Nothing about us without us

Greetings, friends, and partners of Pierce County Human Services (PCHS),

Last month, March, was Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. We recognized this designation with an all-staff “lunch and learn” where providers, clients, and PCHS staff shared information and insights about supporting or being individuals with developmental disabilities. Although the month of recognition has now passed, I want to share with you some of what I learned:

The Developmental Disabilities Act of 1984 established much of the system we have today. The Act set a goal to enable people with developmental disabilities “to achieve their maximum potential through increased independence, productivity, and integration into the community.” The Act also created State Developmental Disabilities Councils in all states and territories that provide training to individuals, families, and service delivery systems. In 1990, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Act expanded from the 1984 goals of independence, integration, and productivity toward interdependence, inclusion, and recognition of individual contributions. Today, we acknowledge that abilities come in many forms.

Artwork by Lee Waters

While our family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors with developmental disabilities are facing the same struggles we all face, they often experience them more significantly:

  • Education Challenges: The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted individuals with disabilities. Disruptions in education, employment, health care, and social services have been amplified. Parents often took on full-time caregiving roles while also stepping into new roles as special educators, speech therapists, and behavior therapists. This has been exhausting and frustrating for many families.
  • Social Isolation: Many people with intellectual/developmental disabilities rely on public transportation and supports to help them get to work and access community activities. Lack of transportation, providers, and inaccessible community programs directly impacts individuals’ opportunity to work, make friends and participate in the activities that they want.
  • Health Inequities and Coexisting Conditions: Persons with disabilities have twice the risk of developing conditions such as depression, asthma, diabetes, stroke, obesity, or poor oral health. Accessibility barriers, negative attitudes, lack of assistive technology, and inadequate healthcare contribute to these inequities.
  • Economic Challenges: Washingtonians with disabilities experience high rates of poverty compared to those without disabilities; approximately 19.5% of people with disabilities have incomes below 100% of the poverty level, and 43% fall below 200% of the poverty level.
  • Housing Insecurity: More than 37,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in Washington State face housing insecurity. This estimate includes adults living with elderly family caregivers aged 60+ and those living independently or with roommates.
  • Limited Access to Post-High School Programs: Programs beyond high school for adults with developmental disabilities are scarce. Limited hours, a lack of providers, and difficulties in finding services pose barriers to accessing necessary support.
Artwork by Sydney Krebsbach

Evolution of the social model of disability highlights the importance of universal design. Building and promoting community spaces and programs that support access and engagement of people of all abilities significantly reduces the disproportionate impacts referenced above. We all benefit when we create opportunity for belonging! Considering the important and growing need for DD services in our community, we recently reorganized our staff to give them more prominence within our department. I’m proud to share that Malissa Adame has recently accepted the position of managing our newest division, the Developmental Disabilities (DD) Division. Malissa and her team will continue to provide comprehensive, quality services to our DD community, now with the additional attention and visibility this work deserves. FUN FACT: every member of our DD team has either directly provided the services we fund or has a family member who’s benefited from them; they know their stuff!

The Developmental Disabilities Division is responsible for local planning and administration of a variety of programs that support individuals with developmental delays or disabilities and their families across the life span. All of DD’s programs are designed to support full inclusion of individuals with developmental delays and disabilities in their local community.  Direct services are provided by contracted providers. Services include Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT), Supported Employment, Community Inclusion, and Community Information and Outreach. In 2023:

  • Our Employment and Community Inclusion Services provided Job Coaching and Retention support for 631 participants who worked in community-based employment settings earning minimum wage or higher.
  • The department provided 188 individuals with Discovery, Assessment, Job Preparation and Job Development support as part of their pathway to employment, and 153 individuals received Community Inclusion services.
  • The School-to-Work Program supported 72% of participating transition students to obtain a job.
  • Our Early Support for Infants and Toddlers Program responded to 2,189 new referrals and provided developmental therapy and educational services to 2,805 infants and toddlers in their homes, childcare, or community- based settings.
Artwork by Raquel Quezada

Please check out our DD webpage for more information about the programs and community engagement opportunities; or check out one of these other sites to learn more:

Our vision for Pierce County citizens with developmental disabilities is the same as for all citizens: vibrant communities with happy, healthy people. We have more to do here, but we have a strong team and partners dedicated to that vision.

