There is a dire need in our community for a homeless youth shelter — not one of the Pierce County business owners objecting to the youth shelter proposal in South Tacoma has ever said a word against the need for one. But the operators, Community Youth Services, should not place homeless youths in the heart of a business district that is trying to revitalize.
It’s not the homeless shelter that business owners are against; it’s the location. The Neighborhood and Community Services Department of the City of Tacoma wants the drop-in center to be placed right in the middle of a retail shopping area.
None of the other Tacoma shelters is in a retail shopping area; they are all in commercial areas.
Current zoning in the South Tacoma neighborhood mixed use business district does not allow this type of use. To place a facility like this in a retail area requires a conditional use permit. That conditional use process in the municipal code shows just how detrimental a large facility like this could be to a retail area.
Why didn’t the city pick a location to shelter homeless youth in the Proctor District, Sixth Avenue Business District, Stadium Business District or better yet, downtown Tacoma? How about the University of Washington Tacoma campus, since apparently the UW already has people ready and willing to help?
When this proposed center gets full, the precedent will allow the next drop-in centers to be easily placed into the other retail business districts in the city. How could businesses argue against it if there is already one operating in the South Tacoma business district?
Shoppers have many choices when it comes to area retail, and the shoppers’ perception is often their reality. Most people will not want to shop where there is a known congregation of homeless people. We resent the cavalier way Pierce County and the city are dumping the entire homeless youth population from the entire county into our business district with no consideration to what will happen to the existing retail businesses and their employees.
As is usual with government, one hand gives while the other hand takes away. The Tacoma City Council has allocated about $2 million in its budget for streetscape improvements in South Tacoma. Environmental Services has also planned a $2 million groundwater/streetscape project.
Tacoma Public Works Department is working with South Tacoma Auto and Retail Stores Association on a low impact development projected to cost $6 million to $11 million. These are also for streetscape improvements. After a homeless shelter is in place, these investments would be like putting lipstick on a pig. Very few would come to admire them.
Neighborhood and Community Services Department came into South Tacoma proposing to place many homeless youth and young adults into the heart of our retail business district, one that is trying to revitalize. Does this make sense to anyone? It doesn’t to us.
Brenda Valentine is president of the South Tacoma Business District Association