Office of Jani Hitchen, Pierce County Council, District 6 blog post.
While 2022 is almost halfway over, I started kicking around priorities late in 2021 and looking to the future. There was a great deal of work that was started in my first year in office, but there was still so much to do. To be effective, I had to prioritize. On the day I was asked to prep for a video highlighting three priorities for the year, these were the three that jumped out at me:
Homelessness & Attainable Housing
Behavioral Health & Substance Abuse
Each one of these are huge topics, and have many moving parts, but I wanted to flesh out a little more detail about each one so you could see what is coming. Again, these were the ones that jumped out to me, but there are additional high priority areas that I am working on, including Public Safety and Long-term Planning/Climate Change.
Homelessness & Attainable Housing
We need to address both areas, as we cannot fix one without the other. Our Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness is a huge body of work and will take some intentional planning and collaboration between providers, other jurisdictions and the community.
We need as many tools in the tool box to end street homelessness, including more shelters and different kinds like sanctioned encampments and stabilization sites, safe parking and supportive housing for those with mental or physical disabilities that cannot live on their own, and emergency sheltering when things get bad like freezing weather, unsafe air quality or extreme heat.
We need more attainable housing, meaning the entry point is reachable for those that live and work here. We need to provide housing options that help support individuals and families from many different price points and needs.
One area that I am especially concerned about is senior housing, 25% of Pierce County residents are predicted to be above the age of 60 by 2030. We DO NOT have, nor have we planned for, senior housing or supportive housing like memory care and medically assisted housing. I am currently working on pulling together what this looks like, and what we could do about this, as we don’t have time to wait.
Behavioral Health & Substance Abuse
I am very concerned about mental health for everyone in our community, but I am focused on youth right now with the help of our partners at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. My concern for youth is based on the results from the national Healthy Youth Survey, and looking at Pierce County results for 10th graders in 2021. Here are some of the stats that jumped out at me:
- The survey showed that of the 10th graders in our county that took the survey, 23% had considered suicide, and 18.3% made a plan to carry that out in the last 12 months.
- Only 30.8% said in the last two weeks they did not feel nervous, anxious or on edge and 21.1% said they felt that way every day.
- 15% said they DID NOT have a caring adult or parent to talk to when they are feeling hopeless.
- 6% of our 10th graders that participated said they had four or more ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) which can lead to a lot of negative outcomes without supports.
With behavioral health you must talk about substance use in our community. Fentanyl deaths are at an all-time high and we know that people turned to alcohol and drugs during the increased stress and anxiety that happened over the last two years. We need to be prepared for that, we are launching an awareness program to educate the public, but especially youth and young adults about the dangers of counterfeit pills that have started showing up in our community that are laced with fentanyl.
Funding to support behavioral health programs passed in 2020, the program to select providers and programs happened in 2021. In May of 2022 we will begin the contracting process with many different programs, including supports for youth, adults, parents, veterans and seniors. There are programs to work on providing peer interventions, culturally competent support and trauma-informed practices. There are some fantastic programs that will be expanding and will be able to help thousands of Pierce County residents.
While last on my list, it is first on my mind when I am doing any kind of policy work. Between our Equity Review Committee, our Refugee and Immigrant Affairs commission, looking to policy work and data, we are far behind some of our local partners and have some catching up to do just to get started.
When I look at neighborhoods that are working hard on increasing housing, we need to make sure that we do that with an equity lens that includes working with the local community. To raise the voices that traditionally have not been at the table, or in some cases even invited to the table. This is not acceptable in my book, and I will continue to press any time I see systems that are not working for all in the community.
This means looking at data about those incarcerated, those that have fines and bail assigned to them, victims of crime, youth involved with the justice system, the demographics of those serving on boards and commissions, and looking at neighborhoods that have been impacted by racists practices like Red lining.
If you look at the list above, it is a lot. However, there is more work to be done in several other areas. I truly enjoy multi-tasking and have for a long time been pretty good and keeping several projects going at once. With that said, here are a couple other priorities that are on my list:
I know that this seems to be at the top of everyone’s mind these days, but if we had better answers for my first three topics, I do not believe we would be in the place we are today. We recently passed a budget amendment that will provide our Human Resources Department $4 million to negotiate with our Sheriff’s Department bargaining unit to create a retention and hiring bonus structure. We have over 50 vacancies right now, and it is not good for public safety, nor for our deputies. This needed to be addressed and providing those funds will support this.
I want the vacancies filled so we can bring back:
- Community liaison officers: deputies that are assigned to a geographic area that get to know the schools, businesses, community organizations and even some of the neighbors.
- Code enforcement support: we need to have deputies available to support the work of our solid waste teams, and homeless outreach teams so they can safely get out and into encampments, and unsafe structures so we can get people to safe spaces, and close off unsafe spaces.
- Co-responder programs: we have a shortage of people to do this work on both sides, those that come in with the training and behavioral health skills AND the deputies to work directly with them. We need these teams to respond to our behavioral health emergencies.
Long-term Planning and Climate Change
After last summer, I don’t think we can argue too much about the fact that things have changed on our planet, and in our area of the world. We must do what we can to address the changes in our climate. This means planning for increased density in housing, increasing access to transit and human powered movement, and looking at ways to move away from fossil fuels.
- We need to be intentional about looking at the stewardship of our waters both on the surface and under it.
- We need to think about what kind of green spaces do we want to leave for future generations.
As we adopted our Solid Waste Plan, our 2030 Sustainability Plan and even some long-term projects for roads and parks I constantly look to see the unintended consequences. Does this change displace a community, put waterways at risk, hurt our ability to have access to clean water, increase fire risk for natural areas and homes?
If you made it all the way to the end here, thank you for taking the time to look over my thoughts. I truly have enjoyed the work I have done thus far. There are other things and of course I am always happy to hear from those in the 6th District and the county. I am here to serve you and am always ready to listen and see what I can do.
Thanks for reading.
Source: The Suburban Times