In partnership,


In the other Washington

Greetings, partners and colleagues –

Happy 2024!  I hope the new year has started off strong for you.  We in Pierce County Human Services are busy closing out 2023, writing new contracts and new bid documents for 2024, and looking forward to a busy year of partnering with our provider community to deliver necessary programs and services to our community.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. in my capacity as a trustee for Bates Technical College.  1300 of my fellow trustees from across the country came together to learn about the issues and bills in front of Congress today, and to lobby for the support of our state’s community and technical college system.

In between conference sessions and office visits, I managed to go to a couple of my favorite Smithsonian museums. While visiting them I learned some things that I want to share with you.

I first visited the Hirshhorn, my favorite contemporary art museum in D.C.  The best part of the visit was seeing an exhibit of sculptures by Simone Leigh, a prolific and renowned artist whose work centers on African heritage, the power of African women, and the impacts of racism.  Her clay and metal sculptures are imposing and elegant.  In many of her sculptures she includes the symbols of ritual, respect, and tradition, such as the cowrie shell, which I learned from this show is often used in African cultures to signify immense spiritual power and to symbolize fertility and good luck.  You can see some of Leigh’s work here:  Simone Leigh – Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden | Smithsonian

Sculpture by Simone Leigh

My second visit was to the National Portrait Gallery, where visitors go to see the official portraits of our past presidents.  I saw an unexpected video installation there this time, too, about Fredrick Douglass.  The looping video shown on 5 screens was less than 30 minutes long, but it touched on a couple of important themes from Douglass’ life that I didn’t know much about – his powerful speech about the meaning of the 4th of July, and his belief in the power of photos.  Douglass asserted back in the 1850’s that the 4th of July did not mean freedom to Black slaves.  Indeed, many of his words still resonate today – you can hear some of his descendants sharing the speech here:

Regarding his fascination with the power of photographs, Douglass saw them as powerful tools to advance equity and self-representation. Douglass notably stated that photography was “capable of being harnessed to the car of truth or error: It is a vast power to whatever cause it is coupled.”  This is still true today, perhaps even more so given the prevalence of social media.  You can read more about Fredrick Douglass and his interactions with photography here: Frederick Douglass and the Power of Photography (U.S. National Park Service) (

It’s fascinating to consider how Leigh’s art and Douglass’ observations can bring history into our present so vividly and meaningfully.  I was fortunate to travel to D.C. to see these works in person, and I hope sharing little pieces of them with you gives you a taste of that experience, too.

Happy Black History Month!

  • Heather

Thank you!

Dear Partners and Colleagues –

THANK YOU!  In late January, Pierce County Human Services successfully conducted our annual Homeless Point-in-Time Count for 2024.  We could not have done it without our partners and volunteers.

The Point-in-Time Count is required each year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Washington State Department of Commerce to collect data, identify trends, track historical data, and educate and engage our community. With the help of over 350 volunteers we were able to successfully survey and provide resources to our community’s most vulnerable individuals who are living without a home.

On behalf of Pierce County Human Services, I would like to thank our community partners who came together to make this event a success:

  • The City of Tacoma offered critical outreach information and allowed United Way access to the Greater Tacoma Convention Center.
  • County Executive Bruce Dammeier, the Pierce County Councilmembers, and several other elected officials and leaders from across Pierce County joined in our count. Participants included City of Tacoma Councilmembers, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, and State Representative Mari Leavitt.
  • The United Way of Pierce County centered its Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service Event on convening nearly 150 volunteers to gather and create 3,000 hygiene bags distributed during the Homeless Point-in-Time Count.
  • Many additional organizations and concerned citizens provided volunteer hours and donations, including food and cold-weather clothing, for the count:
    • Catholic Community Services of Western Washington
    • Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center
    • Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness
    • Habitat for Humanity
    • Emergency Food Network
    • New Hope Resource Center
  • Pierce County professional outreach staff scouted sites in advance and led teams of volunteers during the count.
  • Officials from the Seattle regional office of Housing and Urban Development joined us in person Thursday so they could experience a local count firsthand.
  • And of course, our 200 VOLUNTEERS for the Thursday afternoon count, the Thursday night overnight count, and the Friday count. All individuals in emergency shelter are accounted for through the Homeless Management Information System.

