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.
The space will be for both men and women, and open to couples. The project, which also is funded by $600,000 in private donations, is expected to be complete by the end of 2019.
City Council member Robert Thoms said adding capacity to shelters is important "simply because we have too much activity on the streets."
"It's not helpful for the people on the streets and it's not helpful for the broader community," Thoms said at a meeting Tuesday.
Tacoma currently has about 400 shelter beds, city officials say.
The expansion comes amid a "state of emergency" around homelessness that Tacoma City Council members declared in 2017.
City Council member Conor McCarthy said adding shelter beds isn't a solution to the crisis, but "it's a step on the path to stable housing."
National experts on homelessness have urged cities to invest more in programs that move people into permanent homes. But Washington cities have moved in recent months to expand shelter capacity as well, in an effort to address the more immediate impact of thousands of people living on the streets.
In Seattle last year, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced an effort to add 500 new shelter beds, including space in so-called "tiny house villages," to the city's stock of more than 2,000 beds. There are tentative signs the effort is paying off: recent results of King County's annual "point-in-time" count of the homeless popluation showed a drop this year in people sleeping outdoors and a rise in people staying in shelters.
In Olympia, City Council members agreed last year to spend money expanding the capacity and hours of local nonprofit-run shelters, in an effort to have more beds available 24/7. City officials also opened a tiny house village, with space for about 40 people, in February.
Tacoma City Council members also continue to weigh whether to keep operating the "stability site," a sanctioned tent community that opened two years ago and shelters about 90 people at a time. Funding for the site runs out at the end of the year, though officials have discussed allocating more money to keep it open beyond 2019.