For many of the homeless currently staying in Puyallup, the New Hope Resource Center is the only way they can connect with needed services to find stable homes or resources for jobs.
Since opening the center’s doors Nov. 1, 2014, New Hope officials say there was no way they could have anticipated an increase countywide in homelessness.
“When we opened, I didn’t anticipate there would be a 26 percent increase in the homeless population in Pierce County in one year,” said Ric Rose, former executive director of the New Hope Resource Center. “This is a region and nationwide epidemic that we’re all struggling with. To blame New Hope in that context is a misunderstanding of the bigger picture (of homelessness).”
The building New Hope occupies at 414 Spring Street in downtown Puyallup was red tagged by the city of Puyallup on March 15, forcing the center to shut down until it could be brought up to code.
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Since the building is red tagged as of April 25, the facility is still operating, but on a condensed schedule from its parking lot.
“We’re on a condensed schedule Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 11 to 2,” executive director Cheryl Borden said. “We need to maintain contact with as many of the people as we could because we’re working through so many of the resources things to get them housed, get them into treatment, and a lot of them were waiting to hear back and people can’t find them if they’re not coming into the center. We’re the only way they can hook up with access points for housing (or) order services for veterans and their families. It’s a lot harder for them to find those services.”
Borden attributes the trash and homeless encampments in and around Puyallup to a lack of year-round shelter for chronically homeless adults.
I think the beauty of New Hope is it does create a connection for people to those resources. It’s the only chance to resolve the barriers they have to getting housing, getting treatment.
Cheryl Borden, executive director of New Hope Resource Center
“That’s the reality of the situation,” she said. “I think the beauty of New Hope is it does create a connection for people to those resources. It’s the only chance to resolve the barriers they have to getting housing, getting treatment. Whether that’s mental health treatment or substance abuse, they’re not going to be able to manage getting the services and the support they need from a homeless encampment in the middle of the woods.”
When New Hope opened nearly two years ago, Rose and Borden both say the community was really happy. Less homeless folks were hanging out at the library or the emergency department at Good Samaritan, and had a place to go during the day.
“I think in the beginning, it was a real win-win for everybody,” Borden said. “Everybody was feeling good about it. It’s hard to anticipate all of the impacts with homelessness being on the increase the way it is — not just here but everywhere else. I think some of the problems that you see that are identified that are real concerns. The garbage and those things, those are largely because there are homeless people that are not sheltered. You can mitigate a lot of those things by providing a year-round homeless shelter or housing.”
The city reacts
On April 5, the Puyallup City Council voted 7-0 in favor of passing a high impact business license moratorium, which allowed the city to impose requirements for insurance, security or requirements to reimburse the city for any costs including measures to reduce or control impacts, and measures to maintain compatibility with, protect, preserve, conserve or enhance the neighborhood.
“That went into effect five days after we officially passed it,” Puyallup Mayor John Hopkins said. “However, it is in some respects incomplete because development services have to put together the rules and regulations that are associated with that. That’s not a council function. (The) council made it clear we wanted some outreach to the various entities about what was reasonable (and) what was unreasonable.”
The council’s original intent of passing the high impact business license moratorium was take action quickly after hearing from concerned citizens and business owners — one step toward solving the bigger-picture homeless issue.
“We were really trying to do it from a high-elevation position and work our way down to the details,” Hopkins said. “At our first meeting, it was a study session. When we brought Tess Colby, (the) Housing, Community Development and Homeless Programs manager at Pierce County Community Connections, in (the council was) making a statement. What we want to do is approach this whole thing holistically. We don’t want to do what other entities have done in the past, and that is react. We want to look at the whole picture and not just have a knee-jerk reaction to one component of it. We started off with that attitude.”
26 percent rise in homelessness in Pierce County since 2014
According to City Manager Kevin Yamamoto, the City Council made homelessness in Puyallup its top policy priority of the year.
“Typically, Puyallup over the years has been a far less urban city,” he said. “Tacoma, Seattle, Lakewood, those types of cities you expect to encounter folks that are experiencing homelessness. Over the last three, four to five years folks have seen a significant increase in homelessness in the Puyallup community. That change in character, more than anything, has really gotten the attention of the residents and business owners or operators in Puyallup because it’s not the way they’re accustomed to seeing how Puyallup is. To me, more than anything, it’s more a character and impacts issue.”
The impacts issue is ultimately what sparked the council to take initial action to pass the high-impact ordinance to deal with the impacts the homeless are having on the community.
Yamamoto and Assistant City Manager Steve Kirkelie met recently with the Tacoma Rescue Mission, Catholic Community Services and MDC (Metropolitan Development Council) to educate themselves and the council on what the experts on homelessness are doing.
“We’ve also invited all these folks to come speak to the council on May 17 as the voices of the professionals,” Yamamoto said. “In the homeless advocacy community, you have folks that are just merely volunteers and certainly on the other end of the spectrum is highly educated professionals or someone that might provide mental health counseling services psychiatrists or psychologists or chemical dependency professionals. We’re learning by engaging all these different voices. We’ve certainly heard from the volunteer, faith-based advocacy community over the years, but now we’re meeting directly with these folks so we hear from the professional side what approaches work in addressing homelessness.”
By bringing in all these resources, Yamamoto says it will allow the council to have an inventory of providers, services and facilities in the region to help the council decide on where to best channel the city’s resources. The council has the option to establish an access point, or a place where people experiencing homelessness can come in and triage them to the best resources for their needs.
“The council will then consider if we do something beyond an access point and build a facility — either shelter or housing — and then in addition from a policy standpoint they need to decide if we want to have more affordable housing in Puyallup,” he said. “And if we do, do we modify our current development codes so as to provide incentives for builders and that will be an item of consideration.”
While city staff has its work cut out when it comes to assisting the council to find the best solution, at-large Councilman Dean Johnson says it’s not a problem but an opportunity.
I hope we can use this to become a catalyst for other cities in our region. We can bring creative, innovative ideas to find a unique solution. We can rise to the opportunity and solve it to be a positive influence.
Dean Johnson, at-large Councilman
“I hope we can use this to become a catalyst for other cities in our region,” Johnson said. “We can bring creative, innovative ideas to find a unique solution. We can rise to the opportunity and solve it to be a positive influence.”
More importantly, Yamamoto says the city wants to find a sustainable and balanced approach to addressing folks that are experiencing homeless and the spillover impacts.
“The city isn’t on one side or the other,” Yamamoto said. “The city is trying to find the middle ground and a sensible and sustainable project.”
Homelessness in Puyallup series
Part 1: Business owners, neighbors react.
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.