Tacoma Reads 2023 Paints a Picture of the Complex World of Home, Housing Instability and Homelessness

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Richard Dorsett, Homelessness Community Advocate 

Tacoma Reads is a long-standing partnership between the City of Tacoma’s Mayor’s Office and Tacoma Public Library, with wide community support and collaboration. During Mayor Woodards’s recent State of the City address, she announced titles for adults, young adults and children to read that are focused on the theme of home, with an emphasis on housing instability and homelessness.

Whether your home is in Tacoma, Federal Way, King or Pierce Counties, this is a tremendous opportunity to explore and understand the reality of the challenges faced by our marginally housed or unhoused neighbors.

There are well over half a million people homeless on the streets of the United States every night. They are in plain view—living in tents and shelters, moving about our cities and towns with their possessions, looking for a safe place to settle for a period of time.

The challenge of the unhoused is with us in Tacoma and Pierce County. Well over 4,000 people live without housing in our midst, most having lived in the surrounding area before seeking refuge out of doors, in emergency shelters, or in a vehicle.

When I began working to help people living homeless, about eighteen months ago, I was told homelessness is an issue like no other and opinions were strong and diverse about its causes and solutions.  One huge barrier to ending homelessness is how many of the beliefs about it just are not true. Nothing, it seems to me, is as useful to solving a problem as a good understanding of it, and these 2023 selections for Tacoma Reads will give us all better insight into what is, for many, an unfamiliar world.

We do know quite a bit about those living without housing. Thirty-eight percent are female, seven percent are households with children, another seven percent are veterans. And while statistics can quickly mislead, it is important to know that people of color make up only thirty-four percent of the Pierce County population, yet they make up fifty-two percent of those experiencing homelessness. Adult survivors of domestic violence account for twenty percent of our homeless population and eleven percent are unaccompanied youth and young adults. The numbers fluctuate and are frequently debated by professionals and politicians. But you get the big idea. The human tragedy of homelessness is complex; gaining a keen understanding is a first, important step leading to its solution.

The written word and stories about lived experiences are powerful means to change how people think and talk about housing instability and homelessness. Reading groups abound in the South Puget Sound region, and perhaps your own group can read and discuss A Place Called Home (David Ambroz), Genesis Begins Again (Alicia D. Williams), and Home (Tonya Lippert). Come November, there will be public events and discussion opportunities, so there is plenty of time to get these books read.

We can end homelessness. Books like these selected for Tacoma Reads offer a path to clear-headed understanding. People just like ourselves and everyone we know may end up in unimaginable circumstances. I welcome this chance for a community read to gain better understanding of one of our most challenging social problems.

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