ARTICLE: We can expect a dramatic rise in Pierce County’s homeless population

By on November 4, 2011. Posted in . Tagged as , , , .

From the Tacoma News Tribune:

We can expect a dramatic rise in Pierce County’s homeless population

Last updated: November 1st, 2011 12:18 AM (PDT)

Imagine for a minute that a tornado hits Sumner and does extensive damage. Afterward, people will be displaced until repairs can be accomplished over a period of several years. The 2010 Census listed Sumner’s population as 9,541 persons.

Now consider that in Pierce County as a whole, an estimated 9,030 persons will lose their DSHS financial assistance by the end of this year. As a result, they will lose – or be at severe risk of losing – their housing. More than 5,000 of those persons will have exhausted their Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. At least 3,300 will be children.

DSHS will terminate 3,930 adults from Disability Lifeline (DL) today. Some (maybe half) of those persons will be eligible for housing assistance vouchers worth an average of $200 a month for those already housed on DL and $450 a month for those unhoused.

The median rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in Pierce County currently is around $700 per month. Median rental for a two-bedroom apartment is around $900 per month. Neither price includes the cost of background checks and damage deposits. Given those rental costs, all former DL recipients will be at very significant risk of homelessness.

In addition, foreclosure filings are now averaging around 600 filings per month. We are not certain how many people will lose their housing because of foreclosure, but let’s just guess 1,000 per month or 12,000 per year. Many of those people will move to rental housing, thus driving up the rental rates, and driving down the already very limited supply of available and affordable rentals. Some will become homeless.

AccessPoint4Housing (AP4H) is the central place to call for housing assistance in Pierce County. AP4H reports that it received 3,403 unduplicated requests for housing assistance during July, August and September of this year. It was able to help attain or preserve housing for only 378 of those callers, because resources are so limited. Of the requests, 1,340 came from single parents with children (reflecting the end of their TANF benefits).

A group of people equivalent to the population of Sumner probably will be homeless in Pierce County by the end of this year. Maybe equivalent to the combined populations of Sumner and Orting.

We need to consider how each of us will help our neighbors, because there are not a lot of official options. Our homeless shelters are already full. Government will do what it can, as will the social services organizations. The religious communities will do what they can. But it will not be enough. Displaced people will “double up,” “couch surf” or share housing. People will live in their cars. But it will not be enough.

Despite our best efforts, many people will not find shelter. Even though we do not tend to think of it this way, they will become refugees. They will need both our help and understanding just to survive.

When things get so bad that just trying to survive is the only real choice available to displaced people, local governments will need to accept encampments and tent cities, also insisting that they maintain sanitation, safety and prohibitions on drug abuse.

Al Ratcliffe is a community psychologist who serves as the volunteer chairman of Pierce County’s HUD-mandated housing Continuum of Care Committee. The opinions expressed here are solely his own.

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