Puyallup city officials and some residents are watching closely what effect the seasonal closing of a church-sponsored overnight housing program will have on the growing number of homeless in the city.
“Ordinarily, we see the number of homeless decrease over the course of the first 30 days after ‘Freezing Nights’ shuts down,” Mayor John Hopkins said. “They gradually move away to other cities or to live with friends when the program is over.”
The city is struggling to balance providing shelter and services to the homeless with a new wave of drug use and crime that has accompanied the growing homeless population in the city.
At the center of the controversy is the New Hope Resources Center, whose downtown building remains closed after the city red-tagged it two weeks ago for building code irregularities.
New Hope provides a place where the homeless can store their possessions, eat lunch and contact social service providers.
It also is a gathering spot for homeless people who participate in the Freezing Nights program. Under the program, area churches provide dinner and overnight housing for the homeless on a rotating basis.
The program began in November and concludes at the end of March.
The City Council declared a moratorium on new drop-in social service centers after residents complained about drug use, crime, trash, public urination and inappropriate behavior in neighborhoods near where many homeless camp.
The council also asked the city to formulate a “high impact” business classification for such drop-in centers. Hopkins said the classification is under study and likely will be discussed at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Under the classification, businesses which have a large effect on the city might be asked to take measures to see that the impacts are eased. Measures could include hiring security guards or paying extra fees to cover a higher number of police calls, Hopkins said.
New Hope might not fall under the new classification immediately because it has an existing business license, city Development Services Director Tom Utterbeck said.
But when the license expires in December, the center will become subject to any new restrictions if the City Council acts Tuesday.
Meanwhile, New Hope will be working to correct the building code deficiencies, said the center’s program manager, Cheryl Borden.
“We expect to reopen the building in two to four weeks,” she said.
In the meantime, the center will provide services and lunchtime meals to the homeless in the center’s parking lot on a new schedule.
The center will be open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Lunch is available to the homeless at other locations on the days New Hope will be closed, she said.
During the building rehabilitation period, Borden said, she will meet with officials at Tacoma’s Rescue Mission and Nativity House to borrow ideas about new standards for New Hope clients.
Puyallup residents have complained that the larger number of homeless people living in the area, particularly along the Puyallup River Trail, have made the trail unsuitable for hiking and recreation.
They say homeless drug addicts have stolen items from their cars and homes to pay for their drug habits, and that some homeless people have urinated or defecated in public in their neighborhoods.
Hopkins said the city, along with New Hope and Friends of the River Trail, have bolstered their efforts to clean up the trail, but pockets of trash and encampments remain along the river on land outside the city.
At last week’s City Council meeting, some residents charged that Ric Rose, executive director of the New Hope Resource Center, was using the center to generate business for his legal practice.
The attorney helps homeless and disabled people obtain welfare and Social Security disability payments to help them subsist.
Rose told the council he provides the help as a service to homeless people unable to navigate the labyrinth of agencies and social service bureaucracies that provide the benefits.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663