Following the investments of County Executive Dammeier and the Pierce County Council, we are pursuing the initiatives in our 2022 Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness (Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness | Pierce County, WA – Official Website ( to ensure that homelessness in our community is brief and one-time.  Until we reach that goal, this annual count is critical so we receive the resources needed to help our neighbors without shelter.

Thanks again for another successful year of collecting important information and distributing essential supplies; this event could not happen without our partners. I’ll reach back out when we have data to share…probably in April or May of this year.

Heather Moss, Director

A trip of a lifetime

Dear Partners,

Since 2017, I’ve served as a Trustee for Bates Technical College in Tacoma.  It’s been such an amazing opportunity to support and advocate for one of our community’s educational institutions.  I have been humbled as I learn about the importance of technical college in our workforce pipeline and observe the passion and commitment our students have for their coursework.

This fall, I had the opportunity to represent Bates Technical College on a visit to China.  My husband, Scott, joined me and Bates’ Dean of Instruction, Yifan Sun, for a 12-day tour of Beijing and Zehngzhou, with a quick 2-day layover in Seoul, South Korea.

With a population of 1.4 billion, the scale of China is hard to wrap your head around.  Bicycles, people, geography – it’s all massive.  Beijing is home to over 20 million, and Zhengzhou is a “small” city of 10 million people.  Almost 1 in every 5 people on the planet is from China, and their recorded history goes back thousands of years.  There is so much to see in (and learn about) China, and we managed take in a few of the highlights:

  • We saw Tiananmen Square, but it was blocked off for the world leaders attending the “Belt and Road Initiative” international summit. Lots of diplomatic cars and military troops.
  • We toured the Forbidden City, along with a few thousand Chinese tourists (we didn’t see many foreigners).  The scale, construction, and elaborate design were all impressive.
  • We walked on the Great Wall, which exists in multiple pieces rather than it’s original 2000+ miles.  Imagining what it would take to build such a structure hundreds of years ago, on the crest of a mountain range, is remarkable.
  • We visited Shaolin Temple, an active monastery and the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and Kung Fu.  As we marveled at the young Buddhist monks demonstrating their kung fu skills, I wondered at the sacrifices they and their families made.
  • The food deserves recognition on its own. We ate so many unique and special foods.  I estimate we tried over 50 new dishes in our short trip (fish, duck, seafood, tofu, pork, chicken, beef, and, oh! the vegetables), and they were all so wonderful. Wow. The only food I was not a fan of was fried chicken feet and lotus root. 

The primary purpose of our visit was to develop and nurture partnerships Bates has or would like to establish with private high schools and universities in China.  We visited 5 schools and met with agents who coordinate between schools in China and schools like Bates in the U.S. and other countries.  The Bates President, Lin Zhou, has worked hard to develop ‘study and teach abroad’ opportunities for our students and for Chinese nationals who want to learn here.  These opportunities are a great way for students and faculty to experience a new culture and develop a world perspective.  While we were in Beijing, Bates had a small group of students touring and studying in Shanghai, and we hope to continue and build on these visits.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I will always treasure.  It made me reflect, though, on what I love about our own country. Despite its messiness at times, we are free to live wherever we want, everyone has the opportunity to succeed in life, when we see injustice, we can speak out, and our elected officials are accountable to voters. 

Oh, and pizza – I love that, too. 

