Nobody works in the small firehouse near Valley Avenue East in unincorporated North Puyallup. The curtains are drawn. The doors locked. The fire trucks in the bays are antiques pulled out for parades.
But there’s a chance all that could change.
In the next month or so, the Puyallup City Council is expected to discuss allowing the site to be used in some way to help the homeless, perhaps as an emergency family shelter.
Officials caution much is left to be worked out, such as who would run it and assume liability and whether county zoning allows such a use.
But leaders of the Puyallup Homeless Coalition say it’s an idea with potential, and one they’re keeping tabs on. It comes at a time when the group is working on a citywide strategy to deal with homelessness as well as a short-term shelter option.
“It’s still in the beginning stages,” chairwoman Paula Anderson said of the fire station idea. But, “we’re hoping that it’s going to be promising.”
The roughly 4,000-square-foot building is a former North Puyallup Fire District 11 station. It hasn’t been active for years.
In 2003, the city began providing fire service in the area, and in 2009 both the city and District 11 merged with Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, Chief Doug Willis said.
His agency, which serves 200,000 people over 85 square miles, doesn’t need the building or plan to use it as an active fire station in the future, he said. It’s currently used for storage.
It apparently belongs to the city but would revert to the fire agency if the area isn’t annexed into Puyallup in a few years. Puyallup City Manager Ralph Dannenberg said there are some discrepancies in the title, and city staff members are reviewing it and the contract to clearly determine ownership.
“We’re moving forward as quickly as we can to get the information back to (the City Council),” he said.
At least one North Puyallup resident doesn’t support the idea and has shared her concerns with the City Council.
Mari Lou Holland said the land was provided to District 11 for use as a fire station. The city has a responsibility to help the homeless but should do so within city limits, where it has jurisdiction and police coverage, she told The News Tribune.
“I know homelessness is a big problem in our area. It doesn’t matter where you are in this state or the United States — it’s a big problem. And I know these places are needed,” said Holland, who served for years on the board of a local group that provides shelter. “But the city doesn’t have jurisdiction there.”
Councilman Rick Hansen, who proposed the idea of using the fire station for the homeless, said his vision isn’t for the city to run it as a shelter. Instead, he’d like it to be leased or given to a group such as the homeless coalition.
“It has so much potential, so much opportunity,” he said. “That opportunity is to change people’s lives.”
The number of homeless people in Puyallup is not known, although it’s estimated to be several hundred. In January 2010, a count found 1,807 homeless adults and kids throughout Pierce County.
Leaders of the Puyallup Homeless Coalition said they’re in the midst of crafting a strategic plan for emergency shelter, detailing what’s available and what’s needed. The fire building could become part of it, depending on what happens in the next few months, said Ted Brackman, co-founder of the group.
The city doesn’t have a permanent emergency shelter building, he said.
The coalition also is working to establish a “safe park” program that would give people who live in their cars a secure place to park overnight, Brackman said.
It’s a way to begin implementing a new city ordinance — approved last fall in response to a new state law — allowing religious groups to host temporary homeless encampments, he said.
Brackman said the coalition is preparing a survey of local churches to gauge the space and resources available to help the homeless.
Sara Schilling: 253-552-7058 email@example.com