It turns out that the adage is true – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. I’ve been on the job for just over six months now, and what I’ve been most surprised by is the amount of system-building happening in all corners of our county. The challenges we face, and the opportunities we must take advantage of, need input, resources, and support from many of us in order to make an impact. I’m so glad that I, and others from the Human Services Department, are involved in these efforts, because we all need to work together for sustainable impact.
Here are just a few of the cool system-building efforts going on:
MultiCare’s Kids’ Mental Health Pierce County
Pierce County’s Birth-25 Advisory Board
Tacoma/Lakewood/Pierce County Continuum of Care
Pierce County’s Ending Veterans Homelessness Task Force
Behavioral Health Integration and Oversight Board
Criminal Justice Steering Committee
Mayoral Roundtable on Affordable Housing (soon known as the South Sound Housing Affordability Partnership, or SSHAP)
Someone told me recently that one asset that Pierce County Human Services brings to the table is the power of convening. I like the idea that the ability to bring people together – the right people, with common goals and a common focus – can make all the difference in addressing systemic issues we face in our community.
Pierce County is big enough to have expertise and resources to address (most of) our needs, and small enough to know your colleagues across the table. If you see a gap in system-building on the list above, let me know, and we’ll put that convening power to good use!
All of you are doing important work to end homelessness, improve opportunities for our kids, shelter our veterans, and care for our neighbors with behavioral health issues. Thanks for including Pierce County Human Services and keep up the good work.
Greetings from the bunker! I am coming up on my sixth month with the County – what a whirlwind it’s been! While there’s lots going on in every division of Human Services, there’s one event happening later this month that I want to bring your attention to: the Homeless Point-in-Time Count.
The Homeless Point-in-Time Count is an outreach event we do every year in January to learn more about the scope of homelessness in our county. The Count is organized by local governments and non-profits across the country, and federal agencies use information from the effort to create policy and programs, and to distribute funding. Locally, we also use the Homeless Point-in-Time Count to raise awareness about people experiencing homelessness in our community, and to distribute needed supplies. I’m volunteering to be part of an outreach team this year. I hope you consider joining us, as well.
I am not an expert on homelessness, but what I’ve learned in the last 6 months is even our “experts” are challenged with the situation we face here in Pierce County. It’s sad, frustrating, overwhelming, confusing, and, and, and…
That’s what’s great about the Count – for those who are able and want to, you can volunteer or donate supplies for us to distribute. If you wonder, “What can I do?” then here’s an option! And for those of you who wonder more globally about “How did they become homeless? Who are they? What do they need?” we will get answers to some of your questions, as well.
Another thing I’ve learned in this new job, though, is that there are many reasons people experience homelessness: unaffordable rents, historical discrimination, substance abuse, domestic violence, chronic unemployment, mental health disorders, family breakdown, etc. The list of reasons people lose their housing is long. It is a complex problem that requires complex solutions.
The Homeless Point-in-Time Count gives us valuable insight into what we can do better or more of to help slow (and hopefully, someday end) homelessness in Pierce County. Although it will take a few weeks to get our official data finalized, I look forward to sharing with you what we learned and how we plan to use the information to improve services. I’ll share more this spring.
In the meantime, learn more about the Count and sign up as a volunteer or donor.
Greetings from the bunker! As we get ready to put 2019 behind us, here is a quick review of the great work the Human Services Department has accomplished or funded in Pierce County:
County staff have answered over 12,000 calls to our Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), most from family caregivers. We have really stepped up our ADRC outreach and marketing this year, and it’s paying off! Have you seen any of it? We have eight digital shorts, a four-episode series on Pierce County Television, 3 commercials, and numerous advertisements through the Grand Cinema Theater and Pierce Transit buses. We have many resources to share with family caregivers, so if you are one or know one, call us at 253-789-4600.
Our Community Action Programs have provided over $600,000 in assistance (since October – just two months!) to over 1,400 low-income households who need help paying their energy bills. Without this assistance, their power may be disconnected, which creates dangerous situations for young children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities.
