Will James | KNKX

Will James

South Sound Reporter

Will James covers the South Sound region, as well as housing and immigration issues, for KNKX. He came to the station from Newsday in his home state of New York. 

Ways to Connect

An encampment in downtown Olympia in December 2018.
Will James / KNKX

Discussions about homelessness dominated Olympia's first City Council meeting of 2020. It was standing room only, as residents packed the council chambers last night to speak about the issue.

Adrian Florez / KNKX

Homelessness on the West Coast is rising to crisis levels at a time of historic economic growth and prosperity. Why? KNKX Public Radio and The Seattle Times' Project Homeless spent one year in a city that’s grappling with homelessness. What’s it like to live outside for months on end? What’s it like when tents come to your neighborhood? What new solutions can city leaders find?

This is Outsiders.

Outsiders is available wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe now so you don't miss the first episode debuting Jan. 29.


Adrian Florez / KNKX

Right-wing protesters and their left-wing critics held opposing rallies in downtown Seattle on Sunday.

Adrian Florez / KNKX

Tacoma's annual New Year's Eve celebration, First Night, returns this year after it was canceled last year due to a budget shortfall.

The event includes performances and celebrations throughout Tacoma's Theater District beginning at six 6 p.m. on Dec. 31. Some events are free, while others require the purchase of a button, which functions like a ticket.

Will James / KNKX

Author's note: I've covered homelessness for more than three years for KNKX. I knew how challenging it was for anyone to get out of that situation, especially those considered chronically homeless. But this story was the first time I got to witness just how difficult that path can be. I interviewed Jayson Chambers both at the beginning and the end of a one-year journey from a tent on Tacoma's tideflats to an apartment in Puyallup. The journey literally almost killed him. For me, it was a lesson in how people can get lost in the interlocking systems that touch their lives. But it also showed how even people facing some of the most daunting obstacles can escape homelessness. (This story originally aired March 14).  

Gov. Jay Inslee proposes $300 million in new funding for homeless services.
Will James / KNKX

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says he has a plan to cut the number of unsheltered homeless people in the state by half in two years.

The $300 million proposal would take money out of the state's "rainy day" fund. It would require approval from state lawmakers, whose session begins next month. 

Residents of a Tacoma RV park say they’re fighting an order by their landlord to leave the property.

People living at the River Lane RV Park, also known as the Puyallup River RV Park, say they received written notice early this month that they’d have to leave by Nov. 30.

West Coast cities, including Seattle and Portland, have had states of emergency in place around homelessness for several years. But many of those declarations are open-ended, lacking definitions of what it would take to end the crisis.

Tacoma City Council members settled on such a definition last week.

A new report says rising housing costs have had particular impacts on King County's LGBTQ communities, and have left some people struggling to find social connection.

news that informs graphic
Adrian Florez / KNKX

Tacoma has one of the first and largest city-owned internet and TV networks in the U.S.

It's called Click, and it's the reason Tacoma once billed itself as "America's No. 1 wired city."

Now, some residents are worried about proposed changes to the 21-year-old service that would see it operated by a private company.

In this photo taken Oct. 24, 2019 in Tacoma, Wash. Initiative 976 is shown on a Pierce County general election ballot.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Just 21 percent of Pierce County voters cast a ballot in the recent primary, a level of turnout some officials have called "disappointing."

A new service could help boost participation.

Candidates for Olympia mayor, Nathaniel Jones and Cheryl Selby, speak to voters at a forum on Oct. 17, 2019, at Garfield Elementary School.
Will James / KNKX

Homelessness is at the top of many voters’ minds across the Puget Sound region heading into the Nov. 5 general election.

A few years ago, frustration around the issue might have been contained in Seattle — where nearly two-thirds of residents disapprove of the response by Washington’s largest city, according to a recent poll by Crosscut and Elway.

Courtesy of C4 Innovations

Assessments that determine who gets help with homelessness sometimes prioritize white people over people of color, according to a study based in part on data from King and Pierce counties.

The results spurred one Seattle nonprofit to call for communities around the country to rethink how they triage people seeking help with housing. 

A detainee walks in a hallway during a media tour at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Tacoma on Sept. 10, 2019.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

More than 200 detainees held in Tacoma by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement started a hunger strike Friday morning, activists say. 

Detainees at the Northwest ICE Processing Center are demanding better quality food, better treatment by guards, and the eventual shutdown of the facility, according to the group La Resistencia, which opposes the federal government's practice of detaining immigrants who are facing deportation. 

Courtesy of WorkForce Central

Nearly half of jobs in Pierce County are at "high risk" of being replaced by advancing technology, according to a recent report assessing the threats posed by automation. 

The report by WorkForce Central found that four of the county's six most common occupations — retail salesperson, food preparer or server, cashier and office clerk — are at "high risk" for automation. 

Jonathan Clark, left, at work at Bob's Bar-B-Q Pit in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood.
Will James / KNKX

Tacoma has appeared on recent lists of the nation's fastest-rising rents and most-gentrified ZIP codes. 

It's a city in the throes of change. At the center of that change is Tacoma's historically black Hilltop neighborhood. Few communities stand to lose ⁠— or gain ⁠— more from the transformations sweeping the city.

