The Puyallup City Council might take action next week to temporarily block “halfway houses” from operating in residential zones, responding to an outpouring of concern from neighbors about a proposed operation on Shaw Road.
The property owner, Larry Parson, said he wants to use the house on nearly 2 acres as shared living space for veterans. But he acknowledged some of the veterans could be newly released prisoners, including sex offenders.
And he’s not ruling out eventually seeking to expand the number of residents living there beyond the six allowed under city rules.
Nearby residents, worried about a high number of felons living together in the south end neighborhood, started a Facebook page, posted flyers and circulated an online petition that has received more than 1,000 signatures.
Hundreds packed a community meeting Wednesday night in downtown Puyallup in opposition to a halfway house and the possibility that recently released prisoners, including sex offenders, would move in.
Deputy Mayor John Knutsen said residents’ concerns got through to the City Council, and he believes “we’re going to examine everything we can do. We will use every tool we have to prevent it.”
A special City Council meeting could happen Tuesday, with council members considering a moratorium on halfway houses in residential zones.
In this case, the term “halfway house” would mean a transitional living facility for recently released felons, city officials said.
Councilman John Hopkins said he’s confident there will be strong council support.
“The location is wrong,” he said of the Shaw Road home. “… It’s a residential area – all around it is residential. There’s no bus stop there, no jobs there, no stores there. (The tenants) would basically be stuck there unless they had their own transportation.”
Parson bought the home, near the intersection of 23rd Avenue, this summer. He lives in Puyallup, not far from the property.
He said the home wouldn’t meet the traditional definition of a halfway house because it wouldn’t be run by the state and would focus on veterans. He acknowledged he’s been in contact with the state Department of Corrections but said he’s also talking to other agencies, such as the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s not our intention to fill the house with felons or sex offenders,” Parson said.
He said he wants only tenants “seriously trying to get their lives back in order.”
One of Parson’s sons is a Level 3 sex offender – the category of those considered most likely to re-offend – and wouldn’t be eligible to live in the Shaw Road house, Parson said.
He said he has sought advice from Lesta Rogers, a real estate agent who runs a program called White Feather Re-Entry, which provides transitional housing for recently released prisoners. She was at Wednesday’s community meeting.
She told The News Tribune this week that the Shaw Road home could eventually become part of her organization if that’s what Parson wants.
She has been involved in offender housing for years, including as a leader of a Tacoma group known as Citizens for Responsible Justice.
The group was in the news a few years ago when it lost a $1.1 million state grant to provide temporary housing for recently released prison and jail inmates. Officials cited its inability to fully document elements of its application, among some other issues.
Rogers said the group “didn’t do anything scandalous” and that community pushback contributed.
Councilman Tom Swanson, who moderated the community meeting and represents the neighborhood and surrounding area on the council, said he’s glad that neighbors brought forward their concerns.
He said the neighborhood isn’t right for recently released prisoners. But he hopes residents and Parson can work together moving forward.