The City of University Place is poised to adopt rules allowing temporary homeless camps, although officials say it’s doubtful one will locate in the west Pierce County community.
The UP City Council is scheduled to vote on a tent-city ordinance Monday. Elected leaders didn’t have major concerns when they reviewed a draft version at a study session last month.
The city’s work on the proposed regulations began in June 2010, the same month a state law took effect allowing churches to host tent cities. The law also bars local governments from imposing conditions on such encampments other than what’s necessary to protect public health and safety.
The effort to craft an ordinance began on the advice of UP’s insurer to protect the city against potential litigation, not in response to any requests from local churches, Development Services director David Swindale said.
“We’ve never been approached by anybody,” he said.
Officials say its unlikely a tent city would settle in University Place because its churches generally have small lots, and the city isn’t a hub for social service organizations that assist the homeless.
Seventeen churches in University Place would be eligible to host a tent city. The only church to comment on the proposed regulations was University Place Presbyterian Church. It has a large lot that conceivably could hold a homeless encampment, but its leaders aren’t interested.
“Tent cities provide a short-term and often very undignified, unsafe short-term fix for a deeper problem,” wrote Rev. Patrick Wrisley, the church’s senior pastor, in an email last month. “Our resources are focused on the long-term solutions of emancipation from homelessness.”
In case a church does step forward with a request, Councilman Kent Keel said at the study session, it makes sense to have regulations in place.
“We now have a tool that we can use without having to scurry around and try to put something together,” he said.
Under the proposal, a church would have to secure a temporary permit to host a tent city. The homeless encampment could hold no more than 100 people and operate for no more than 90 days. Only one camp could operate at a time.
A tent city must be located at least 40 feet from the property line of a neighboring home and must be surrounded by a 6-foot fence. The church and tent city manager must take “all reasonable and legal steps” to obtain identification from prospective tenants and perform background checks. Police must be called if a prospective tenant is a registered sex offender or has an outstanding warrant.
The tent city movement has had outposts in King and Thurston counties but has yet to take hold in Pierce County.
Puyallup passed a similar ordinance in 2010 but has had no tent cities.
Lakewood hasn’t adopted specific regulations but would use its temporary permit process if a church made a request, said community development director David Bugher said. Tacoma also hasn’t adopted specific regulations, but it has worked with local organizations to connect homeless people to assistance, city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff email@example.com 253-274-7390 @TNTchill