Functional Zero Homelessness

Functional Zero Homelessness

By Bryan Dominique, Communications Manager
Office of the Pierce County Council

On Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, the Tacoma City Council and the Pierce County Council held a joint study session to discuss coordinated approaches to addressing homelessness. This was the first joint study session between the governing bodies in recent memory and was focused on addressing homelessness as a region.

Pierce County Council Vice Chair Marty Campbell shares his thoughts on how the City of Tacoma and Pierce County can collaboratively work together on reaching functional zero homelessness in the County during a joint study session on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at Tacoma City Hall. His remarks centered on the need to move with urgency. You can watch the full joint study session here.

After leaving the Army, I found myself working in local municipal government. On my first day on the job, I was at a town hall where one of the locally elected leaders I was working for at the time was talking about myriad of issues affecting people living in the area.

I am trying to remember all the issues discussed that day, but what has stuck with me and largely influences how I view and share information about the policymaking process today wasn’t the issues at all. In the middle of the town hall, that same elected leader took out a baby mobile – one of those toys that hang over a baby’s crib to help entertain and develop hand-eye coordination – and used it to describe how doing one thing on the baby mobile influences the movement of the rest, just like in policymaking.

I was new then, but the concept has largely held up: One issue affects the other.

That’s what I was thinking about on Tuesday, Sept. 19, when the Pierce County Council and Tacoma City Council sat down for a historic joint study session to discuss homelessness and how both governments might work together to help those experiencing homelessness regionally.

“For a long time, the City of Tacoma was the only jurisdiction in the County to have a dedicated mental health and substance use disorder funding stream. Two years ago, Pierce County came through with that countywide funding stream to join Tacoma in resourcing mental health and substance use disorder,” said Pierce County Council Chair Ryan Mello (District 4). “And earlier this year, we approved the Maureen Howard Affordable Housing Act for affordable housing and related services, so Tacoma wasn’t the only one rowing in this direction.”

I was immediately brought back to my first day ever working for a legislative body in municipal government. None of what Chair Mello said was directly about homelessness. It was about mental health. It was about substance use. It was about affordable housing. Those are all areas on the baby mobile; you touch one, and the rest of them move, especially the area not mentioned – homelessness.

I think it’s pretty apparent that something usually happens in someone’s life that puts them on the path toward homelessness. The significant contributors right now are the areas Mello identified. Pierce County adopted its Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness more than a year ago, and the plan’s charge is to reach functional zero homelessness through a unified regional approach. There are lots of measures and goals, which are all crucial to the success of the plan, but its success can really be summed up in if it makes “homelessness rare, brief, and when it happens to someone, they do not experience it again (Pierce County Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness, March 2022).”

To begin working toward functional zero, the Pierce County Council has taken deliberate steps to set the stage, including the joint study session with the City of Tacoma. In addition, the Council established a Select Committee on Homelessness, chaired by the Council’s Vice Chair, Councilmember Marty Campbell (District 5), whose remarks at the joint study session were about moving with urgency on the issue.

In fact, the result of the joint study session is the City of Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards appointing city councilmembers to work with the Select Committee on identifying goals the two governments can work toward together and exploring ways to create a unified regional approach.

“Frankly, it’s taken us a long time to get to this point, and we will need all the County’s cities and towns moving in the same direction. Pierce County and Tacoma are the two largest jurisdictions in the County, so us working together and collaborating is a great place to start; I’m excited for the work ahead,” said Campbell. “My goal is to work collaboratively with the Port of Tacoma, our Tribal partners, our service providers, and our cities and towns. This regional issue has life and death consequences, and it requires everyone’s focus.”

And with that, the stage is set. Tune in to the Council’s Select Committee on Homelessness to be part of this meaningful conversation because the joint study session with the City of Tacoma was only the beginning.