Faith leaders, lawmakers meet to tackle community problems

Sen. Steve Conway speaks to community members at this week’s Faith Leaders meeting.

Like any growing community, Bethel is facing its fair share of problems.

Roughly 100 members of our community gathered Wednesday morning at the Bethel Learning Center for a meeting between local faith leaders, representatives from the Bethel School District, and members of the Washington Legislature. The group discussed the major concerns facing our community, including homelessness, mental health, and traffic congestion.

One of those issues is the ongoing population boom and how it’s affecting traffic in our area. More than 34,000 people have moved to Bethel in the last 20 years, yet Pierce County Transit offers only one, three-mile bus route in the entire district.

Sen. Steve Conway, who represents the state’s 29th District, said Bethel is growing so quickly that state and local services to mitigate that growth can’t keep pace.

“We have huge congestion here in the south county, and we need to do something about it,” said Conway. “Before we authorize more development out here, let’s solve some of these transportation problems.”

While growth and congestion are major concerns in our community, they aren’t the only problems we’re dealing with. Local faith leaders spoke out at the meeting about the scourge of drug abuse and homelessness they see on a daily basis.

Rep. Andrew Barkis, who represents Washington’s 2nd District, spoke passionately about how drug abuse and mental health problems can derail promising lives. Barkis said members of his own family have fallen prey to drugs, and he called for compassion when dealing with those struggling with drug abuse.

He also said ignoring the problem or giving people a place to use drugs will only make things worse.

“We have to enforce the laws. Period. Heroin is illegal,” he said.

Barkis said we need a clearly-defined plan to bring homeless drug users back into society.

“There has to be a pipeline. Detox to recovery center. Recovery center to housing,” he said.

The group will reconvene in the coming months to continue these conversations and work to find solutions.

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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