Lastly, those who live in freedom will always be grateful to those who helped preserve it. Veterans – thank you for your sacrifice, bravery, and the example you set for us all. I hope everyone has a happy and proud Veteran’s Day and if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, check out these events in Pierce County:


Heather Moss

Veterans, Caregivers, and our Community

Given that November is National Family Caregiver’s Month, Military Family Month, and November 11th is Veterans Day, Heather gave me the opportunity in this month’s blog to recognize our local military community. That community doesn’t just include those who served in uniform but also the family and caregivers residing in Pierce County.

Councilmember Hitchen reached out recently and asked me to do some research into the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and their Hidden Heroes program.  Hidden Heroes works with military and veteran caregivers to increase an awareness of these valuable members of our community who often get forgotten. Recent data from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation shows over 38,000 military caregivers provide compassionate services in Pierce County alone.

Pierce County is a unique place due to the relationship this community has with the 50,000+ active duty, reservists, National Guard, and over 92,000 veterans who live here. We live in a community that displays this relationship all around us: every day we see the C-17s that take off from JBLM, the servicemembers in uniform as we shop in grocery stores, and the 645 square miles that make JBLM the 4th largest base in the world.

What we don’t always see are the caregivers and the other family members who are providing medical, daily care, and emotional support for military and veteran families in Pierce County. The average military or veteran caregiver spends over 40 hours per week caring for their loved one. These family members are the hidden heroes that the Elizabeth Dole Foundation strives to highlight for our local leaders and communities.

Pierce County has:

  • 32,944 veterans with some level of a service-related disability (0 – 100%) and over 20,481 who are rated at 50% or higher for service-related injuries;
  • 5,414 veterans who are 100% disabled due to service-related injuries; and
  • 10,501 post-9/11 veterans who require a family caregiver.

My colleague, Aaron Van Valkenburg, and I recently worked with the Aging and Disability Resources Advisory Board and the Veterans Advisory Board to gather support for a Pierce County partnership with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and its Hidden Heroes program. After introducing this program to both Advisory Boards, we received unanimous support.

If you want to learn more about Hidden Heroes and what it is doing to support veterans and military members, please visit You can read about a local Hidden Hero Fellow right here in Bonney Lake; she writes about her own journey as a caregiver for her husband. I’m proud to report that in early November 2021 the County Council will be passing a resolution in support of a partnership between the Hidden Heroes program and Pierce County.

A community with a large military and veteran presence also has an equally large military and veteran family presence. As someone who had the privilege of serving in uniform and is a disabled veteran, I know the struggles families have as they watch their servicemember deploy, the lack of communication with their loved one in a potentially dangerous environment, and the impact that service-related injuries have.

Please take a few moments in the next few weeks to reach out to the veterans in your life. Thank them for their service but also celebrate the families who supported them along the way and served alongside them.

Often when we think about veterans, we may not fully value the sacrifices made by spouses, children, parents, family, and friends. If you know any caregivers, please reach out and thank them for what they do for their family members, friends and loved ones.

As a proud veteran of the Navy, I want to thank all who have served but also their families, their support structures, and the community that has lifted up my fellow veterans.

-Robert Sheetz, Veterans Programs Manager

September is Recovery Month

September is National Recovery Month! The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) started the National Recovery Month in 1989 to bring awareness to mental health and substance use disorder treatment. This year’s focus is Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Community, Every Family.

Recovery is for everyone seems a fitting theme for 2021. The pandemic has brought behavioral health issues to the forefront as more of us are feeling the impact of mental health and substance use disorders in our families and communities.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, as many as 2 million Washington State residents reported increased stress and anxiety, and almost 1.5 million experienced depression during the first year of the pandemic. The younger a person was, the more likely they were to experience these symptoms.

Despite the dramatic increase in the need for behavioral health treatment, less than half of those wanting help accessed care. Access to behavioral health treatment is an issue that affects all of us. Families and communities often carry the emotional and financial burden of untreated behavioral health disorders. The good news is there are effective and evidence-based prevention and treatment programs available.

Here are a few steps we can take during Recovery Month to celebrate the gains made by those in recovery:

Fight stigma

Behavioral health stigma occurs when we negatively view someone because they are experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder. Stigma harms those suffering and their families, and often discourages people from getting help because they assume their behavioral health concern means something negative about them as a person.

