Puyallup Mayor John Hopkins has engineered a new attempt to persuade a controversial homeless aid center to vacate its downtown Puyallup building.
Under a plan he lobbied through a Pierce County grant allocation committee last month, New Hope Resources Center would get $75,000 to add staff on the condition that it moves from its 414 Spring Street quarters.
The condition requires the center to move to another location within the city to secure the funds. No specific location was identified. Hopkins said he would be agreeable to a location outside the city if affected governments don’t object.
Paula Anderson, the center’s director, said she can’t accept the money with that condition. Moving the center wouldn’t be easy or even financially possible without significantly more funds, she said. New Hope looked at 21 properties before buying the building where the center opened two years ago.
Hopkins acknowledged the need for homeless services in the eastern half of the county, but said New Hope is situated too near schools, businesses and homes to effectively serve the homeless population and the community.
Puyallup residents and merchants have complained that the center, which provides lunches, counseling and referral services to homeless people, is a magnet for a growing homeless population in East Pierce County. They say that it has brought crime, drug use and inappropriate behavior to downtown and residential neighborhoods.
“I don’t think the community is opposed to what they’re trying to do there,” Hopkins said. “But I know they’re opposed to where they’re doing it. It’s all about location, location and location.”
New Hope was unaware of the strings attached to the grant until it received an award letter from the county last week, said Cheryl Borden, a member of the center’s government board and its former program director. The organization had sought $133,000 of the county’s $6.3 million pot for homeless programs.
The seven-member allocation committee that decides how to spend the money received 34 applications this year and funded 24. The money comes from a $10 per document filing fee assessed by the state through county auditors. That fund, approved in 2005 by the Legislature, was designed to help fund efforts to reduce homelessness in Washington.
Hopkins is one of four Pierce County mayors on the allocation committee. The three others are Dave Enslow of Sumner, Debra Perry of Milton and Ron Lucas of Steilacoom. The remaining members are government staffers: Peter Ansara, director of Pierce County’s Community Connections program; David Bugher, Lakewood assistant city manager; and Genesis Gavino, city of Tacoma senior management fellow.
Lucas was not present at the Sept. 16 meeting where the committee made its decision about New Hope. Minutes from the meeting show the other three mayors initially attempted to deny any funding for New Hope. The three staffers voted against the motion.
Tess Colby, head of Pierce County’s homeless programs, but not a committee member, had argued that the application met all the technical requirements for funding. She also pointed out that the staff screening committee had recommended funding for the program.
Hopkins told the committee that his main objection was the center’s location, which led Bugher to move to make the grant contingent on New Hope vacating its location. That measure passed 5-1, with Perry as the lone dissenter.
Perry told the committee she was opposed to granting New Hope funds under any conditions, according to Hopkins. Perry was out of town and unavailable this week for comment.
Anderson said she fears if the center sells the building, the city won’t allow it to establish a new center. The Puyallup City Council has placed a moratorium on new homeless drop-in centers within the city. Hopkins said that moratorium, which has about five months to run, could be lifted if New Hope finds a better location.
The term of the grant begins Jan. 1 and runs through June 2018. The money would be available to New Hope if it moved during that period.
Puyallup city officials offered to buy the homeless center’s building early this summer but New Hope and its backers rejected that $400,000 offer as inadequate to buy another building and to keep the center serving its clients without interruption.
New Hope also faces the threat of the city imposing conditions on its business license that the center can’t fulfill, Anderson said. Possible requirements include security guards before, during and after the center’s operating hours and a 24-hour hotline for complaints.
“We got a bid for security services of $7,500 a month,” Anderson said. “That’s more than our entire monthly budget now.”
John Gillie: 253-597-8663