Our Weatherization team worked with staff and residents at Marymount Manor to improve their heating and air quality by installing new ductless heating pumps and other eco-friendly items. Residents now have working fans, energy efficient heaters and lights that reduce energy usage and costly bills. Not only are residents breathing easier, but they are also enjoying air conditioning for the first time in 30+ years!
The Anchor Communities Initiative to end youth homelessness has driven us this year to expand street outreach focused on rural areas, people of color, and LGBTQ+ youth. We also have increased case management and access to services at our youth shelters.
In the area of Behavioral Health, we’ve funded over 8,000 hours of outreach to our county’s most vulnerable populations from the Mobile Crisis Intervention Response Team (MCIRT). We are looking forward to Comprehensive Life Resources expanding this program even further into Lakewood, Gig Harbor, and the Key Peninsula in 2020.
Our Veterans Assistance Programs had 75 new clients register for assistance this year, making a total of 3,050 active client files. The program provided $396,149 in relief to Veterans and their families for assistance with rent, utilities, and more. $31,455 was provided to the Incarcerated Veterans program, which offers the Alternatives to Violence Program inside the jail. This program provided counseling to 84 veterans and helped maintain a low recidivism rate (6.9%) for the year.
I am proud of the work everyone in the department has done this year, both as professionals and as great human beings. Each year staff members choose to host at least two charitable drives that benefit the community. The Peanut Butter Drive this past spring produced enough donations to make 24,576 peanut butter sandwiches and help fill 6,000 bags of food distributed to children in Pierce County. Just a few months ago employees participated in Santa for Seniors through our partners at Lutheran Community Services. Because of the generosity of Human Services staff, an additional 200 older adults living in skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities will be receiving gifts this holiday season.
I am now in my fifth (already?!) month as the Director of Human Services for Pierce County, and I continue to learn more every day. In addition to getting to know many of you at meetings and events across the county, I’ve been spending time “in the field” with our amazing staff and contractors providing weatherization support, health homes case management, homeless outreach, encampment cleanup, minor home repair, veteran support, and affordable housing. The needs are vast and varied, but Pierce County is answering the call. This is only scratching the surface, so if you want to learn more about our great work, I encourage you to visit Open Pierce County.
Happy Holidays, and please keep our active duty and veterans, both overseas and in our neighborhoods, in your thoughts and plans for the season.
Today I attended a lovely Veterans Day lunch celebration in Gig Harbor at the Point Fosdick Antique Airplane Hangar. Lt. Wood was the keynote speaker, and he encouraged Veterans to reach out and share their military experiences with young people to build more awareness and create stronger connections.
This week I’ve asked Sean Dennerlein, our Veterans Assistance Programs Supervisor, to take a turn as a guest blogger. In this week’s blog, Sean talks about his experience as a Veteran and what it means to celebrate today.
This week I had the honor of attending 8 (of 14) Veterans ceremonies in and around Pierce County; and I am equally honored that Heather has asked me to write a blog pertaining to Veterans Day. In searching for words to write, I find myself relating to the sentiments expressed by the mayors of Lakewood and Tacoma. At each of their respective city events, the mayors were asked to address their time in the military; both expressed discomfort at the thought. As I consider what is at the root of this uneasiness, I am met with the difficult reality that we belong to a select part of society that suffers from a form of institutional survivor’s guilt.
I don’t mean this as a critique of Veteran culture; but as an explanation of the continued burden these men and women endure on society’s behalf. Those of us who peacefully completed our military service are regularly reminded of those who never had the chance; and as such, to honor a Veteran’s service is to inevitably invoke memories of those whose service cost more than our own. This week I saw firsthand how hard our community worked to ensure that these men and women feel valued.
For this our society has established a unique tradition. Veterans Day and Memorial Day are two hallowed days set aside to honor those who have risked everything, and those who have given everything. On this day, Veterans Day, I am exceptionally proud of the citizens of Pierce County, who have so faithfully upheld their duty to honor those who would not seek honor for themselves.
