A homeless encampment west of Meridian Avenue and north of Levee Road in Puyallup was evacuated this week due to public safety and health concerns.
The camp, located along trails beneath the cover of a group of trees, had been there for at least a year, steadily growing in numbers to more than two-dozen people.
Puyallup police had been called to fires and assaults at the property, which is owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Capt. Scott Engle said.
“Our outreach officers and (Problem-Oriented Policing Unit) officers visited nearly on a weekly basis,” Engle said. “It’s not an area we felt was safe.”
Never miss a local story.
Our outreach officers and (Problem-Oriented Policing Unit) officers visited nearly on a weekly basis. It’s not an area we felt was safe.
Scott Engle, Puyallup Police Department captain
The Puyallup Police Department, city officials and WSDOT have been working together for the last several months to address the situation.
An eviction was intended for July, but due to cost, was pushed to August. WSDOT hired a private contractor for the cleanup, which will cost $17,000.
“Any time we do any kind of cleanup it requires coordination with local jurisdictions,” said WSDOT spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker.
Puyallup Mayor John Hopkins said the camp was noticed about a year ago. He personally visited the site along with other council members and WSDOT representatives.
“At that time there were few impacts to the surrounding areas,” Hopkins said. “I’d say this was a group that just didn’t create too much disturbance in the general area.”
But that changed over time.
“The reason for this happening at this time is because the camp has become a lot more dangerous,” Hopkins said. “It went from being a small, peaceful, somewhat isolated group to (being) ... certainly unsafe.”
The reason for this happening at this time is because the camp has become a lot more dangerous. It went from being a small, peaceful, somewhat isolated group to (being) ... certainly unsafe.
John Hopkins, Mayor of Puyallup
Engle said that efforts have been made to provide people living in the camp with outside resources for help. Those who are still living there, want to stay there, he said.
Last week, the city sent members of Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) to the camp for outreach.
On Friday, a notice was posted to inform the homeless group that they must evacuate the area within 72 hours.
Now, efforts are being made to clean up the site, which should be completed by the end of the week.
For some, facing the eviction wasn’t something out of the norm.
Living at the camp was Tyler, a 24-year-old father, who preferred to be identified by his first name only. He struggled with drug abuse, he said last week, and was in the midst of seeking help so that he could be a better dad.
Tyler became homeless at age 18 and came to the Puyallup camp about six months ago. He said he liked the group of people there.
Tyler said that eviction would be easy to deal with for him — he’d just find another place to go — but that many others would lose all they had.
“What are you going to do with all your stuff?” he said.
For others faced with the eviction, deciding where to go next is a challenge.
Kathy Basden from Tacoma had been living at the site for almost two years, and said she’s gone to Puyallup City Council meetings to speak about the camp.
They can’t tell us you can’t stay here and not give us a place to go.
“They can’t tell us you can’t stay here and not give us a place to go,” she said.
Basden said she does not do drugs or drink alcohol.
“I fell through the cracks,” she said.