Let Us Help

John Adams passed the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen in 1798, marking the first federal public health law. Over the next 200 plus years, many laws and much legislation would be passed cementing the government’s role in ensuring the health and safety of people in America. Since the 1950’s, Pierce County and its incorporated cities have continued to grow, through hard times and good times. As the Director of Human Services, I take great pride in the work that my department does every day to provide essential assistance to vulnerable people.

Our department is diverse in programs, and I often get asked about what we do and who we serve. For starters, there are over 50 programs that we manage, operate, or fund in Pierce County, so it isn’t easy to narrow down or generalize the good work we do! It is our mission to work hard to ensure all residents have equitable access to community-based services that respect each person’s unique experience. Most of our programs focus on low-income families, children, seniors, and disabled individuals, but we want to invest in all individuals and help communities thrive in every way imaginable.

Our biggest division in the Human Services Department is Aging and Disability Resources, or ADR, for short. We provide case management services and fund other agencies to assist with home care, health homes, transportation, medical, food services, and other programs. We also provide financial, health, and safety resources for family and kinship caregivers. The Aging and Disability Resource Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and provides anyone who calls with information about everything from education on fall prevention to how they can receive assistance with Medicaid applications.

Within ADR is our Developmental Disabilities (DD) division, which is small but mighty! We provide services to children aged birth to three with developmental delays and work closely with physicians and provider agencies to offer supervision and ensure all services are in accordance with federal and state laws. We also provide employment and day services for adults with developmental disabilities. Our School to Work program is for transition students in their last year of high school. If you read about Joel last month, then you know what wonderful work that team does to support young adults!

Next, Human Services is proud to offer home safety, energy assistance, and early childhood education through our Community Actions Programs. This division serves as the safety net for some of the most vulnerable residents by assisting with payments to heat providers and weatherizing homes, so people stay warm in the winter. Also, homeowners can apply for help with home repairs and we send out contractors to fix issues related to safety, such as electrical and plumbing modifications.

Also, we have two special needs transportation programs called Beyond the Borders and Mobility Management, that help residents across the county get to work, medical appointments, and run necessary errands. We receive Community Block Grants that are provided to us every year to expand economic opportunities to benefit low- and moderate-income areas. These funds are commonly spent on youth violence prevention and developing a homeless crisis response system across Pierce County. Our numbers show that our creativity with Coordinated Entry is working! In fact, we were just named as an Anchor Community by A Way Home Washington, an advocacy group dedicated to ending youth homelessness in Washington State by 2022.

Likewise, affordable housing is an important issue that we are working to resolve in many of our programs, but we are thankful for funding through the Community Development Corporation that allows us to improve economic development through loans. So far this year, 151 new affordable rental and ownership housing units were awarded! Once completed, these units will provide safe and affordable housing to seniors, veterans, disabled individuals, and homeless households and families. We offer low interest and zero interest loans to homeowners who need assistance with rehabilitation and replacement of substandard homes, as well as residents buying their first home! As of this writing our 2018 numbers show we helped thirteen homeowners complete major rehabilitation to their homes and helped eight residents become first time homeowners! Additionally, in partnership with the Pierce County Economic Development Department, we also provide loans to businesses that create jobs for low income workers.

Home purchased through the Pierce County Home Loan Program
Pierce County Councilman Doug Richardson and others celebrate the opening of Tallentire homes, a partner in our Home Loan program

Commitment to service is in our DNA, which is why we honor Veterans through our Veterans Assistance Program that provides support with emergency financial assistance to indigent veterans. Not only do we provide support for rent, food, utilities, medical, dental, and burial costs, but we also seek ways to improve services for veterans. In addition to financial support, we provide services in advocacy and counseling through our Alternatives to Violence project in the Pierce County Jail to incarcerated veterans.

While all the Human Services programs generally serve disabled or low-income residents, nothing is black and white. I encourage you to contact us if you have questions or need support in some way, because you never know how we may be able to assist you. For example, we do not provide behavioral health services directly, but we have relationships with other agencies (and even fund some of their programs!) who are able to help you find a doctor, receive a mental health evaluation, or locate the closest outpatient treatment program for you.

Early Childhood Education employees from the Orting location enjoy the 2018 Staff Appreciation lunch
Early Childhood Education employees head out for their summer break
Two Aging and Disability Resources employees put on a show at the 2017 Staff Appreciation lunch

The Human Services Department is large, but it matches the hearts of our dedicated and compassionate employees. We are currently hiring for many positions, so if you want to become part of the positive change we are making in the lives of thousands of residents, please join our team! My main purpose of writing this blog is to introduce you to the services offered in anticipating that you share this information, so we can help those who need it most.

Do you know a veteran or someone with special needs who needs transportation assistance getting to work? The Road to Independence offers free rides to and from work in NE Pierce County and South King County. Let us help.

Does your disabled adult child want to start a hobby or find a job that improves his or her independence? We administer employment and day services through providers that are consistent with the participants’ interests, skills, and goals. Let us help.

Are your neighbors at risk of becoming homeless and have a child turning four this winter? Contact one of our Early Childhood Education and Assistance Programs that help support children and families through education, community resources, development screenings, and free USDA meals. Let us help.

