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A Pivotal Point in the Push to End Homelessness

By Robert Marshall Wells

Homelessness is solveable. Gerrit Nyland, a statistician by training, has studied the problem of homelessness in Pierce County for nearly a decade.

Nyland's recitation of the numbers is stark:

  • Roughly 3,300 people in Pierce County are unsheltered;
  • Only about 1,000 shelter beds are currently available;
  • Two-thirds of the unsheltered are in Tacoma;
  • Nearly one-third of the homeless population are children.

Nyland, whose current job title is Social Services Supervisor for Pierce County, is the region’s point-person on homelessness.

Earlier this year, Nyland boldly predicted that Pierce County could end homelessness as we currently know it by Nov. 1, 2021, assuming that funding could be identified and then used to acquire properties where unsheltered people could be safely housed.

However, the amount of money necessary – roughly $34 million – did not materialize. Even so, Nyland is not giving up.

We’re trying to design a homeless system that meets the needs of the community. The goal is really to take all of the community knowledge and community expertise and bake that into the process. – Gerrit Nyland, Pierce County Social Services Supervisor

A big part of such planning, Nyland says, depends on community recognition that many unsheltered people find themselves in such circumstances because they have lost a job, became ill or injured, or were the victims of bad luck.

“People experiencing homelessness are us,” says Nyland, adding that COVID weakened the resiliency of many families. “What’s happened is that households that could withstand a crisis can’t now. Not only is it a challenge, it’s getting worse.”

This urgency is what drives Nyland to make substantive progress – and soon.

“Wouldn’t it be neat,” Nyland says, “if we didn’t have a cold season when people were dying on the streets of Tacoma?”

To learn more about the push to end homelessness in Pierce County, tune in to listen to the entire conversation between Social Services Supervisor Gerrit Nyland and podcast host Kim Bjorn, Director of Clinical Integration and Transformation at Elevate Health.

Elevate Health Podcast, sponsored by Elevate Health and its subsidiary OnePierce Community Resiliency Fund, can be accessed at ElevateHealth.org, or on Spotify, Google Music, Audible, Amazon Music, or other major listening platforms.

Learn more about Pierce County organizations fighting homelessness:

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