May we learn from this day a lesson for every day: to be proud of the humble, to value our liberty, and to honor those who commit their lives to a cause greater than themselves.
I want to take a few minutes to share with you where we are in budget development for PCHS. Executive Dammeier presented his first biennial budget (covering two full years, 2020 and 2021) to the County Council a few weeks ago on September 24. His proposed budget included funding for Pierce County Human Services in a variety of areas:
The Executive included in the proposed budget $1.2M in grant and tax dollars to:
Establish the Veterans Resource Center, which will include:
a partnership with the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs to hire 2 Veteran Service Officers (VSOs).
capital dollars to remodel the Soundview building on Pacific Avenue so we can offer space to partner agencies who also serve vets.
Increase staffing in the following ways:
Small increases in the Energy Program (.44 and .23 FTE for two positions) to support growing program demand.
Twelve additional case managers in Aging and Disability Resources to serve increasing caseloads.
An internal promotion in the Community Development Program to compensate staff for higher-level work.
Make a technical correction to move the Minor Home Program from the Community Development Fund to the Community Action Fund, where the employees who do the work are charged.
There is also $610K in general fund dollars to respond to the Human Services Study completed by Public Consulting Group by:
Hiring a consultant to help with ongoing change management, stakeholder outreach, project management, and facilitator support.
Hiring a grant writer to help us secure additional funding.
Hiring a contract manager to develop and implement a contract monitoring system for PCHS.
Hiring a consultant to help us align and integrate our various continuing quality improvement efforts (in Lean, the Washington State Quality Award, and Results Oriented Management Accountability Standards).
More generally, the proposed budget also includes:
Minor changes…both additions and reductions…to our central service costs (what we pay as our share of the overall County administrative costs).
Acknowledgement of a Premera Social Impact Grant, allowing Comprehensive Life Resources to expand MCIRT services into Lakewood.
Our annual budget for PCHS is just under $90M, so while this proposed biennial budget represents a modest increase in dollars, it more importantly represents a strong vote of confidence from Executive Dammeier for the work we do and will continue to do over the next two years. The funding provided to pursue the PCG recommendations will lead to some interesting and informative conversations with many of you about the county’s role in service provision. I’m grateful for Bruce’s support of our work, and I look forward to presenting this budget proposal for PCHS to the County Council during its Committee of the Whole meeting on November 7. I’ll let you know how it goes!
So, I learned this week that September is National Recovery Month. I’m not going to lie…I had to look it up to learn “recovery from what?” You already know that our focus this month (and for many of us, EVERY month) is on recovery from mental and substance use disorders. I heard a judge speak recently, who said, “mental illness is the silent epidemic of our time,” so it’s great that we are shining a light.
These disorders fall along a wide spectrum of severity, and my hunch is that we all have friends and family – as well as clients – who suffer somewhere along that spectrum. And, we know from these relationships that recovery is not easy, and it is an ongoing battle.
So, while we may be acknowledging Recovery Month in these few days of September, we also need to remind ourselves and others that recovery is forever. Recognize it today, remember it always.
Here at the County, we are involved in many recovery efforts. From the soon-to-be-built Crisis Recovery Center in the Parkland/Spanaway area to the newly-codified MCIRT (Mobile Crisis Intervention and Response Team) program. And, many of you, our valuable partners, have your own programs and services to address mental and substance use disorders. Thanks to those of you who support this important effort today, this month, and every day.
Finally, on the subject of Recovery Month, please share widely these local resources from the Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department. Post these on your agency website, in social media, and at your reception areas. You never know when you’ll reach a person in need – today, this month, or sometime in the future. SAMHSA also has a handy treatment locator, a confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or U.S. Territories for substance use/addiction and/or mental health problems.
Thank you for your partnership and for recognizing National Recovery Month with us here at Pierce County Human Services. Remember: recognize it today, remember it always.
P.S. Don’t forget to attend and help spread the word for our Aging Out Loud conference later this month. It’s going to be really cool!