Do you know someone on the Key Peninsula who is having a difficult time traveling? The Mustard Seed Project provides door to door transportation services throughout the western-most parts of Pierce County. Let us help.

Are you worried about your elderly grandmother’s health because costly vegetables and healthier options are too expensive for her limited income? Contact the ADRC and ask for a farmers market voucher so she can eat healthy at no cost. Let us help.

To learn more about Human Services programs, visit our website. To see where we are headed over the next few years, view our strategic plan.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi


Mental Illness Awareness Week

Growing up, he often acted with reckless disregard for structure and rules. When he was 30 years old, his family received a call from the ER informing them that he was in a psychosis and had been diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder. Over the next three years, he would be in and out of different hospitals over 20 times and incarcerated several times on petty crimes, usually property destruction and failing to make court dates.

Last year, in a desperate attempt to get him help, his family filed a petition with the court asking for involuntary commitment to treatment. The petition was granted, and he was ordered to take medication. Due to the nature of his illness, he was resistant to medication, which is very common in people with mental health conditions. To administer his treatment, he was placed in soft restraints, but he fought back and bit three of the healthcare workers. He was later charged with Assault 3 and brought into the jail for three weeks until he could be sent to Western State Hospital for a competency evaluation. He was offered a plea deal to reduce the charge, and the treatment petition was dismissed after he was released from jail. The same scenario happened again shortly after, perpetuating a vicious cycle that too many families endure.

This week, the second week of October, is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. We worked with friends at NAMI Pierce County to create a proclamation that was adopted by the County Council and the Executive this week.

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the largest grassroots non-profit organization in the country. They support individuals and families whose lives have been touched by the challenges of mental illness.

The Pierce County Council and Executive declare October 7-13, 2018 as Mental Illness Awareness Week! NAMI Pierce County Board President, Cynthia Macklin (center), accepts the proclamation from Councilman Richardson.

We met with Cynthia Macklin, NAMI Pierce County Board President, to discuss her organizations efforts to help residents in the county. She is an attorney and mother of two adult children, one of whom has a mental health condition, which is why she became involved with NAMI. Advocacy, education, and reducing stigma are among the group’s core values. This year, NAMI is promoting their Cure Stigma campaign through awareness and education.

“We eliminate stigma by talking about mental health. Sixty plus years ago ‘cancer’ was a dirty word that people did not want to talk about. Now, to not seek help for cancer due to a concern about what people would think is unimaginable. Mental illness is a crisis that affects everyone and it’s important to talk about.” – Cynthia Macklin, NAMI Pierce County Board President

At NAMI, classes and support groups are available for free to anyone, regardless of membership. They have support groups for peers (people living with a mental illness), as well as family members and friends. Their 13-week course, Family to Family, is a 2-hour per week class that educates family members of people with mental illness on coping skills, what they should do, what they shouldn’t do, etc. Next week they are hosting an estate planning presentation, with a focus on special needs trusts.

NAMI’s website has resources for people in crisis, students, families, LGBTQ services, and teens. There is even a section dedicated to navigating the legal system, including a guide on how to support a family member who has been arrested.

The County has taken steps to address the need for more behavioral health support for residents. Last year, the Mobile Crisis Intervention Response TEAM (MCIRT) was created to collaborate with first responders to help high utilizer residents experiencing a crisis get the help they need without calling 9-1-1. In partnership with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, the behavioral health co-responder program has designated mental health professionals who go out with officers and respond to calls that may be mental health-related.

Our Trueblood program diverts people experiencing mental health issues from jail and helps them safely integrate back into society, so they don’t have to spend time locked away, without treatment, where they do not belong. Most recently, the County Council approved a new Crisis Recovery Center in the Parkland-Spanaway area that will help stabilize residents experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

We look forward to our continued partnership with NAMI Pierce County and join them in raising awareness for mental illness and reducing the stigma surrounding it. If you have a mental health condition or are the family member or friend of someone living with one, reach out to NAMI for support. It is not easy, and we can’t do it alone. Things work better if you can take this journey together and support each other along the way.

“The best advice I would tell a family member or friend of someone with mental illness is to educate yourself, seek out support, and find people out there who can relate to what you’re going through. You are not alone.” – Cynthia Macklin

To the parent who feels ashamed, guilty, or fearful – it’s not your fault.

Mental illness is not caused by poor parenting or weakness. Just like any other major illness, it is not the person’s fault. It is caused by environmental and biological factors.

To the professional working downtown who turns the opposite direction when a person screaming about mind control walks towards them – do not be afraid.

People experiencing mental illness are no more likely to be violent than those who are not living with a mental illness. Only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to people who have a mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illness are 10x more likely to be a victim of violent crimes than the public.

To the person who was just released from the hospital for the fifth time this year and has no place to live – do not lose hope.

People with mental illness can get better. Treatment works. Innovations in medicine and therapy have made recovery a reality for people living with a mental health issue, even chronic conditions. While all symptoms may not be alleviated easily or at all, with the right recovery plan, people can live the productive and healthy lives they’ve always imagined.