Pierce County merges 2 'safety net' agencies

Two Pierce County departments that provide “safety net” services to some of the most vulnerable people in the community will merge under a plan adopted by county leaders. Pierce County Council unanimously voted Dec. 14, to approve a plan for implementing the merger of the Department of Community Services with the Department of Human Services. The combined department, to be named the Department of Community Connections, will serve the truly needy in Pierce County.

The Department of Community Connections will provide assistance to the homeless, low-income families and individuals, those with developmental disabilities and those in need of mental health, chemical dependency or aging and long-term care services. The department will have 295 employees and an annual budget of $63 million, most of which are grants from the federal and state governments.

The Executive recently hired Helen Howell, who has more than 20 years of public policy and advocacy experience, to lead the combined department. Howell has previously held policy positions with the White House, U.S. Senate and in former Washington Gov. Gary Locke’s administration. Her appointment is subject to confirmation by County Council.

Many employees of the combined department will move to new work spaces in January. The old Puget Sound Hospital building is closing as a cost-saving move, and employees will be split between two Tacoma locations as follows: (a.) Community Connections and WorkSource Building, 1305 Tacoma Ave., Suite 104, Department Director, Administration, Fiscal, Operations, Aging and Long Term Care, Arts, Community Development; and (b.) Soundview Building, 3602 Pacific Ave., Deputy Director, Chemical Dependency, Community Action, Development Disabilities, Housing, Mental Health, WSU Extension.