It was a tremendous honor for me to be named chair of the Task Force on Homelessness by Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell.
The chance to be part of something never done before in Federal Way is an exciting opportunity, and one that involves a topic close to my heart.
Homelessness is an issue plaguing cities and communities like ours all over the nation. Some municipalities are simply throwing more money at the problem; others are using more hardline tactics – with some even passing ordinances that crack down on those sleeping on the street or panhandling.
Our Task Force has been asked to ultimately provide a strategic plan of action to guide the Federal Way community in responding to homelessness over the next one to five years. It is a task everyone on this committee takes very seriously.
Our committee members include representatives from the city of Federal Way, Federal Way Public Schools, Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, the King County Library System, South King Fire & Rescue, as well as members of the local business, faith communities and local nonprofit organizations.
In the few months since the inception of the Task Force, we have delved into the multilayered and complex issue of homelessness in Federal Way. We have listened as subject matter experts in our group have briefed the team on their firsthand experiences with encampments and what goes on inside them. We have heard from those who have administered treatment – physical, mental or chemical – to homeless individuals. We have also explored how some cities across the country have had success dealing with the issue of homelessness.
The purpose of the in-depth briefings early on is to make sure everyone on the Task Force knows exactly what we are dealing with here.
Only then can we start to assemble some kind of framework for a solution. We need to properly identify where gaps in the support services exist. We need to ask ourselves if services are being duplicated, and what the costs are to build, operate and sustain shelter and housing options. And I’m sure there are questions that we have not even encountered yet.
This is all new in Federal Way. There is no roadmap for what we are doing. But this is the chance for us to build something that can have a lasting impact – hopefully beyond five years if we start to see some success with our ultimate plan. I am enthusiastic and look forward to valuable discussions with our diverse group of experts and professionals.
In the meantime, our Task Force members are being asked to listen to the gritty details, debate about priorities as it pertains to the most important topics and continue to stay focused on the bigger picture. I expect differences of opinions during these discussions and expect members to have a heart open to love and a mind tolerant of differences.
While there has been a concern expressed in the local media that the Task Force meetings are not open to the public, I want to reinforce the fact that this process was my decision based on what I thought was best for this important process.
The hours our Task Force volunteer members put into this effort are valuable – we want to make sure we utilize them to the fullest extent, especially since there are so many facets to this topic.
This is a working group – just like the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel, also not open to the public, which examined the feasibility of the Performing Arts and Event Center in 2014.
In the end, I believe our process will pay dividends to our community when our work is completed. We will have concrete recommendations that can start impacting lives when implemented.
Sharry Edwards is chair of the city of Federal Way’s Task Force on Homelessness.