Tacoma work crews descended upon the 30-tent Tideflats homeless camp called “The Compound” on Thursday and Friday, but not for a mass eviction and camp clean-out homeless people say they fear.
Instead, the city brought portable bathrooms and hand-washing stations. A backhoe to dig a trench for a drinking-water line followed.
Come Monday, the site will have laundry and shower facilities, garbage removal and around-the-clock security, headquartered in a trailer.
This, city officials said, is the new approach: accommodating — rather than perpetually rousting — homeless people from places like “The Compound.”
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The temporary facilities, which the city calls a “pop-up,” eventually will be at three other homeless sites. They will be around to help residents with basic hygiene for four to six weeks.
An increased police presence, in the form of officers conducting drug investigations, will be part of the program.
It is the first phase of a project to address a growth of homelessness the City Council declared a public health emergency May 9.
According to a flyer distributed by city officials to camp residents, the facilities erected Thursday and Friday will be followed by new temporary transitional centers meant to connect the homeless to life-rebuilding resources. After that will come “new approaches to short-term transitional housing” and a partnership with Pierce County to create better options countywide. City officials have confirmed that tent cities will be a part of that.
A city spokeswoman provided no answers Friday about the cost of the effort, or where the other installations will go.
“The Compound” sits amid an industrial zone on a vacant, city-owned lot at the intersection of Portland Avenue and East 18th Street.
Residents of the camp had varying reactions Friday to the work.
Dale Morris, 41, said he had been homeless for more than a year and a resident of the camp since October. He recounted being forced out of two other encampments and the difficulty of relocating.
“This makes it more secure for us,” he said. “... we’re not going to be cleared out from where we’re living and lose more of our stuff.”
Morris said he is an ex-Marine and former commercial truck driver, originally from Colorado. He described a troubled past that cost him both careers: an assault of a commanding officer at the first, and keeping a fraudulent log at the second. He said he has been in a military prison, but considers the homeless camp a civilian one.
“I’m doing time now because of right here where they’ve got me living,” Morris said. “It’s hell watching these trucks go by and listening to the trucks go by.”
West of Morris’ tent, toward a levee that contains a Puyallup River inlet, William Bell, 54, said he’s been homeless for three years and moved around frequently during that time.
Bell said he welcomed the “pop-up.”
“This is probably going to get over-swamped now, but it’s still a blessing,” he said.
Bell said his time homeless has stripped him of many connections necessary to rejoin workaday society. Somewhere along the way, his state identification and Social Security cards disappeared, he said, both of which he’d have to figure out how to obtain to get a job.
“Don’t nobody want to live like this,” he said. “Nobody.”
Less enthused about the temporary facilities was Cas Gauvin, 31.
She has been homeless for three years. Her parents care for her four children.
Gauvin said a stronger framework for helping people like her reassemble functional lives is a more urgent need than the temporary availability of hygiene stations. Housing and job assistance, she said, are among the larger needs.
“Personally, I think this is just to save face instead of giving us actual help,” Gauvin said. “How can they expect a lot of us to go back into society if they don’t help us get back in the swing of things?”