Office of Jani Hitchen, Pierce County Council, District 6 blog post.
With 2022 almost halfway through, I started setting priorities at the end of 2021 and looking to the future. There was a lot of work that was started during my first year in office, but there was still so much to do. To be effective, I had to prioritize. The day I was asked to prepare a video highlighting three priorities for the year, these are the three that jumped out at me:
Homelessness and Accessible Housing
Behavioral Health and Addiction
Each of these topics is huge and has many moving parts, but I wanted to flesh out a little more detail on each so you can see what’s coming next. Again, those are the ones that jumped out at me, but there are other high priority areas that I’m working on, including public safety and long-term planning/climate change.
Homelessness and Accessible Housing
We need to address both areas, as we cannot solve one without the other. Our comprehensive plan to end homelessness is a huge undertaking and will require intentional planning and collaboration between providers, other jurisdictions and the community.
We need as many tools in the toolbox to end street homelessness, including more shelters and different types like sanctioned camps and stabilization sites, safe parking and housing with support services for people with mental or physical disabilities who cannot live on their own, and emergency shelters when things go wrong like freezing weather, unsafe air quality or extreme heat.
We need more accessible housing, which means the entry point is accessible for those who live and work here. We need to provide housing options that help support individuals and families from many different prices and needs.
One area of particular concern to me is senior housing, 25% of Pierce County residents are expected to be over 60 by 2030. We do NOT have, and we have not planned senior housing or housing with supportive services such as memory care and medically supported housing. I’m currently working on putting together what it looks like and what we could do about it, because we don’t have time to wait.
Behavioral Health and Addiction
I am very concerned about the mental health of everyone in our community, but am currently focusing on youth with the help of our partners at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. My concern for young people is based on the results of the National Healthy Young People Survey and Pierce County results for 10e graders in 2021. Here are some of the stats that jumped out at me:
- The survey showed that of the 10e Our county graders who participated in the survey, 23% had considered suicide and 18.3% had planned to do so in the past 12 months.
- Only 30.8% said that in the past two weeks they did not feel nervous, anxious or nervous and 21.1% said they felt that way every day.
- 15% said they had NO caring adult or parent to talk to when feeling hopeless.
- 6% of our 10e students who participated said they had at least four ACEs (negative childhood experiences) that can lead to many negative outcomes without support.
Along with behavioral health, you need to talk about substance use in our community. Fentanyl-related deaths are at an all-time high and we know people have turned to alcohol and drugs during the increase in stress and anxiety that has occurred over the past two years. We need to prepare for this, we are launching an awareness program to educate the public, but especially young people and young adults, about the dangers of counterfeit pills that have started to appear in our community that contain fentanyl.
Funding to support behavioral health programs was passed in 2020, vendor and program selection program took place in 2021. In May 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 fantastic programs that will expand and help thousands of Pierce County residents.
Although it’s last on my list, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when doing any kind of political work. Between our Equity Review Committee, our Refugee and Immigrant Affairs Committee, in terms of policy work and data, we are way behind some of our local partners and have some catching up to do just to start .
When I look at neighborhoods working hard to increase housing, we need to make sure we’re doing it with an equity lens that includes working with the local community. Raising voices that traditionally have not been around the table, or in some cases even invited to the table. This is not acceptable in my book, and I will continue to insist whenever I see systems that don’t work for everyone in the community.
This means looking at data on people incarcerated, those on fines and bail, victims of crime, youth involved in the justice system, the demographics of those who serve on boards and commissions, and examining the neighborhoods that have been affected by the racists. practical like the red lining.
If you look at the list above, that’s a lot. However, there is still work to be done in several other areas. I really enjoy multitasking and have long been pretty good at completing multiple projects at once. That said, here are a few other priorities that are on my list:
I know this seems to be the main focus of everyone these days, but if we had better answers for my first three topics, I don’t believe we would be where we are today. We recently passed a budget amendment that will provide our human resources department with $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 that’s not good for public safety or for our MPs. This needed to be resolved and providing these funds would support this.
I want vacancies filled so we can bring back:
- Community Liaison Officers: assistants assigned to a geographical area who know the schools, businesses, community organizations and even some neighbors.
- Code enforcement support: we need deputies available to support the work of our solid waste management teams, and homeless outreach teams so that they can safely exit and enter encampments, and unsafe structures for that we can get people into safe spaces and shut down unsafe spaces.
- Co-sponsor programs: we are short of people to do this work on both sides, those who come in with behavioral health training and skills AND assistants 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 part of the world. We must do what we can to deal with changes in our climate. This means planning for increased housing density, increasing access to public transit and human-powered travel, and looking for ways to move away from fossil fuels.
- We must be intentional when looking at the stewardship of our waters both above and below.
- We need to think about what kind of green spaces we want to bequeath to future generations.
As we pass our solid waste management plan, our 2030 sustainability plan, and even some long-term projects for roads and parks, I am constantly looking to see the unintended consequences. Does this change displace a community, put waterways at risk, affect our ability to access clean drinking water, increase the risk of fire to natural areas and the houses?
If you made it all the way to the end here, thank you for taking the time to look over my thoughts. I have really enjoyed the work I have done so far. There are other things and of course I’m always happy to hear those from 6e District and county. I’m here to serve you and I’m always ready to listen and see what I can do.
Thanks for reading.