TACOMA, Wash. - Project Homeless Connect gathered 24 essential service programs to host a resource fair in Tacoma on Friday.
The fair offered connections to housing, medical care, job opportunities, legal support, laundry services, insurance enrollment, veterans affairs, and more. Project Homeless Connect, through Associated Ministries, has hosted the fair since 2018.
"There’s so many different things that are out there that cause homelessness to happen. So we’re trying to help folks get off the streets and get them housed," said Michelle Cotton, program manager of Project Homeless Connect.
Amber Marcengill attended the resource fair. She said for the first time in her life, she didn’t have a place of her own to call home. She had been staying a shelter in Tacoma for the past three months.
"I’m suffering homelessness because of two strokes and a heart attack. So then I lost my job, which then, I lost my home. And I can’t seem to catch my breath," said Marcengill.
At the same time as the resource fair, Pierce County Humans Services continued collecting information for its point-in-time count. Every year, organizations and volunteers spread across the county to count how many people are without a home and listen to their needs to get them off the streets.
"Homeless is homeless. And we need to be more client-centered and we need to meet you right where you’re at. And if you need just a little bit of a nudge or a lot of help, we need to be able to cater to both and to really be able to respond to both," said Joh Barbee, community services division manager with Pierce County Human Services.
Barbee said more than 200 volunteers and community partners participated in this year’s point-in-time count. He said the results gathered so far showed a shift. With the City of Tacoma’s ordinance banning camping in certain parts of city limits, Barbee said more people are going to places in unincorporated parts of the county, rural areas and the woods.
"There’s people who have been out on the streets for a long time and it’s evident. And more than the past, they were a little bit more receptive to engaging in the conversation this year," said Barbee.
He said the number of people experiencing homeless will likely be higher than last year’s count, but also increasing was the amount of support.
"I think we’re learning that the community is really understanding that it’s going to take all of us. In the past, it’s been someone else’s problem. And I think now it’s hitting everybody in different areas. People are seeing it, people are seeing it in their communities, in their backyards. And I think they’re responding in a way that’s like we want to help, we want to step up and now we need to put the supports in and allow people that opportunity And tell them here are ways you can help, here are ways we can tackle this problem together as a community," said Barbee.
He explained final results from the count should be available by spring 2023, which would help the county determine where funding will go to help people experiencing homelessness and the programs supporting them.
For Marcengill, she said she hopes what was discovered during the count can help her find something permanent because her time at the shelter was running out.
"I’m just coming up on the end of my 90 days, so I’ll probably live under the bridge for a little while until I get my last little bit saved," said Marcengill.