Homeless Crisis Response System

Accurate, reliable data is a critical tool for monitoring performance and measuring results. Data dashboards help us evaluate the effectiveness of our homeless response system while building transparency and accountability. Using these interactive tools can help us identify strategies to prevent and end homelessness.

Homelessness in Pierce County

Thousands of people in need utilize the homeless crisis response system every month.

Whether someone comes to an emergency shelter to stay the night or receives rental assistance funds to remain in their home, they are served by Pierce County’s homeless crisis response system. Since 2015, over 39,000 people experiencing homelessness have been served, meaning they were staying in an emergency shelter, transitional housing, or utilizing another service for people experiencing literal homelessness. The number of individuals accessing any of our services is almost double; over 77,000 people have received housing or homeless support from the homeless crisis response system since 2015. In 2023, nearly 10,000 people experiencing homelessness received services through Pierce County's homeless crisis response system, an all-time high. To put that in perspective, it is close to the populations of Sumner or Fife.
Homelessness affects people of all races, but most minority groups experience it more than White residents.
Black and/or African American residents comprise only 7% of the Pierce County population but accounted for 22% of all people experiencing homelessness in 2023. In contrast, White residents comprise 62% of the Pierce County population but accounted for just 39% of all people experiencing homelessness. These racial disparities are often due to long-standing historical and structural racism.

For more information about the definitions and calculations for homeless and total individuals served, click here for documentation.

System Referrals

Not all individuals connecting to the homeless crisis response system each year are in need of housing. 

Using a prioritization assessment, the County's Coordinated Entry process matches and refers individuals to housing that can best meet their needs. The majority of referrals are for Rapid Re-Housing services, which comprise a large portion of the homeless crisis response system and the County's expenditures. In contrast, Permanent Supportive Housing is meant to house individuals for longer periods of time and therefore has fewer project vacancies each year. 

The Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness identified selected populations with unique needs that disproportionately experience homelessness and may benefit from targeted strategies to end their homeless crises.
Based on eligibility requirements, some of these populations may be more likely to receive a referral to a specific service type. For example, seniors, veterans, and persons with a disability are more likely to be referred to Permanent Supportive Housing.  
For more information about the definitions and calculations for referrals, click here for documentation.

Our Investment

The COVID-19 pandemic produced a unique set of public health challenges and exacerbated national crises that existed long before the coronavirus, especially around homelessness and affordable housing. With expanded capacity for emergency shelters and other housing solutions, historic investments were made in Pierce County to address the growing homelessness crisis.

In 2023, Pierce County spent $30.9M on addressing homelessness in the County.
To put that in perspective, if the cost was equally divided among Pierce County residents, this would be an annual contribution of $33 per resident toward ending homelessness in the County.
Short-term assistance for long-term solutions
Rapid Re-Housing is an intervention designed to help people exit homelessness and return to permanent housing. It connects residents experiencing homelessness to services such as short-term rental assistance and community resources.
Rapid Re-Housing is a highly successful and cost-effective way to end homelessness for many households.
Expenditures reported here exclude Pierce County's Eviction Prevention program. For more information about the definitions and calculations for Pierce County's expenditures, click here for documentation. 

Our Results

"We are targeting functional zero – a state where any person starting a new homeless episode has immediate access to shelter and a permanent housing intervention."
-Pierce County's Comprehensive Plan to End Homelessness

Since 2015, thousands of people have successfully exited homelessness into permanent housing.

Access to permanent housing, such as a home or an apartment, ends the crisis of homelessness. Permanent housing can be achieved through services like diversion or rapid rehousing and supports the resident’s stability and self-sufficiency. Street outreach brings access to these permanent housing services directly to people experiencing homelessness. Through these outreach efforts, we hope to increase exits from homelessness to permanent housing and reduce the duration of homelessness. In 2023, approximately one out of every four individuals receiving services exited to permanent housing. This rate has declined over time as the number of individuals in need has doubled between 2015 and 2023.
Many variables affect homelessness, making it important to collect the numbers and characteristics of people experiencing homelessness and information about services provided to them.
By separating the data, we can learn more about racial disparities in outcomes and the structural factors that contribute to them, including:
  • Poverty
  • Redlining
  • Mental and physical health
  • Incarceration
For more information about the definitions and calculations for exits to permanent housing, click here for documentation. 

Street Outreach Placement

An important part of our homeless crisis response system is street outreach, where teams of service providers are charged with helping people get off the street and into emergency shelter. Street outreach workers offer education and outreach, access to emergency shelters, trauma-informed treatment, information and referrals, and much more. Moving people from the streets into successful placement via street outreach can be difficult for a number of reasons including limited housing options, pushback/mistrust of the system, and unaddressed behavioral health issues that may make it harder for some to engage in services.
Emergency shelter isn't for everyone.
To encourage people to come indoors, many shelters in Pierce County have become low-barrier, offering flexible hours, accepting pets, and allowing couples to stay together - all of which are common reasons why shelters may not be accessed in the first place. Despite these low barrier options, the placement rate for street outreach in 2023 was around 15%.
For more information about the definitions and calculations for successful street outreach placement, click here for documentation

Typical Stay in Temporary Housing

Temporary housing refers to emergency shelters and other places meant for short-term stays, such as safe havens and transitional housing. The goal of temporary housing is to provide safety and access to services such as permanent housing programs, employment programs, and case management.
Homelessness disproportionately impacts people of color.
From 2021-2023, persons identifying as Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and Black, African American, or African had the longest stay in temporary housing without an exit to permanent housing among racial and ethnic groups. 
When we look closer at the data, we can see the disparities in outcomes. Populations that also had longer stays in temporary housing without successful exits from 2021-2023 include:
  • Youth under 18 years old
  • Veterans

For more information about the definitions and calculations for typical stay in temporary housing, click here for documentation

Service Duration

The length of time between accessing Coordinated Entry and a housed outcome has increased as more people access our services and resources. However, we aim not to fit people into a specific timeline for services but to ensure our services meet their needs.
Disparities among races and ethnicities persist in housing outcomes.
When comparing length of time from system entry to a housed outcome, it consistently takes longer to house residents identifying as Hispanic/Latino and Two or More Races than it does to house residents identifying as White, potentially highlighting disparities in the system among people of color.
For more information about the definitions and calculations for service duration, click here for documentation

Housing Retention

Fewer than 1 out of every 6 individuals who have left the homeless crisis system and moved into permanent housing over the past 10 years have returned to homelessness within two years. There are many reasons people experience homelessness, but the top two reasons reported by unhoused residents in Pierce County include a family crisis and/or lack of affordable housing.
Returns to homelessness peaked in 2020 when hundreds of households needed homeless services again after previously exiting the system.
Despite the success of entering permanent housing, some people return to homelessness. Since 2020, return rates have decreased, and we are seeing fewer returns to homelessness within two years after individuals exit.
For more information about the definitions and calculations for permanent housing retention, click here for documentation.

These dashboards are created by Pierce County as an informational resource on the issue of homelessness.
The data is gathered by the Tacoma/Lakewood/Pierce County Continuum of Care and homeless service providers.