Our region is facing a quiet storm and a human crisis that challenges how we define compassion.
As mayor of Federal Way, I am often confronted with difficult decisions that have lasting consequences. Nothing has opened my eyes as much as the conditions I witnessed firsthand, while touring a homeless encampment just days after the use of a propane tank caused a large fire in the woods, 50 yards from a neighborhood.
As a city, we have been working to mitigate the property damage associated with homeless encampments for years. However, recent increases in the number of the homeless in Federal Way (150 percent in the last one-night count) and the deteriorating conditions in which these people are living demand further action.
At my direction, the city has launched the Homeless Encampment Services Initiative. Through this multifaceted approach, we will address the homeless encampments in three areas:
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▪ Coordination of service providers from the city and the region.
▪ Providing care, compassionand referral of available services to those in need.
▪ Initiating the cleanup of encampments to address health, safety, environmental concerns, and damage to public and private property.
We are consolidating the many lists of services into one convenient handout. This handout will list where the homeless can find shelter, get a hot meal, take a shower, and seek treatment for chemical dependency and mental health needs.
Catholic Community Services, in coordination with the city and Sound Alliance, will open a Day Center in Federal Way this July. Once open, the center will serve as a great resource for our homeless population.
It is the third part of our plan where we receive the most questions. Most commonly, where are the inhabitants of the homeless encampments going to go once we clean them up?
We understand the need for affordable housing and the national push for rapid rehousing. This is a laudable goal, but policy makers must understand that we cannot dictate outcomes no matter how well intentioned we may be.
Our region must address a few core problems first. This is a health and safety issue, not simply a matter of where these people will go. In a free society, autonomous human beings can go wherever they please, as long as it is legal.
We must also be cognizant of the reality that the vast numbers of camp inhabitants currently refuse the services our region provides.
So, where do they go? In Federal Way we are going to start with where they cannot go.
No one has the legal right to destroy public land or create a public heath risk by leaving hypodermic needles and drugs in the open. No one has the right to take over public spaces like sidewalks and parks.
People do not have the right to destroy wetlands or pollute the environment with dangerous propane tanks strewn about. No one has the right to trespass on private property, leaving property owners with thousands of dollars in damages.
In the case of the encampment near Hylebos Park, the price tag is estimated to be nearly $30,000 to clean up the devastating mess.
If we truly care about our fellow men and women then we must not allow this to continue. It is not an act of compassion to allow people to destroy their lives or harm the people around them.
Our region needs an intervention. We must confront this crisis head-on. To acquiesce is to surrender, and in Federal Way, surrender is never an option.
Jim Ferrell is the mayor of Federal Way.