The first details of Tacoma’s response to its growing homeless problem are taking shape a week after Mayor Marilyn Strickland described the problem as a crisis.
On Monday, Strickland described to The News Tribune a rough plan expected to have at least three phases. She said she hoped to soon show the public a completed plan, but the process is dictated by the “magnitude of what we’re trying to do.”
“It’s complicated,” she said. “But there are some things we know we can start to do now.”
The first phase is what Strickland described as “mitigation,” a step the city can undertake immediately to deal with public health issues at homeless encampments, as well as with neighborhoods and businesses most affected by them.
“You see a lot of garbage,” she said of encampment sites. “You see human waste. You see needles that aren’t disposed of properly.”
Enforcing existing laws at encampments will be part of the city’s opening response, Strickland said, adding she expects police initially to “target a few hotspots.”
She said the city has been reluctant to mount such a police response, but the situation now calls for such a reaction.
“We can’t do this the right way if we don’t have an enforcement component,” Strickland said.
The mayor stressed the actions would be short-term steps to have immediate impact.
“It’s a temporary way for us to try to mitigate some of these public health issues,” she said.
The second phase of the city’s response will focus on establishing temporary emergency shelters, with an emphasis on connecting those experiencing homelessness to social and health services.
It’s unclear when the city will undertake the step, she said.
The same goes for phase three, which Strickland said will emphasize short-term transitional housing. She said she wants the city to partner with Pierce County and neighboring jurisdictions to implement new approaches.
During the City Council’s May 2 meeting, Strickland directed interim City Manager Elizabeth Pauli to make an emergency plan for temporary shelter and help for the city’s homeless.
Declaring an emergency, Strickland suggested, would enable the city to quicken some of its processes. She said Monday such an declaration could come as soon as the City Council meeting Tuesday.
“I want people to know we are doing something,” Strickland said of the city’s urgency on the matter.