One way to fight stigma is to educate yourself on mental health and substance use disorders. Instead of falling for the stereotypes found in online media and entertainment, learn how prevalent behavioral health disorders are, what treatments are available, and how they impact individuals and families.

Get help for yourself and your loved ones

If you or someone you care about is experiencing depression, anxiety, substance use issues, or other concerns, get help from a qualified professional. Asking for help takes courage but it is the first step in the journey toward recovery. Find local qualified providers using our Behavioral Health Services Locator.

Tell your story

Sharing your recovery story gives hope to individuals and families facing similar problems. Someone might read your story and be encouraged in their own recovery. Others might seek help for the first time.

To celebrate recovery month, we are asking the community to share their stories with us to be featured on our website and social media channels. If you have a one to share, or know someone who does, please use this link to share your story.

You can read recovery stories from previous years on our website at Please know that your submission can be anonymous, and you have the option to share as much, or as little as you like.

If you need ideas to get you started, try these:

  • How were you or a loved one affected by mental illness or substance use?
  • What happened before you or your loved one received help?
  • What helped you or your loved one on their path to recovery?
  • How are you different today and how are you experiencing recovery?
  • What else would you like others to know about recovery?

Remember, recovery is for everyone. No matter who you are or what you are facing there is hope for recovery and help is available. Our website has resources for families and providers, including maps that detail the local crisis system, should you or someone you know need to access these services. Lastly, please join us on August 31 via Zoom for the 3 p.m. Pierce County Council meeting, where they will proclaim September 2021 as Recovery Month.

If you are someone you care about is in crisis, please contact the Pierce County Crisis Line at 1-800-576-7764 or text 741-741. If you have a life-threatening illness or injury that needs immediate assistance, please call 9-1-1.

Thanks for reading.

Richard VanCleave, Behavioral Health Manager
Pierce County Human Services

Improving Processes and Engaging Residents

A note from Heather: “As we shift back into more in-person interactions in our post-COVID world, I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce you to one of our newer leadership team members, Nelly Mbajah.  Nelly joined PCHS in February 2021, coming most recently from a position with Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD).  While at PSESD, and DSHS before that, Nelly spent most of her professional attention on ECEAP and other early learning initiatives.  We are glad to have her as part of our team, leading the Community Action Program (CAP) Division here at PCHS.  I have two more leaders to introduce you to soon, so look for their guest blogs coming up.  For now, please take it away, Nelly…”

Pierce County Human Services has recently opened our doors and returned to ‘normal’ office hours, so I want to wish all residents a ‘Happy Reopening’ from the Community Action Programs (CAP). I am grateful to have this opportunity to share a little of our world with all of you.

A little background before we get started, CAP works to reduce the impact of poverty through a variety of programs and supports. Pierce County’s CAP is one of 30 CAPs in the state, and over 1,000 nationwide. The CAP Division programs include:

  1. Energy Assistance – Provides heating assistance and conservation education to income-qualified households outside the city limits of Tacoma.
  2. Water Assistance – Provides water and wastewater assistance to income-qualified households outside the city limits of Tacoma. (Coming soon!)
  3. Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) – Provides free preschool and family support to over 300 income eligible children and their families through seven sites in six school districts. The sites are in Sumner, Bonney Lake, Buckley, Orting, Eatonville, South Hill, and University Place, along with two dual language (English/Spanish) classes in South Hill and Sumner.
  4. Tribal ChildReach – Provides early childhood developmental screening to Tribal children in partnership with the Puyallup Tribe.
  5. Weatherization – Supports income eligible households in making their homes healthier reducing heat loss, and saving money on heating bills, all through adding insulation, sealing cracks, and making other physical improvements.
  6. Minor Home Repair – Provides health and safety repairs for income eligible households that allow residences to stay in their homes. The repairs range from window and roof repair or replacement to plumbing and minor carpentry.

