The Puyallup City Council met with town residents early this month to discuss a new ordinance that will restrict where homeless shelters and day centers can reside.
The ordinance is attempting to enforce a 1,000 foot buffer between homeless services and what is considered “sensitive areas” such as schools, libraries, daycare centers and other similar businesses.
“This is consistent with the 1000 foot buffer that the state requires for marijuana selling operations and with the 1000 foot buffer required as a ‘drug free zone’ around schools.” Puyallup City Council member Cynthia Jacobsen elaborated on this subject via email.
“We want to be consistent with the Washington state guidelines for other uses which seem to pose risk.”
Jacobsen went on to write that homeless centers are connected with increased violence and crime: a complaint that many Puyallup residents had at the town meeting. Some of the complaints included aggression, property damage and theft by homeless individuals.
Patty Denny of the Puyallup City Chamber talked about her personal experiences with the homeless in a recording of the city council regular meeting.
“I can remember when the homeless first started, I was at the chamber office and I felt very unsafe down there simply because they would walk in the door and they would yell at me,” Denny said. “Now I can go down there and I feel safe. There’s a different climate in downtown Puyallup now.”
Tim Mellema, a Puyallup business owner, was another in the recording who approved of the new ordinance. He called the 1,000 foot buffer a great compromise and applauded the city’s willingness to work with providers who pitched locations that did not meet the 1,000 foot criteria. Mellema went on to urge the city council members to not allow bullies to destroy the city.
Despite the approval of some residents and business owners, there are others who feel very different. One is Robin Farris, who has been working on the Puyallup City Council for the past three years. Farris was one of the two who voted against the new ordinance.
During her interview, Farris talked about other cities who are going through homeless problems. She primarily used Boise, Idaho as an example.
Six homeless people sued Boise, Idaho for banning sleeping in public spaces. Stating the homeless community had a right to sleep outside if they had nowhere else to go, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided against the city.
“What that means for us is that we cannot tell people to move if they are sleeping somewhere out in the open,” Farris said. “I mean, we can say ‘not in parks —’ what we have done — or ‘not here or there.’ But we can’t say ‘you can’t sleep in Puyallup.’”
Despite the new ordinance, the New Hope Resource Center is set to be “grandfathered,” meaning they will be unaffected by the new restrictions this ordinance is set to enforce and will continue to provide homeless services.
Not only have residents voiced disapproval of this decision, but many have complained about criminal activity in the resource center’s surrounding area. Puyallup and its residents continue to voice their opinions in the face of evident change.
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