Puyallup has embarked on a yearlong plan to take people experiencing homelessness in the city to a shelter in Tacoma where they get a bed and access to programs.
Assistant City Manager Steve Kirkelie signed a $65,000 contract this past week with the Salvation Army in Tacoma to provide housing, three daily meals and case management for up to 14 people at a time.
Puyallup police officers who come across someone without a home now can offer that person a ride to Tacoma to enroll in the program.
Paula Anderson, director of the only homeless-service provider in Puyallup, said most of her clients aren’t interested in leaving their community.
“We were telling people about the program as an encampment was being cleared out, but a lot of folks are uncomfortable with moving to Tacoma,” said Anderson with the New Hope Resource Center, which has no housing component.
Puyallup Police Chief Scott Engle told The (Tacoma) News Tribune he bristles at the fact people might view the program in a negative light. The program gives officers an option to help those without homes get into a shelter instead of remaining on the street, he said.
“Something is better than nothing,” Engle said. “We don’t have a lot of options or solutions for folks.”
Puyallup has grappled with homelessness for years and twice has battled New Hope Resource Center in court.
Once was over the city’s proposal to limit homeless-service centers to designated parcels in the northwest corner of the city. The other was when the city tried to require “significant impact businesses” like New Hope to have a security guard, a code of conduct for patrons and a telephone line for community complaints.
Encampments along the city’s Riverwalk Trail and other effects of homelessness also have spawned Clean Up Puyallup, a Facebook group that advocates for tougher measures against the homeless population.
Darris Rhodes, who has experienced homelessness twice, said the program doesn’t interest him. All of his family, friends and resources are in Puyallup.
“If they offered something like that in Puyallup, I’d go,” Rhodes told The (Tacoma) News Tribune during an interview in Puyallup.
He said Tacoma is dangerous, and he doesn’t want to walk three hours one way to visit his mom.
Janet Keene, a woman who has been living in her car in Puyallup, agreed. She doesn’t want to leave her hometown.
“I do think they are trying to help people, but they are trying to get everyone out of here and close New Hope down,” Keene said.
Puyallup has leased two renovated rooms, once office space and a classroom at Tacoma’s Salvation Army, to house up to eight women and six men.
When a Puyallup police officer comes across someone who is homeless, he or she asks if the person wants help from the Salvation Army.
If people are interested, the officer drives 10 miles to Tacoma and drops them off at the Salvation Army shelter, where they will be provided access to mental-health services and help finding employment and housing, the contract states. The Salvation Army also has resources for drug and alcohol treatment in Seattle, Engle said.
There appears to be some disagreement over key parts of the program. The Salvation Army’s Martha Sheppard told The (Tacoma) News Tribune that the contract calls for a maximum stay of 30 days, but the city insists it’s a 90-day program.
If expectations are not met or the maximum stay is reached, a client is asked to leave.
“If people find out that the shelter isn’t a good fit, they leave and go where they choose,” Sheppard said in an email to The (Tacoma) News Tribune.
Puyallup allocated $140,000 in its most recent budget toward social and homeless services, $65,000 of which will fund the yearlong program with the Salvation Army.
Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards was not aware of the agreement until The (Tacoma) News Tribune asked for comment.
Woodards said Friday it’s good that people experiencing homelessness in Puyallup will get access to beds and services, but she added there’s a better chance for recovery in their home community.
“I hope this is a temporary solution,” Woodards said. “What we know about homelessness, when people are experiencing homelessness, it’s better for them to be close to where they are from.”
Woodards said she recognizes that most of the county’s shelters are within Tacoma’s city limits but hopes the county will come together to address the issue.
“It’s of great concern to us, but we can’t control who a nonprofit makes a contract with,” she said. “We are the largest city, but I understand it’s a burden that we need to work together to share.”
Ted Brackman with Puyallup’s Homeless Coalition said the program isn’t a solution but a Band-Aid. Brackman said he is concerned about recipients not having access to their doctors and that Tacoma’s shelters already are turning away hundreds a night.
“The homeless need shelter where their home is — that is what a compassionate and just community does, rather than move them out and having Tacoma service Puyallup’s homeless,” he said.
Puyallup Mayor John Palmer said most homeless shelters are in Tacoma, so there’s nowhere else to get services.
“We are focusing on what works to get people off the streets and into shelters and services,” he said. “As these programs have been built up, they are mostly in Tacoma. It really is a regional program.”
If the yearlong program is successful, Palmer said he is open to building a shelter with a similar model in Puyallup.