Thankful for our work in 2023!

Thankful for our work in 2023!

It seems like time is flying by and I wanted to pause and share just a few highlights from 2023. You might have gotten a postcard from me, seen my newsletter, or maybe even heard my podcast but I am a firm believer that communicating with the public is a huge part of my job. And not everyone reads blogs.
As my 3rd year in office comes to a close, I always like to look back and see what I have accomplished. Most people don’t care how many emails and meetings I have, but more importantly what work have I done that impacts you, your family, and your community. I chose 5 items that I think have the biggest impact on the 6th district or the greater county.

Here are my top 5 for 2023:

Your Local Taxes at Work for Behavioral Health, Housing & Homelessness, and Youth

I get emails and phone calls from people that are frustrated by high tax rates, and they just don’t see what they get out of it. I wanted to share a couple of locally sourced, District 6 projects and programs that come out of several different funding sources. These are just snap shots, and you can see the entire list along with outcomes for these dollars, as it was shared during our Health and Human Services Meeting in July this year.
*Behavioral Health Funding: Funded through our 1/10th of 1% Sales Tax for Behavioral Health and Therapeutic Courts Fund and can be used for a variety of services to support behavioral health, mental health and substance use disorder.
• Co-Responders and Alternative Response Team: partner with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and are licensed therapists and social workers to respond to calls made to 911 or contacts made by our deputies when someone is in crisis. They help get the right set of skills and knowledge on-sight, assessing people in order to get them the help they need. The Co-Responders are run out of the Parkland-Spanaway Precinct.
• Lakewood Youth Wellness Project: run by Communities in Schools of Lakewood in Clover Park School District and work to place coordinators inside schools to address behavioral health and academic needs of students.
*Housing & Homelessness Funding: There are several pots of money that are blended here. Some are collected locally, while others are collected by the state or federal government, that are then brought back to the county.
• LASA Emergency Shelter services: located in Lakewood, they offered emergency assistance to community members that suddenly found themselves without shelter. They also received funding to provide permanent supportive housing for some community members.
• United Way of Pierce County: provided coordinated entry to people entering homelessness. This could be an individual, couple, or family that was connected through a navigator, or the 211 system and they helped facilitate finding stability somewhere.
*Youth Funding: We have two sources of funding that were used to support young people in Pierce County. First is the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Act (PSTAA lovingly called “Pasta”) and our Violence Prevention Dollars. PSTAA funding comes through the state as investment returns on Sound Transit Projects and the Violence Prevention Dollars come through local sales tax. Both use allocation committees from the community, and the county puts out a request for proposal to the community looking for people who want to do this incredibly important work.
• Franklin Pierce School District: Training opportunities for parents and families to learn about mental health, academic support, anti-bullying support groups and more.
• Safe Streets Youth Leading Change Program: Program for middle and high school students to prevent violence, and support those struggling with mental illness and substance use disorder.
• HopeSparks Renovations: Expansion and updates to a building for expanding pediatric mental health services. This will allow this organization to see an additional 500 youth each year and is in high demand across the county.
• Playground & Park upgrades in District 6: Sprinker continues to move towards completion of their outdoor improvements which will include the county’s first and largest spray park and expanded shelter space for outdoor gatherings. My office also advocated and provided funding to improve playground equipment in partnership with Steilacoom and DuPont.

Millions of dollars have gone out the door to help house people of all ages, provide basic needs, emotional and physical support, help connect people at risk with a needed ally and in general “do good” things right here in District 6. It can be frustrating when you think, why pay all these taxes if I don’t get something for it. But these programs are supporting some of the most at risk, helping kids grow up to be active members of our community, helping seniors age in place or find a new home with the care they need. The county can’t do it all, and we cannot do it alone. These local dollars allow us to see what needs are in our community, in our Districts, and then find solutions.

Blue Zones Parkland Spanaway Project

This is a quick video showing the launch of the Blue Zones Project in Parkland Spanaway and showcases the programs and ideas that are just starting to come to fruition.

