Downtown Puyallup residents and business owners are banding together to bring back the downtown they all know and love.
Jenny Roberts, owner of Cherry Creek Hair Company, located next door to the New Hope Resource Center, has felt unsafe going to work ever since the resource center for the homeless opened.
“My customers feel unsafe, my employees feel unsafe,” Roberts said. “We’re a hair salon. We can’t lock the door or put a fence up. This is my livelihood.”
Roberts has seen homeless individuals sleeping on the porch of her business, drug deals, fights, and even has had homeless people come inside her salon, harassing her staff and clients.
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Jim Kastama, a former senator who represented the 25th District, lives in the northeast section of town, in the very house he grew up in. Much like Roberts, he’s seen continual increases in garbage, prowlers, cars getting broken into — even his daughters’ bikes were stolen.
“If it’s not locked down, it’ll disappear,” Kastama said.
He says he’s even seen more graphic crimes like drug deals and prostitution.
“I’m fighting for the soul of Puyallup,” the 1978 Puyallup High graduate said. “If the community doesn’t step up, people will leave.”
Both Roberts and Kastama say the uptick in crime and disorderly conduct began two years ago, shortly after the New Hope Resource Center opened. Crime has gotten worse in the last six months, they say.
New Hope has codes of conduct for homeless guests and volunteers, but Kastama and Roberts say the rules aren’t being enforced by the staff of the center.
“If the rules were stricter (at New Hope Resource Center) people wouldn’t stay,” Roberts said. “New Hope Resource Center isn’t working, (the) Freezing Nights (program) isn’t working.”
Roberts says while she agrees with helping the homeless, the current rules and structure in place at New Hope isn’t enough to keep the community safe.
“If we don’t get control, it’s only going to get worse,” she said.
Roberts estimates she spends at least 10 hours a week advocating at Puyallup City Council meetings and dealing with the problems the center causes at her business.
Kastama says that Puyallup citizens have big hearts, but the community is fearing for its safety.
“We have all these great amenities of parks and trails, but people can’t use them without fear,” he said.
He wants to see Puyallup back to how it was: kids playing catch or riding their bikes, and families pushing strollers while walking in downtown.
“I’m holding onto that concept of Puyallup, and I refuse to give that up,” he said. “I want to keep Puyallup as safe as it can be.”
Homelessness in Puyallup series
Part 1: Business owners, neighbors react to growing homeless problem.
Part 2: Puyallup Police Department’s community outreach officer, who works primarily with homeless individuals, talks about the issue from his perspective.
Part 3: Puyallup City Manager and City Council members speak about what the city is planning on doing about the issue.