supportive environment for the vulnerable homeless population.

Tacoma Rescue Mission

425 Tacoma Ave S

Tacoma WA 98402

253) 383-4493

Offers emergency shelter for men; free clothing Mondays through Saturdays from 3:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.; dinner from 5:15 to 6 p.m.; overnight facility which houses 44 men and provides breakfast. There is no charge for services and no financial assistance is available. Doors are open daily at 3:30 p.m.

Providing Emergency Shelter to the Homeless

Tacoma Rescue Mission

601 South 15th

253) 272-1974

The Family Shelter is a 56-bed facility providing emergency housing and meals for families and single women. The Family Shelter provides food, clothing, shelter, laundry facilities, housing and childcare resources. Classes are available in adult basic education, and basic living skills. The Shelter also provides job referrals, counseling, and spiritual guidance. (TRM n.d.)

Providing the Homeless with a Hot Nutritious Meal

Tacoma Rescue Mission

425 Tacoma Ave S

Tacoma WA 98402

253) 383-4493

Free Meal Program

Provides free hot meals to men and women. Dinner served daily, 5:15 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Shelter also provides breakfast for overnight clients.

Nativity House

2304 South Jefferson Ave

Tacoma , WA , 98402

253) 272-5266

Provides a drop-in center for the homeless, offering two meals per day (breakfast and lunch), local and long-distance phone calls, day storage and long-term storage, an art program, shower facilities, IDs and birth certificates, assistance with bus tickets and clothing. health appointments, non-narcotic prescription drug support, rent support, and referrals to mental health treatment, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, Detox centers. This program is also used as a mailing address for people without a mailing address. (UWPC 2004)

Free Community Medical Clinics for the Homeless

The following services are free walk-in clinics that serve clients on a first come, first served basis. For the homeless clinics, it is recommended that clients sign in at 8:30am or 1:00pm in order to be assured an appointment. All the clinics are free, but will also accept DSHS coupons. Services include: Basic health & dental care, case management, psychiatric services, TB-HIV-STD testing, family planning referrals, substance abuse services and domestic violence counseling.

Free Community Medical Clinics for the Homeless

Monday and Thursday: Neighborhood Clinic (253) 627-6353

1323 South Yakima (North entrance)

Hours: 5-8pm

Tuesday and Thursday: Homeless Medical Clinic (253) 383-4493

Tacoma Rescue Mission, 424 S. Tacoma Way

Hours: 8:30am-3:30pm (Closed 12:00-1:00 for lunch)

Sign-in @ 8:30am & 1 :OOpm

Wednesday or emergencies: Women & Children: Clinic for women & children; Call Kathy (253) 370-7019

405 Broadway

Thursday: Trinity Neighborhood Clinic (253) 272-8819

1619 6th Avenue

Hours: 5-7pm

Medical/Dental Van: For mobile medical/dental van appointments call Vontel

Moore, Homeless Health Care outreach (253) 284-9016 (UWPC 2004)

In Conclusion

There are hundreds of homeless in Tacoma and the numbers are growing every year. Most people that I have spoken to consider the homeless to be to be a burden on society and a drain on the communities’ limited resources. After having spent time getting to know the homeless, see their faces, and know their stories, I no longer consider them strangers. They are just someone who is not as fortunate as I am. I am glad that there are others out there who care and resources available to ease their suffering. While I will not contribute directly to a beggar on the street, I will continue to contribute to the United Way through my employer as it goes to an excellent cause.

Remember, a missed paycheck, a health care crisis, or an unpaid bill can easily push anyone over the edge into homelessness.

Resources

Pierce County Department of Community Services. (2003/2004) Resource Guide [Booklet]

Tacoma Rescue Mission (TRM), (n.d.) Retrieved May 16, 2004, from www.trm.org

Martin Luther King Housing Development Association (mlkhda), (2004) Retrieved May 16, 2004, from www.mlkhda.org

United Way of Pierce County(UWPC), (2004) Retrieved May 20, 2004, from www.uwpc.org

Grassroots.org a 501c3 project (Homeless), (2004) Retrieved May 20, 2004, from www.homeless.org

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