Greetings from the bunker! (That’s my affectionate name for my office here on the first of 1305 Tacoma Avenue South. Let’s just say I’m well insulated.)
My name is Heather Moss and I thought I’d introduce myself to folks out there who used to hear from Pete Ansara. In case you were wondering what’s going on, I am finishing up my third week as the new Director of Human Services.
The bulk of my professional career has been with the State of Washington in Olympia, so as a 25-year resident of Tacoma, I’m happy to be working in my own backyard serving my fellow County residents. I’ll miss my colleagues in Olympia, but really look forward to the opportunities and challenges here with Pierce County. Plus, my new commute can be measured in blocks rather than interstate miles.
While in Olympia, I worked for the state legislature, budget office, and two agencies. My most recent job was serving as the Deputy Secretary for the newly-formed Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). It was an incredible opportunity to be part of creating a new agency, and the work of DCYF is so very important to every family in our state.
I’ve spent most of my first 3 weeks meeting people – colleagues at the Human Services Department, the Pierce County Executive Team, Executive Dammeier’s cabinet, contractors and community providers, members of our 8 advisory groups, and other stakeholders. All told, my current list of Important People to Meet is just over 60 names long, and I am almost halfway through it. It’s an imperfect process, though, so if you are (or know of) someone I need to connect with, please reach out.
I have been working on developing a vision for what comes next here at the Human Services Department. I look forward to working with many of you on the following initiatives that are on my short and evolving list of priorities:
Strengthen the Human Services Department
Fill leadership vacancies
Improve our administrative funding outlook
Lead staff through the changes ahead
Raise the profile of the Human Services Department as a leader, convener, and collaborator in social services for Pierce County
Evaluate the recommendations from the Human Services Study, due from Public Consulting Group in September, and prioritize an implementation plan
Engage in and expand our various task forces, advisory groups, and work groups
Participate or lead efforts in County priority areas
Plan for new revenue streams (Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Act, HB1406 affordable housing funds)
Build out our behavioral health system (including our services responsive to the Trueblood behavioral health assessment settlement)
Increase services to veterans and homeless youth, adults, and families
It’s a long list, I know. The good news is that we have a strong team here at Pierce County Human Services, and a great network of partners and stakeholders to help with the heavy lifting. Together, we’ve got this!
So, what’s next? More meetings, learning, and work to push forward on these initiatives. Stay tuned and I’ll do my best to keep you posted on what’s going on here and how you can be involved.
Thank you all for the warm welcome to Pierce County, and please stay in touch.
Director of Pierce County Human Services
It was 2016 when Taylor first noticed that her 12-month old baby, Kael, may be experiencing some delays in his development. From the beginning, Kael was upset by loud noises and did not like being around crowds. When he wasn’t babbling or making some of the expected noises babies make, Taylor brought him to the pediatrician’s office for an evaluation. Kael was referred to a speech therapist who thought that he would benefit from seeing specialized providers in the Early Intervention Program. The family was referred to A Step Ahead Pierce County (ASAPC), an Early Intervention provider that serves children ages birth to three who have one or more developmental delays or a diagnosis with high probability of developmental delay.
“My first meeting with ASAPC was at my home,” Taylor explains. “Two staff came over and explained the process, then evaluated Kael. A week or so later they came back over, and we created an Individualized Family Specialized Plan, or IFSP, that detailed Kael’s strengthens and weaknesses, as well as what goals we would work on.”
A Step Ahead Pierce County is one of the agencies the Human Services Department funds to provide early intervention services. In general, early intervention services are for families with children under the age of three who are experiencing delays in development. These services include but are not limited to physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, and specialized instruction to assist in development across many areas.
Early intervention services are provided in family homes and other community locations such as child care because infants and toddlers learn best through everyday experiences and interactions with familiar people in familiar settings. Teachers and therapists work closely with caregivers to find fun and meaningful activities which capitalize on natural learning opportunities throughout the day. When interventions are provided at home, children have multiple opportunities to practice functional skills such as walking around furniture at home; requesting food at mealtimes; or sharing toys with friends at childcare.
