Evictions on the rise; city & service providers expanding winter shelter options

The old Holy Rosary school building in Tacoma is serving as an emergency shelter space for a third winter. (Credit: Lauren Gallup / NWPB)
The old Holy Rosary school building in Tacoma is serving as an emergency shelter space for a third winter. (Credit: Lauren Gallup / NWPB)



The tide of evictions many predicted, has come.

As the pandemic waned and rental assistance dollars from federal programs like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dried up, some feared there would be an increase of evictions. 

“Since that period of time, we have seen a month over month increase in the amount of evictions that we’re seeing,” said Mark Morzol, the managing attorney for the Tacoma Pierce County Housing Justice Project. His organization represents tenants in eviction proceedings in Pierce County.

Exactly how much of an increase? In the beginning of 2022, attorneys would see eviction filings in the low 100s each month. As of this fall, there are closer to 300 or more filings every month — 318 evictions were filed in Pierce County in October 2023. 

80% of eviction cases are because of nonpayment and, Morzol said, with rental assistance funding depleting, it is likely to see the number of evictions continue on this upward trend.

Of federal funding provided in response to the pandemic, Pierce County has $1,300,300 in rental assistance allocated for the next two years. From 2020-2022, the county had $150,609,258 allocated for rental assistance.

“I think that has a direct influence on the amount of evictions we see because most of our evictions are nonpayment,” Morzol said.

When tenants are going through an eviction, Morzol said he and his colleagues ask them if they will have a place to go if they are evicted — this year, Morzol provided data showing that 49 tenants reported they would not have housing or access to shelter. More than 350 people responded that they did not know.

“A lot of the evictions that we work — the evictions that are going through, the ones that we cannot salvage — they don’t have anywhere to go, at least at the time of eviction,” Morzol said.

With more evictions, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the county is likely to increase.

So, what options exist for those experiencing homelessness, particularly at this time of year?

One thing that began during the pandemic, and hasn’t gone away since, is the City of Tacoma expanding overnight temporary shelters during the winter. Since 2020, Tacoma has partnered with service providers like the Tacoma Rescue Mission.

Cots line the perimeter of what was once the Holy Rosary school auditorium where, for the past three winters, the mission has expanded its overnight shelter capacity to offer more space for people to find a warm and safe place to sleep.

Some people return each season.

“It is a community of individuals who will utilize the service throughout the season,” said Nate Cooper, who is the director of emergency services for the mission.

Cooper said 126 people have returned to Holy Rosary for consecutive years and 348 people have stayed at the Holy Rosary shelter more than once. 

The shelter is open to adults. People can leave belongings in the shelter during the day. People staying there are bused to the Tacoma Rescue Mission’s downtown campus every morning where they can also get breakfast and a shower. The overnight shelter space can accommodate up to 70 people. 

“This is just another opportunity to get out of the cold and to connect with organizations that have resources,” Cooper said. 

The hope is that those who use the shelter space can connect with a case manager and get into housing, ending the cycle of chronic homelessness. 

So how often does that happen?

In the past three years, two people have exited from the Holy Rosary shelter and into permanent housing, one has gone into temporary housing and one to an institution.

But that’s not the only way people accessing these services get into housing. 

Others have left the Holy Rosary shelter and gone to other emergency shelters and then to permanent housing. That pathway has led to more housing placements: once this season and 21 times in the past three years, Cooper said. 

It’s not a requirement to have a case manager at Holy Rosary, like it is at other emergency shelters, Cooper said. Case managers can connect people with options for housing.

There aren’t enough shelter beds for everyone living outside in Tacoma right now, Cooper said.

“We feel that even if we had a bed for every individual that is spending time on the street, not all of them would want that, just because a lot of places like this have rules,” Cooper said. Rules like a time when the lights go out and people staying there have to stay inside. Cooper said they try as hard as they can to make it a safe and welcoming place for all. 

The Dec. 11 update of capacity at city-funded temporary shelters showed just over 96% of the total 507 beds were occupied. 

The mission shelter has been open for about a month and Cooper said they are hovering at around 50-55 people staying there every night, ranging in age from around 30 to 55 years old. In inclement weather  — that’s 32 degrees or less, or below 35 with precipitation or wind, the shelter’s capacity increases to 70.

Some of the winter available beds are open now through the end of March 2024. The other 120 will be open at different shelters. More information on that can be found on the city website

The city allocates for shelter expansions in its contracts with service providers that oversee the operations. That has been the case since 2020, said Maria Lee, media representative for the city. 

We try to partner with existing providers who have established properties to use in response to inclement weather,” Lee said. “This allows us to leverage existing resources and expand services, as needed, more easily.”

The crisis of housing and for those without it is not new here — Tacoma has been in a public health emergency since 2017 because of its increasing homeless population.