A service center for the homeless that has become a lightning rod for criticism since opening two years ago might have to implement a handful of security and operational changes if it wants to keep doing business in Puyallup.
Under a draft proposal from Puyallup’s Development Service Department, the New Hope Resources Center would be required to strengthen its code of conduct, set up a 24-hour hotline for complaints, erect new fencing and lighting, remove picnic tables from the public right of way adjacent to its near-downtown location and employ security guards to enforce its policies and standards of behavior.
Those proposed conditions would become part of a new “high-impact business license” the homeless center would have to seek when its present business license expires later this year.
The additional requirements, which are still subject to revision, have drawn generally favorable reviews from residents who say they’ve been victimized by Puyallup’s growing homeless population.
More than 50 of those residents and others showed up at a public hearing on the city’s proposal Monday at Puyallup City Hall. Some residents urged even stronger measures.
Former Puyallup Mayor Kathy Turner, for instance, asked that the security guards be licensed, bonded and in uniform. She asked that the conditions include ejection of persons who had consumed any alcohol or drugs, not just those who were severely impacted by those substances as the city rules propose.
Turner said the center needs to rigorously enforce the rules of conduct, or the problems encountered by residents will remain. New Hope has proposed a new conduct code that includes, among other things, a requirement that participants make progress in a program designed to return them to mainstream society if they are to continue receiving services from New Hope.
New Hope officials have said some of the conditions will impose undue financial burdens while not improving conditions at the center at 414 Spring St.
Cheryl Borden, New Hope’s former operations director and a member of the New Hope board, said the requirements for licensed security guards will add little safety for residents while costing the center some $7,500 a month.
New Hope volunteers, who know many of the center’s clients personally, now handle minor disturbances or violations. Major incidents merit a police response, she said.
A report from the city says police have responded to the center more than 300 times in the past two years.
Borden said those police contacts aren’t all emergency requests. Some involved consulting with police about services available to clients, she said, and others were calls initiated by nearby residents or businesses that proved to be overreactions.
She was particularly critical of the proposed requirement for a 24-hour phone line for citizen complaints. Many of those complaints, Borden said, involve people not connected with the center. And the center has no ability to handle situations that occur away from the building or outside the center’s business hours.
Puyallup attorney Ric Rose, a founder of New Hope, said the the center has recruited Tacoma civil rights attorney John Purbaugh and the Seattle-based Northwest Justice Project to help fight the city’s rules.
The Monday meeting was led by city administrators. Council members had been cautioned to stay away because of the possibility they could be sued for appearing to favor one side or another in permitting matters.
New Hope provides social service referral services for the homeless and lunchtime meals several times weekly. The city closed the center for several weeks last year because it didn’t meet building code requirements.
The city attempted to buy and relocate the center, but the center and the city could not agree on a price.
“We wanted to find another better place to locate before we moved out, but the city had no suggestions,” Borden said. “We didn’t want to interrupt the services we provide our clients.”
John Gillie: 253-597-8663