The Puyallup City Council took its first concrete step late Tuesday to deal with the side effects of the city’s new wave of homelessness by adopting an ordinance putting tighter controls on social service agencies serving that population.
The short-term measure was a small part of a multipronged plan city officials conceived to minimize the adverse effects of that growing population while addressing the causes of and cures for the homeless population’s plight.
That plan, unveiled by Assistant City Manager Steve Kirkelie, includes:
▪ Possible city contributions to a new mental health hospital.
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▪ A special docket at the city’s municipal court for cases involving the mentally ill and drug addicted.
▪ New coordination among police agencies dealing with the homeless.
▪ A freshened effort to build affordable housing for low-income people.
▪ Creation of a rapid-response team among city departments to deal with emergent homeless issues.
▪ Establishment of an alcohol-impact zone downtown.
▪ A coordinated effort to bolster shelter capacity in the region.
More immediately, the council added social service agencies serving the homeless to the list of high-impact uses deserving special scrutiny and regulations to protect the population.
High-impact business could, under the ordinance, be required to hire additional security personnel, screen their clientele and enforce rules of conduct on their clients.
The council unanimously approved that amendment to its business license ordinance as residents again more than filled the council chamber in a spirited public airing of their grievances and their thoughts about the homeless issue.
Late Tuesday’s meeting was the third consecutive council session dominated by testimony about the homeless issue.
Mayor John Hopkins said the council plans to spend much time in the future addressing the root of the issue.
“We have a lot more that we are going to be doing,” he told the crowd.
That crowd in large measure complained that many of the homeless were engaged in inappropriate behavior, urinating and defecating in public, fighting, using drugs and stealing to support their habits.
Resident Gene Landry told the council that Puyallup residents are generous by nature and want to help the unfortunate. But their generosity has limits, he said.
“If people keep on with their bad habits, the generosity will be turned off,” he said.
Jenny Roberts, a downtown-business owner, told council members that the New Hope Resource Center failed to enforce its own guidelines regarding the homeless people it serves.
Roberts, whose business in near New Hope’s homeless service center, said she has seen fights in the center’s parking lots, a drug arrest and a dispute in which one homeless woman ordered her pit bull to attack another.
Roberts said those who rightly complain about the problems the center causes shouldn’t be criticized by homeless advocates as heartless and unkind.
The New Hope Center, at 414 Spring St., has become the focus of the homeless issue.
City inspectors red-tagged the center three weeks ago for building code violations. The center had served a daily lunch to the homeless, offered them access to social services and served as a gathering place for vans to pick up the homeless for nightly meals and shelter at area churches.
Center officials said they expect to correct the building code issues and reopen within a few weeks. In the meantime, the center is conducting business in its parking lot.
Ric Rose, a Puyallup attorney and a founder of the resource center, warned that the ordinance was “overbroad and vague.”
He said courts have ruled it unlawful for cities to unnecessarily restrict agencies that serve the disabled. He estimated that more than 50 percent of New Hope’s clients are mentally or physically disabled.
He advised the council to “think carefully about involving the city in expensive and extended litigation” over restrictions imposed on New Hope.
Cheryl Borden, New Hope’s executive director, said she is working with homeless organizations, such as the Tacoma Rescue Mission and Catholic Community Services, to develop new protocols and procedures to serve Puyallup’s homeless.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663