The health metrics for Pierce County have always been a little lower than many would like. This year we were ranked 19th out of 39 counties. So, we are not the worst-off health wise, but we are also not great. Smack right in the middle. However, there are several areas in the county that when you look at the data around health including the number of people that have chronic health conditions, lower life expectancy, higher rates of pollution, less tree cover and more people that engage in activities like smoking/vaping/tobacco use; the Parkland and Spanaway area stand out.
That data led to the driving decision to fund and bring Blue Zones to Parkland and Spanaway. For the people who live here (I also live in Parkland), this investment in community outreach, bringing in resources and working on education can improve this area. While some of the needs are vastly larger than Blue Zones, it is driving the conversation from the family to the neighborhood, to the schools and businesses, to the government and health care systems; until it lands with ideas that have those that live here at the core.
If you want to get involved, please look here: Blue Zone Parkland Spanaway Events
If you live near Parkland and Spanaway, and want to engage, please join us. There is a lot of good energy and one of my favorite items are the small walking groups and I hear the cooking demos are a lot of fun. I love the social aspect and the fact that I get to talk with people that live in my community but have never met.

Youth Summer Programs

Before the end of the school year, we had several youth that were hurt or killed by gun violence in our community. We also had several youth suicides and were seeing an increase of youth interacting with law enforcement. Parents and school districts were sounding the alarm around youth, especially teens with nothing to do this summer, and their mental health.
During some work on our budget, there had been an allocation of funding from the Behavioral Health Tax that did not and would not get used this year. Hearing the need for something to be done, and the increase in mental health concerns, violence and poor choices; I chose to act. I gathered data from the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department, Juvenile Court and the Medical Examiner to see which districts in our county were in the most jeopardy.
After this analysis, it was apparent that Tacoma, Bethel, Franklin Pierce, Clover Park and Puyallup School Districts were at the top of the list. I reached out to each district and asked, if allocated $75,000 dollars could they come up with something to support teens over the summer? They all said yes and acted immediately.
The Human Services Department worked with each district, and they all approached this in ways that made sense to their students, and the community they serve. Some districts partnered and did larger scale projects like Tacoma and Clover Park. The other districts did smaller invite programs that targeted some of the most at-risk youth.
These programs were not about learning loss, but about getting kids out of their homes, into social groups where they could be active. They could socialize, work on stress management, anxiety, problem solving and have some fun. Thank you to the leadership in each district for taking this on. The preliminary data shows that they were able to support:

*Bethel: Provided two evenings a week for all 6th through 12th graders at the Bethel SD Summer Youth Program in partnership with the Bethel Recreation Association. They allowed students to come to one of the centrally located middle schools, have a meal, get some physical activity and engage in opportunities for social and emotional growth. They served over 200 different students, with 75 showing up each night.
*Clover Park: Partnered with the Lakewood YMCA to provide a Late-Night program for all middle and high school students 5 nights a week. They served almost 600 unique students, which was 11% of the total middle and high school population. It was so successful that they have continued the partnership in the regular school year on Friday nights.
*Franklin Pierce: Partnered with Arivva Center for Arts and Technology and several other district programs to provide a variety of activities for young people. They served over 500 students in the Parkland and Midland communities providing safe, supportive and engaging opportunities for youth to connect with each other and positive & caring adults.
*Puyallup: Communities in School in Puyallup School District provided three student workshops with the sole purpose of helping youth feel safe in their community, create new friendships, and promote youth advocacy. 100% of the youth that engaged said they would recommend it to friends, which for teens is really high praise.
*Tacoma: More than 1,600 students attended 12 different sites and counted for 12,000 visits from students from Tacoma and the greater community. Here is a short video that Tacoma Schools put together to showcase why a program that provides a safe place for youth to “just be” was so important. This was a partnership with many funding partners and providers, and the largest program offered of all the districts.
I believe that the energy behind these programs has started a broader conversation around how we engage youth in the summer. Youth can struggle to find places to go throughout District 6 where they are engaged and welcome, and this is especially hard during the summer. Partnerships with our schools made the most sense. I will continue to see if there is a pathway to running programs like this in years to come, but this summer seemed like an emergency.

Tacoma School District partnered with a variety of organizations including Metro Parks Tacoma, the County and Greentrike to support youth in Tacoma this summer.