We all had to become more innovative when offering services during a pandemic, but the Weatherization (WX) and Minor Home Repair (MHR) programs also had to transition to a new contracting and procurement platform. A team of three(Donn Falconer, Kristy Lysell and Lynda Buchanan), with the support of several others, have been working diligently to make this happen for over a year and we are happy to say that the new system, ProcureWare, finally went live on July 1, 2021 (applause).


What is ProcureWare and what does it do?

It is an all-inclusive, integrated procurement platform for supplier management, e-sourcing, and contract management. This system allows contractors to register for the limited public works rosters which were specifically created for the MHR and WX programs. This makes it simple for bidders to register for the specific type of work in which they specialize, and in turn simpler for the County to release bids to contractors who specialize in and want to do this specific type of work. All communication is done solely in ProcureWare – from release of bid, clarifications, and finally the award. It is also a portal where contractors can upload their licenses, insurance, etc., which also notifies contractors when things are expiring so there is no disruption in being able to receive bids.

Why was the shift needed?

To ensure the County and contractors are compliant with all State of Washington public work laws and regulations.

Why is it important?

It’s important because it provides a streamlined and accessible contracting process for contractors and the County. It also promotes access to new contractors, flexibility in job scope, and lower costs (hopefully!!). Another benefit is that everything is in one place (bid request, questions, responses, addendum, and submission of bids), making it easier to update everyone at the same time.

What are the challenges and success of the system?

One of the challenges is gauging contractor interest in doing the type of jobs we post, creating a new sets of forms and processes, determining how to deal with emergency situations, and the general hassle of transition. We’ve experienced success recently as our first job was posted and we received 3 bids – YAY! We are now working on awarding a contract for the work to begin.

In addition to the Procureware launch, our division’s other big focus this year is the Community Needs Assessment (CNA), which we complete every 3 years. The purpose is to identify needs within our community, determine how well we are currently meeting those needs, and highlight what gaps exist. The information gathered is used to improve current services and explore the creation of new programs, services, or partnerships.

A small but mighty team (Connie Arias, Makaila Chames, Margi Rudy, Lynda Buchanan, and I) has been working on the 2021 CNA with a target completion date of September 30. The team began by creating a timeline (click here for the full graphic) and goals, with the intention of making this a more comprehensive assessment than the one done in 2018.

The team decided to survey county residents and social service providers to get a complete picture of needs and gaps within our systems. The provider survey was sent out to 173 providers and 78 were completed. The information gathered has been used to create a resource guide that individuals completing the community survey can request. The community survey went live on 6/15/21 and as of 7/19/21 we had 475 completed surveys —  200 more than we received in 2018. The survey is available online or on paper in multiple languages. Participants have until the end of this month to complete the survey.

Click here to view the entire timeline graphic: 

In a quick review of responses to a few of the open-ended questions on the survey, we found a wide variety of responses, which is expected after such a difficult year and a half, when so many of our residents struggled during the pandemic. We heard heartbreaking stories about the impact of the pandemic and lack of access to resources, encouraging stories about how services provided restored hope and even a few interesting requests related to employees and elected officials. Although we are still receiving responses, we are excited about what we will learn from this process and how it will inform our programs and services over the next three years. The survey is open until July 31, so please complete the survey if you haven’t already and share the link within your networks. We look forward to sharing the full report with you in the coming months.

Thanks to Heather for giving me the opportunity to engage readers on the latest news from Community Action Programs. We wish you all a summer filled with memory-creating moments.

– Nelly Mbajah, CAP Division Manager


Happy Pride Month!

I love seeing all of the celebratory social media posts recognizing June as Pride Month.  I live just around the corner from The Mix, one of Tacoma’s busiest gay bars, and I look forward to the annual Pride festival they host.  Like everything else, I’m sure it will be different this year, but hopefully it will still accomplish what I see as it’s main purpose: a celebration of Love.

