Officials at a Puyallup homeless help center said Thursday they intend to correct deficiencies soon in their downtown Puyallup building that caused the city to force its closure Tuesday night.
Clients and volunteers who showed up at the shelter Wednesday and Thursday encountered yellow “caution” tape stretched across the doors and handprinted signs stating, “Attention volunteers and guests – Do not enter this building. We do not currently have a permit for occupancy.”
Bob Stafford, facilities manager for the New Hope Resource Center, said he is working with the city’s building department to obtain a new occupancy permit for the center’s 3,800-square-foot building at 414 Spring Street. It seeks to reopen by early next week.
The center serves some 70 to 80 homeless people daily with lunch, social services access and emergency services and counseling. It also is the marshaling place for homeless participating in the community’s Freezing Nights overnight housing and feeding program offered by the area’s churches.
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The center’s sudden shutdown is the latest episode in the city’s struggle to serve its homeless population while safeguarding its neighborhoods, parks and public facilities from crime and inappropriate behaviors.
Some 150 Puyallup residents gathered for a council study session last week to discuss the homeless issue and the problems it is causing in the city’s downtown, its central neighborhoods and its public buildings. Citizens complained of thefts from their homes, public urination, drug use and huge accumulations of trash on the city’s River Trail.
For about five months, the city had allowed the center to remain open while addressing minor building code deficiencies. That grace period ended abruptly this week after two Puyallup residents, former Mayor Kathy Turner and civic activist Georgia Prossick, submitted public record requests for the status of the center’s occupancy permit and business licenses.
Turner, contacted at her downtown Puyallup condominium, said she made the records request because she had heard the center “was not in compliance with its occupancy permit.”
Turner said she is concerned with solving the problems that the homeless surge has brought to the city.
The day after Turner filed her public records request, the Puyallup City Council called an executive session at its usual Tuesday meeting. City Attorney Steve Kirkelie said the topic was “agency enforcement actions.”
Kirkelie said he can’t discuss what happened at that private council session. But shortly after the closed session ended, city staffers were at New Hope to “red tag” the structure.
“We had no choice but to enforce our rules,” Kirkelie said.
Stafford said he had been working with city building officials to get the unresolved issues fixed and they had given him until the end of next week to get the job done. That changed Tuesday.
He doesn’t blame the city for enforcing its laws.
“It’s on me,” he said. “I didn’t get the job done.”
The violations cited by the city include, among others, handrails that have yet to be erected, occupancy limits signs that were not posted and an electrical permit that must be obtained.
On Wednesday, New Hope executive director Ric Rose and shelter director Cheryl Borden did their best to keep operations going by moving essential services into the shelter’s parking lot and onto a grassy lawn in front of the building.
Lunch was served. Most clients were able to pick up belongings they’d stored in the shelter. Coffee was available. Someone donated pizza Wednesday afternoon, which was set out on folding tables.
Many people who use the shelter spent much of Wednesday on a pre-arranged trip to pick up garbage along the Puyallup River. Borden said more than 30 of the center’s clients participated in the cleanup, removing 3,000 pounds of trash from the river banks and trail.
Others went to the Puyallup Public Library to read or relax. But many also camped out on the lawn, unrolling their sleeping bags in the grass or on blue tarpaulins. They chatted, smoked and filled out the paperwork necessary to secure a bed in the Freezing Nights program.
Clients seemed more resigned than angry, with many saying they’d miss the services available while the shelter is closed.
“I know things happen. That’s part of life,” said Katherine Basden, who often uses the shelter.
Clients said the center is vital to their job searches and their attempts to find permanent housing. Since its November 2014 opening, the center has helped find permanent housing for 100 homeless people, Borden said.
Jessica Sattler, 38, a former mental health center worker who was leaning against the New Hope building Thursday, said that until a few months ago she lived in a $300,000 Sumner home. A domestic dispute left her homeless. Now she bounces from living with relatives to camping by the river.
Without the center, she said, she’d have a difficult time in pursuing new jobs via the Internet and keeping up with her social services providers. The center provided Wi-Fi access for the homeless.
She and other center clients contended that a small number of the homeless population are responsible for the problems that concern Puyallup residents. Those drug-addicted and mentally ill homeless, she said, are creating an understandable backlash from residents.
“I am just appalled by some of the behavior I see,” Sattler said. “I understand why people are upset.”
Staff wrtier Adam Lynn contributed to this report.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663