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