Tacoma to launch new behavioral health crisis response team


Shane Ersland


Tacoma officials plan to implement a new behavioral health crisis response team to assist community members.


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Mayor Victoria Woodards announced the initiative at the State of the City address on Thursday. She said the team will be housed in the Tacoma Fire Department (TFD), and will provide healing resources for people experiencing a crisis. 

Woodards said the TFD is an ideal city partner to coordinate the program due to its operation of the Community Assistance Referral and Education Service (CARES) program, which serves community members in medical service capacities. The CARES program provides assistance with complex medical and psychiatric needs, social support issues, and substance use disorders. 

Woodards said the city recently hired two experts to establish and co-lead the new behavioral response crisis teamAlicia Morales and Kathy Halstone. 

“They bring a vital understanding of the need for transparency, knowledge of the community behavioral health and criminal court systems, stakeholder outreach expertise, and experience with program development,” Woodards said.

The city has also partnered with Tacoma Cease Fire to establish a community trauma response team, Woodards said. The team will respond to crises after traumatic incidents to assist community members in healing; support and give referrals designed to offer resources for residents impacted by trauma; and focus on the community’s emotional needs, leaving first responders free to focus on incident response.

“Community trauma response teams will enhance our response to traumatic events, and ensure we are better supporting our neighbors impacted by violence,” Woodards said. “Our goal is to partner with culturally appropriate organizations who can be there for our neighbors in their time of need.”

Woodards also discussed the city’s affordable housing/homelessness challenges.

“To build a better tomorrow, we must have affordable housing accessible in every neighborhood, at every income level, for every person,” she said. “Housing affordability is a challenge everywhere you look.”

The Washington State Department of Commerce recently announced the need for 1.1 million additional homes statewide over the next 20 years, Woodards said. 

“Locally, our Home In Tacoma plan projects 60,000 new housing units by 2040,” she said. “While that’s an ambitious goal, that still is not enough to meet the need. But we’re going to continue to try.”

Tacoma’s Affordable Housing Action Strategy is in its fifth year of operation. It has helped the city create more homes for people, kept housing affordable and in good repair, helped people stay in their homes, and reduced barriers for people who often encounter them, Woodards said. 

“Since 2019, we’ve permitted over 7,000 new homes,” she said. “Over 4,000 of these homes are already built; 413 of the built units are affordable for residents at or below 60% of the Pierce County median family income, which based on a family of four, is about $61,000. Although not as affordable as they need to be, we’re going to continue to focus on moving that needle.”

Woodards said 241 additional units are planned to be built for people at or below that income level. The city has also designated $500,000 in funding for Black home ownership down payment assistance, and several anti-displacement measures, like rehabilitation projects and foreclosure assistance, she said. 

According to the 2022 Point-In-Time count, there are at least 1,851 homeless individuals across Pierce County, and about 75% of them reported sleeping in Tacoma, Woodards said. 

“As we continue to confront the impact of homelessness, we must consider the complex variety of needs of our unhoused neighbors,” she said. “In 2022, we set up two mitigation sites, which were specifically designed to provide a safe experience for our neighbors who choose to live in tents.”

The city will also launch a safe parking program, which will allow people to temporarily live out of their car, truck, or van, Woodards said.

“Because we know that 6% of our county’s unhoused neighbors live in their vehicles,” she said. “By designating places where they can park, they will be more secure, and have access to basic hygiene services. The goal in each case is to connect people with permanent housing options and services, while stabilizing their day-to-day living conditions. Last year, we housed well over 3,000 individuals across our entire shelter network, and we placed 549 of our unhoused neighbors into permanent housing.”