I am a straight woman, married to my best friend, Scott, for almost 30 years now.  Growing up in Billings, Montana, and leading what I’ve come to realize has been a fairly sheltered (narrow?) life, I’ve had few gay friends or family. I would describe myself as open and tolerant of others, but I also am learning that even I have biases that shape who I befriend, how I engage with others, and what I think.  That indicates a lot of work that I have to do as an individual, to be not only aware of my biases, but to go even further to engage with, celebrate, and lift up people who are different from me.  I’m a work in progress.  What I can say with absolute certainty, though, is that no one should be able to tell me who I can love.  Scott’s my person, and has been since we were teenagers in college.  I chose him, he chose me, and no one else did (or should ever) have a say in that.  Pride is about that…celebrating everyone’s right to love whomever they choose.

Pride is also about loving yourself, no matter your gender identity.  We’ve come a long way as a society to celebrate our differences, but there are still biases and harmful behavior we need to mitigate.  Our LGBTQIA+ youth in particular face lots of bias, so I’m happy to share again this valuable list of resources that Kid’s Mental Health of Pierce County has developed for your reference and use.  Please check out and amplify the resources below.

Happy Pride Month, friends!

With Love and Pride,

Rental and Utility Assistance in 2021

Greetings, friends and colleagues!

When a coworker pointed out my last blog post was back in December, I was astonished. Where did the first ten weeks of 2021 go? I don’t know about you, but time feels like it drags by and disappears in an instant…not sure how both can be true, but it does feel like that.

A partial answer to what the last 10 weeks have entailed, however, includes finishing up our CARES-funded programs and accounting, taking a break from the trauma and uncertainty of 2020, and resolving ourselves to the fact that the pandemic did not actually end with the year, as so many of us had hoped. We also spent some time debriefing what we did well in our COVID response efforts last year, lessons learned, and what we can improve on. As it turns out, that reflection came in handy quickly, since we recently received two sizeable federal grants to provide rental assistance.

Pierce County and the City of Tacoma have partnered for a new rental and utility assistance program.

Human Services, in partnership with the City of Tacoma, has worked diligently to align efforts to ensure people already feeling stress from the pandemic can access resources to help stabilize their housing, including utility assistance.  This partnership will strengthen our ability to provide rental assistance to all of our community members who have had impacts during COVID-19

In 2020, it was obvious that funds to help keep people housed would be an early and ongoing need. In fact, the Pierce County Council made an initial appropriation of $250K to stand up our first rental assistance program early on in our pandemic response. As with all things COVID-related, they look so different in hindsight. We thought that $250K would be a great initial investment in helping people pay rent. Now, 12+ months later, we know that the eventual $20M we paid out in rental assistance last year still only scratched the surface. We provided an average of two months of rent to about 7,000 residents in 2020. According to our housing data, demand for help is more like 15,000-20,000 residents, and could be for all the last 12 months (if you do the math, that will cost almost $300 MILLION).

So, it’s a good thing that we have received another $58M to continue providing rental assistance in Pierce County, and we anticipate even more coming as the details are worked out in the newly passed American Rescue Plan Act. As for those reflections about what we did well and how we could improve? Well, we’ve used that information to improve on the following this time around:

  • Create a robust online application to streamline the process for providers, renters, and landlords
  • Allow landlords to pre-register for their renters who are behind in payments
  • Fund up to 12 months of rental arrears
  • Provide rental payments to cover informal leases or sub-leases
  • Connect our payment program with the Superior Court’s Eviction Resolution program to help tenants and landlords who need more than cash support

As many of you know, impacts of this pandemic continue to be widespread and deep, affecting our lowest income residents the hardest. Recovery is on the horizon, but it will be long and challenging for some. I’m grateful we have the relief dollars on the way to help our neighbors pay their rent and stay in their homes.

In future posts, I’ll share more about what else we will be doing to help our most vulnerable populations through these times, but for now, please help us spread the word about this vital program by sharing the flyers linked below.

Rental Assistance Flyers in English, Spanish, Korean, Tagalog and Russian.