Opioid Taskforce and Settlement Funding

There has been a great deal of hype in our country around the lawsuits going after pharmaceutical companies that were found to be part of the cause of the growing opioid epidemic we are facing. Pierce county is currently slated to receive $29 million over the next 17 years and across the region almost $50 million total. That looks like a pretty big number, but when it comes to trying to address the current problem, it isn’t nearly enough.
I have been working closely with the Opioid Task Force to learn as much as I can, gather experts that work in this field, and also talk to those that use or have used opioids and are in recovery. Their ongoing work to determine the true impacts and the possible pathways that can help are going to guide the options that the county could take.
When the settlement came down, one of the parts that was required as a region was to get all the local governments to agree to an auditing group. I worked again with a team at the Opioid Summit earlier this year, and we brainstormed how to create this body. No one in the county was allowed to spend any of their dollars, until this step was finished. Through collaboration and conversation, we landed on having our Auditor’s office house this group, called the Opioid Abatement Council (OAC). Their sole task is to make sure that anyone that is spending settlement dollars is spending it on an approved and allowable expense.
I enjoy working with leaders from across the county as we try to think about the best way to address the huge need. We look at ways to work together, share limited resources, and make the biggest impact. In the end, we are just at the very beginning of this work, but the journey has been started with this first important step.

Budget Highlights for the 24-25 Biennium

As I get ready to hit publish, we are just wrapping up our 24-25 budget process. This is the second time I have been through this process and this year was a little different than the last time around. I had a much better understanding of all the departments, the different funds and how little changes in one area could make huge impacts in other areas. It is also different because we had an additional $149 million dollars from the American Rescue Plan in the previous budget.
This year, because of reduced revenue in real estate and sales taxes we saw some slight decreases in budgets. While we didn’t lose any staff, there were reductions in some areas where there had been long standing vacancies.
Here are some of the items that were funded that I am the most excited about for District 6 and the County:

  • Youth ride free on the Pierce County Ferry system (0-18 years old).
  • $150,000 toward supporting families with school aged children experiencing homelessness within the Bethel and Franklin Pierce School Districts.
  • $100,000 to the Franklin Pierce Family Resource Center.
  • $50,000 to an organization that supports the communities in the Springbrook area.
  • $1,000,000 for a program called Small Business Strengthening and Security Grants for small business owners and non profit organizations that work in our small cities and towns to access matching grant dollars to install equipment to improve security, provide better service or improve their business in some way.
  • Funding to Clover Park Technical College for an Electric Aircraft Propulsion System training module to support teaching this locally.
  • Sprucing up unincorporated Pierce County by investing in an additional prosecuting attorney to help with code enforcement case work, another code enforcement officer, a vacuum truck and person to drive to work on reducing road-side litter and a mural program to support reducing graffiti and vandalism with public art.
  • Continued signing bonuses for deputies in patrol and corrections, and added some for our juvenile justice employees so we can continue to hire so we have few vacancies in all areas.
  • Funding for Gonyea Park, and additional projects in the Parkland Spanaway area related to the policy work coming out of the Blue Zones Parkland Spanaway Project.
  • Continued investments in staffing to support the following county wide work: youth and young adults, equity work, contracting (how we partner and fund hundreds of service providers across the county to do the good work on behalf of the county) and environmental education.
  • Continued funding for the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department for their Family Resource Centers, Opioid Task Force and Covid Response as we continue to need to address outbreaks and the need to help isolate community members that test positive and have nowhere to go.
  • $1 million towards development of a Unified Regional Approach to homelessness to pull together our cities, towns, community organizations, nonprofit organizations and community to work together towards ending homelessness in Pierce County.

You made it to the end!
Congratulations, I know I had a lot to throw at you. One of the reasons I like the Hitchen Post is it really can provide a level of detail that just makes no sense posting in any kind of social media and is way to long for an email. It is pleasure to serve you and as we wrap up 2023, I am reminded of a quote.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

Melody Beattie

I cannot do this work alone. I find that the more I reach out to colleagues, people with lived experiences, or those providing programs, the better I can find solutions and opportunities. I am thankful for the people that work with me to do the work of the people.

Blessings to you all and wishing you a wonderful holiday season, no matter how you choose to celebrate.

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