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Russell Townsend Apartments to open in honor of fallen homeless man

A new homeless shelter in Tacoma is opening Wednesday at 7th at Fawcett after years in the making.
/ Source: KING5

TACOMA, Wash.— Randall Townsend was struggling, and down on his luck. The Navy veteran has spent years at Western State Hospital, after fighting schizophrenia and mental illness. His family says he ended up living under the 11th Street Bridge in Tacoma and without a place to go.

“I think he felt freedom,” said his sister, Sandra Harrell. “He just went out at the wrong time and the wrong place.”

Four skinheads, as part of a gang initiation, attacked and killed Townsend back in 2003. Harrell says she had to make a difficult decision.

“I had to unplug him. There was no hope.”

Eleven years later, Townsend’s name is in the news again and on the front of a once derelict building.

“It’s probably about five blocks straight down the hill,” said Cynda Mack, as she entered the brick building at 7th and Fawcett.

There will be an official ribbon cutting for the complex Wednesday, which will serve as a new shelter for those in need. It will have 24-hour security and be opened up to tenants next week.

And out front will be Randall Townsend’s name and picture.

“If he were alive today and this building was here, he probably would not have died,” said Mack.

The 35-unit apartment complex will house the previously homeless, who are deemed most at risk because of their mental and physical condition. It will have an on-site, in-house medical clinic, and tenants will have access to detox, housing and job services at the Metropolitan Development Council across the street.

The MDC, which tracks the local homeless population, says numbers have dropped 60% since 2005, and the apartment opening will lower the homeless population another 11%. The $5 million project is financed by a mix of public and private funding, and the mental health services are funded, in part, by a sales tax approved by the Tacoma City Council two years ago.

Harrell says the services and the housing are long overdue, and she’s honored by the reference to long lost brother.

“When you’re mentally ill, you do need a lifeline. Someone needs to throw you a rope,” she said.