The Fourth Avenue Bridge encampment, as it was seen this summer before a number of residents left amid plans for a sweep.
Courtesy of the City of Olympia

Olympia City Council members canceled a sweep of a homeless encampment hours before it was scheduled to begin Wednesday morning, a victory for camp residents who waged a last-ditch effort to remain in place.

The decision came amid an outcry from residents of the encampment and their supporters, and assurances from leaders of a local church that they would help oversee the site.

Raccoons at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

This story originally aired on Feb. 17, 2018.

If you visit Tacoma's Point Defiance Park most any afternoon, you'll see raccoons lounging about the trails by day, often next to signs warning visitors to not feed them. 

If you drive slowly enough through the park's roads, they might rush out of the misty old-growth forest to greet you, tiny paws outstretched for food. If you're on a bike, they might scurry after you for a stretch.

Northwest Detention Center
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Tacoma's mayor and city manager have called Saturday's fatal shooting by police outside an ICE detention center a tragedy, and linked the death to "increasingly divisive national rhetoric" and intensifying actions by immigration authorities. 

Democratic lawmakers and housing activists unveil a package of housing reforms at an Olympia news conference on Feb. 7.
Will James / KNKX

A series of changes to state housing laws are weeks away from going into effect July 28. They're the result of a push this year by state lawmakers to stem rising homelessness in Washington.

The policies include protections designed to shield tenants from sudden evictions or rent increases, as well as incentives and funding intended to spur cities and counties to increase the supply of housing. 

KNKX reporter Will James spoke with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about the policy changes and how different groups, including landlords and city officials, are preparing.

In this photo taken June 21, 2017, a razor-wire fence is shown around a recreation yard at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. The company that owns and operates the center is planning another expansion.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

The owner of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma plans to expand the immigrant detention facility to add more courtrooms, a training building, administrative offices and other spaces, according to court documents.

Paul Ambros, chief executive of Plymouth Housing, speaks on May 15, 2019. He's surrounded by Mike Butler (left), a senior executive at Providence St. Joseph Health; Swedish chief executive Guy Hudson; and Premera Blue Cross chief executive Jeffrey Roe.
Will James / KNKX

Three of the Seattle region's largest health care organizations have announced a $15 million effort to fight chronic homelessness, framing the region's housing woes as a health care crisis that strains providers and raises costs throughout the medical system. 

news that informs graphic
Adrian Florez / KNKX

Tacoma's homeless shelters turn away more than 130 people each day due to a lack of beds, city officials say. 

Tacoma's leaders hope to ease that shortage by expanding one of the city's most well-known shelters. City Council members agreed this week to spend $1.6 million renovating a warehouse at the Tacoma Rescue Mission into space for 50 more beds. 

David Slack, a hospice and palliative care doctor, in Rwanda.
Courtesy of Davide Slack

When David Slack thinks about why he became a hospice and palliative care doctor, he thinks back to his grandmother's death when he was about 12. 

"Rather than it being a terrifying or frightening thing for me, my family, my mother in particular, made it really safe," he said. He remembers his mother taking him by the hand, leading him to his grandmother's bedside, and telling him to say goodbye. 

Slack, a doctor for Kaiser Permanente in Washington, now cares for patients in the final months of their lives, helping them live as comfortably and fully as possible once they've discontinued treatments aimed at curing their conditions. 

People gather for an immigrant rights march on May Day 2018 in Seattle.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

May 1 is celebrated around the world as International Workers’ Day. But in the Seattle area, the celebrations have long emphasized immigrant workers in particular.

This is the 20th straight year that local activists will mark May Day with a march for immigrant rights, according to organizers with the Seattle group El Comite. The event, which begins in Judkins Park at 1 p.m., has drawn hundreds of people in past years. 

Will James / KNKX

Tacoma has invested millions of dollars in a sanctioned encampment where caseworkers act to move people from homelessness to housing. 

With funding for the "stability site" set to run out at the end of the year, city officials are now weighing the program's cost and effectiveness as they consider how, and whether, to keep it open. 

Megan Quinn filed a whistleblower complaint against her boss, Medical Examiner Thomas Clark, in January. County officials argue she orfeited her whistleblower status when she spoke to the media about her complaint.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

A Pierce County employee who has gone public with criticisms of her boss, the chief death investigator, should not get whistleblower protection, county officials say.

Megan Quinn's complaints against Medical Examiner Thomas Clark earlier this year sparked investigations by the county and state, and prompted other current and former employees to come forward with their own allegations.

Will James / KNKX

Results from Pierce County's annual census of the homeless population show a striking, but familiar, pattern around race. 

Will James / KNKX

How tense is the debate around homelessness in Olympia? Enough that business owners have sought to conceal their identities in a lawsuit against the city, saying they fear "retribution" from activists.

Eleven business owners sued the city late last year in a bid to halt the opening of a sanctioned encampment for unsheltered people.

Will James / KNKX

Years of rising rents and worsening homelessness have made housing a central topic in this year’s state legislative session.

The issue has gained urgency, and the attention of a broader swath of legislators, as housing problems have spilled out of Seattle into smaller cities from Tacoma to Aberdeen to Ellensburg. 

Lawmakers in Olympia are moving ahead with an array of reforms designed to stabilize housing markets and strengthen protections for tenants.