“It was so helpful to have someone be able to come in and give a new perspective and to be honest to give us hope and understanding. Once you realize your child has special needs, there is a true mourning process. To have their staff come in and say ‘yes, this can be hard, but we can do this,’ has helped our family better adjust and handle what comes our way.”
Every year since 2014 , A Step Ahead has partnered with the Tacoma Children’s Museum to host interactive events called Story Alive. The most recent one was held in February and was based on the story The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear. During the event, kids can play with various sensory toys, games, and activities that are all related to the story.
Marti Cates, Early Intervention Teacher at A Step Ahead, started hosting Story Alive when she saw how positively the children were impacted. “Events like Story Alive bridge kids with special needs with communities. Often during reading, kids are not paying attention to the story but when you use puppets and other interactive elements, they love it!” The interactive element at Story Alive is provided by Tacoma School of the Arts students, who put on a song/dance routine for the children.
During the event, children are engaged in a myriad of sensory-friendly activities. Kids could paint, dig for berries in the garden, climb the strawberry playground, or visit the water station. All these activities stimulate young children’s senses like touch, smell, movement, balance, sight and hearing. They facilitate exploration and naturally encourage children to play, create, investigate and explore.
Decades of research has shown that children’s earliest experiences play a critical role in brain development, which is why high-quality early intervention services positively impact a child’s developmental trajectory. These services improve outcomes for children, families, and communities, which is why Human Services funds agencies in the community like
Today, both Kael and his younger brother Inkom, are working with special education teachers at ASAPC every week. “Marti comes with new strategies and techniques that help the boys overcome some of their difficult behaviors,” says Taylor. “My advice for a family going through this would be even if you are even wondering or have any concern for your child’s development call ASAPC. They are some of the most knowledgeable professionals I have met, and they can help you and your child.”
If you or someone you know has a child who may be experiencing developmental delays, please have them contact Pierce County Early Intervention Services. Once a family is referred, they are contacted by a Family Resource Coordinator who will act as an advocate for the family, coordinate evaluations, and build a support team for services. All children grow and develop in unique ways so it’s important to take an individualized approach. That is why the Family Resource Coordinators work hard to listen to your concerns and respect your family’s strengths, values, and diversity.
Learn more about Pierce County’s Early Intervention Services by contacting us at 253-798-3790 or PCFRC@PierceCountyWa.gov.
I vividly remember my first day in the County. I didn’t know what to expect! Many of the staff knew me from my work in the community. Those who didn’t wondered who the strange guy was roaming the hallways.
About two months after my arrival, we held our first all-staff meeting at Bates Technical College. I stood outside and greeted everyone like a preacher in the rain. I’ll remember that day forever and all the days through my last.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to say during that meeting, but I knew that my life experiences led me to the County. I could relate to those we served.
I grew up poor with six brothers and sisters in a 900-square foot house. My father was a Palestinian immigrant. For as long as I can remember, he held three jobs until he was hired by the VA to be a janitor. As a kid, I would go to work with him on the weekends and help clean the floors or play bumper pool with veterans from the psychiatric ward. My mother died of cancer at the early age of 42. Despite her suffering, she worked hard. We ate government peanut butter and drank powdered milk.
Much of this is not important to most of you, but it gives some context as to why I came to the County. Each of us has a story. We can relate to each other because many of us lived through the successes and struggles. Most of us at some time or another have needed help. In this land of wealth and affluence, millions of the people we serve live in the most desperate situations. Sometimes we fail to provide enough. This is especially true to the most vulnerable.
Pierce County Human Services serves the most fragile – the elderly, disabled, poor, the sick, abused women and children, the medically compromised, immigrants and refugees who speak little to no English. We work hard to provide them with opportunities for success in their lives and in communities. We help them lead healthier, happier and more productive lives. Through this work, Pierce County Human Services, and our partners in the community, are positively affecting generations to come.
The Human Services Department is the hidden gem in the County…the voice for the voiceless. Each year our department serves literally thousands of people!