In partnership,

Connecting with a Family Caregiver

November was Family Caregiver Month, so before it gets too far in our rear view mirror, I want to share a bit about our Family Caregiver Support Program (FCSP), and highlight a very special caregiver here in Pierce County.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to speak to Pat Schlager, one of the hundreds of family caregivers we support across the County. To highlight the important work our family caregivers do each day I’m sharing Pat’s story.

Pat standing outside of her home in central Pierce County.

My first impression of Pat was that she’s a matter of fact, 80-year-old woman who does what needs to be done and doesn’t spend too much time worrying or complaining. Pat’s been the primary caregiver for her husband, Stanley, since his dementia advanced to the point where he could not care for himself. Before that, Pat and Stanley owned and operated an 80-acre ranch in Goldendale, where they raised cattle, horses and chickens. They bought the ranch after Stanley’s long career as an ironworker in Seattle. He was one of those fearless laborers you’d see walking across the narrow beams high over the city. Stanley loved the job, but over time the lifting and positioning of iron beams took a toll on him and he developed severe arthritis.

As Stanley’s dementia worsened, they decided to move to Pierce County in 2015 to be closer to state-of-the-art medical services, their 4 children and 17 grandchildren. Pat found out about the FCSP after calling our Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) looking for support.

The ADRC serves as the front door for local aging and disability services. It is staffed with experts who will assess your needs and work to find you the best services and assistance. Caregivers are offered a menu of services based on their needs, at varying levels of support, and are often introduced to other Human Services programs they may find helpful, like energy assistance.

Respite services are a key component of the program, allowing caregivers to take a break and practice self-care. The services are also based on a sliding scale fee to include caregivers of all income levels. FCSP participants may receive durable medical equipment, like a shower grab bar, to help with balance and mobility. They are also encouraged to attend free training opportunities offered year-round by the ADRC, featuring topics such as dementia, Medicare, Social Security and advance care planning.

One thing Pat wanted to share about her experience as a caregiver is that it is a lot of work – way more than you’d ever imagine! If she isn’t caring for Stanley, you can bet Pat is doing laundry, cooking, cleaning or taking care of the other man in her life, her dachshund.

Aside from household tasks, she helps Stanley with activities of daily living, coordinates his medical care and administers 35 medications regularly, including two insulin shots every day. Juggling caregiving responsibilities such as healthcare visits and social engagement were exhausting even before the COVID crisis and now caregivers face new challenges. Her advice for anyone new to caregiving is to be ready for the unexpected and to have lots of patience.

Although the work of a caregiver is hard and never-ending (you don’t get to “go home,” because you are home), Pat appreciates the respite hours she receives through the FCSP. Twice a week, for a total of six hours, a Home Health Care provider cares for Stanley. Pat uses this time to go grocery shopping, run errands, grab lunch with her daughter, or just take a nap! She shared that there’s little opportunity for relaxation when you are a caregiver, so she takes advantage of the time to herself.

“When you are married, you do what you have to do, sweetie, with a good dose of hope and prayers.” – Pat

If you are concerned about a loved one or their caregiver, our aging experts say the best thing to do is to TALK WITH THEM! Discuss your concerns, acknowledge you want to help and let them know support is out there. Many people who care for loved ones don’t consider themselves caregivers. They often view it as part of their ‘duty’ as the loving wife, husband, son, etc. No one wants to feel like a burden, and it can be difficult to ask for help, but it’s important both the caregiver and care receiver are interested in services. After both parties are on board, speak with your doctor to rule out any medical issues. From there, the next best thing to do is call the ADRC at 253-798-4600.

Thank you, Pat, for sharing your story with me, and thank you to all our family caregivers across Pierce County. The important work you do every day is not recognized often enough. Caregiving is a difficult job and this year has brought the added challenges and stress of caregiving during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is more important than ever to know that you are not alone and the FCSP is here to support you. We celebrate you during National Caregiving Month and always.





P.S. If you’re inspired by Pat’s story and want to get involved, consider joining our Aging and Disability Resources Advisory Board. ADR Advisory Board members collaborate with ADR to give input on community needs and priorities to improve services for local seniors, adults with disabilities and family caregivers like Pat.