Puyallup’s city government will try a new tactic to deal with its homelessness problems. Now the question is: Will the public be able to watch?
The City Council informally agreed Tuesday to form a three-member committee to delve into the issue and to meet with citizen and homeless aid groups to formulate a plan.
The move comes after the council spent the last year hearing from homelessness service providers and experts as well as dozens of citizens complaining that a growing homeless population was committing property crimes, trashing public parks and trails, and engaging in open drug use.
The mayor said the council has been educated on the issue but hasn’t found any answers.
“There are no tangible results over the last year,” Puyallup Mayor John Hopkins said. “We have had 14 years of Freezing Nights, and still no solution.”
Freezing Nights is a church-based program that provides an evening meal and overnight housing for Puyallup’s homeless population. The program originally was intended to be an interim solution to the homeless situation.
Deputy Mayor John Palmer said his proposed committee of three council members would work with residents and nonprofit groups to reach a solution that will both help the homeless and protect public safety. The committee would make recommendations for the full council to consider.
While most council members said they supported the idea of a council committee, some had concerns about the its transparency. The city has not decided whether the committee’s meetings will be open to the public.
City Manager Kevin Yamamoto said Washington courts have ruled that such subcommittees have to comply with the state’s Open Public Meetings Act if they hold public hearings, hear testimony or act on the council’s behalf.
Councilman Dean Johnson said he’s concerned that the public will see the committee — which as proposed would not be subject to those requirements — as a way to operate secretly.
“If there’s any perception — even if it’s not true — that there’s some backdoor meeting, that we’re talking about it in private, then it violates a public trust on a very big issue,” he said.
The council asked Yamamoto to prepare a resolution outlining the duties and duration of the homeless committee and the rules under which it will operate.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663