From keeping people’s heat on through our low-income housing assistance, to providing in-home care services, putting food in the bellies of the poor and fragile, and teaching kids in those important early years, our work is vital. The myriad of programs we provide changes lives one at a time!
Throughout its history, the department has proven we can overcome barriers. That together, as community citizens and workers, we can move beyond our differences and enhance our efforts to create a level playing field that is accessible to those who need it.
As we move forward, we cannot be complacent. We cannot rest while people need us. The human cost is too high, and the outcome is too essential. We cannot compromise. Sometimes compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof.
You are here because you recognize that taking care of people is one of society’s most fundamental responsibilities. You are here because giving shelter to a person supports their dignity and comfort to be at peace. You are here because you care how people live. You are here to represent the spirit of dignity and justice.
My hope for Pierce County Human Services, our partners and friends, is that you all continue to serve with purpose. Purpose does not always need to involve calculations or numbers. Purpose is about the quality of life and dignity we give someone. Purpose is human, not economic.
I want to thank each person and each organization that partnered with me and the Pierce County Human Services Department during my three years at the County!
So, as I depart, remember what you need to do. Remember what you hear from those that cannot speak for themselves. Remember that we cannot do it alone. Remember that you are part of the solution!
I am not going far. I will be heading back to the Korean Women’s Association where I will renew my commitment to serve the community. I’ll miss you, but my door will always be open to the residents of Pierce County. Let’s keep on flying! While you continue to serve from the inside, know that from the outside, I will work tirelessly to help you change lives…one person at a time!
“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.” – Dave Barry
Every February, we celebrate Black History Month to honor the contributions and accomplishments of African-American pioneers and visionaries. On the national level, historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are often the focus (rightly, so!) of this celebration. But what about African-Americans on the local level? Let us recognize one of Pierce County’s most prominent African-Americans advocates from history – Judge Jack Tanner.
Born in Tacoma in 1919, Jack Tanner was a star student-athlete at Stadium High School who joined the U.S. Army. During WWII, he served in a segregated unit, an experience that created his first view of racial discrimination. That view would influence his actions to further his education and attend the University of Washington Law School. He was the only African-American enrolled before he graduated in 1955. After he passed the bar exam he worked as a longshoreman because prospects for black attorneys in the Tacoma area were slim.
Ever the activist, he joined the NAACP in 1957 and served as Regional Director for eight years. By this time, his work as an attorney was gaining momentum. He played a notable role in many civil rights demonstrations around the state – so much so that in 1963, he was invited to the White House to advise President John F. Kennedy on race relations.
Throughout his career he supported Native Americans and helped local tribes fight for their fishing rights. In 1966, although he didn’t win, he was Washington state’s first black candidate for Governor. In 1978, Tanner became the first African American in the Pacific Northwest to be appointed to the federal bench. He sat in both districts with a caseload three times the average of other judges.
During his career he was known for civil rights activism and his outspoken belief that the courts should be a place where people of any color, gender, or class could find a measure of justice and equality. His decisions drew controversy regularly.
One ruling in 1980 declared that the state penitentiary at Walla Walla had violated the 8th amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. Another major decision in 1983 established equal pay for women. Although eventually overturned, his ruling received national attention and was considered a major victory by women’s rights advocates. In 1989 he became eligible to retire but vowed to stay when he heard that he would not be replaced by another African-American judge.
Last year, the Metro Parks Tacoma board of commissioners decided to rename Marine Park to Judge Jack Tanner Park to honor his legacy.
Black History Month presents an important opportunity, not only to celebrate the countless achievements of African-Americans and their role in shaping our history and culture, but also to reflect on where we are now as a nation, and how we can continue to grow together.
I encourage you to explore the lives of Jack Tanner and other extraordinary people whose work has changed, and continues to change, the field of human services. Regardless of race, we all want the same things: love, respect, and acceptance. My hope for the future is that by loving what makes each of us different we will learn to celebrate the diversity of those around us.