Puyallup Council considers new approach to homeless issue

More than a half dozen times last year, the Puyallup City Council saw its chambers filled to overflowing with residents eager to give the council a piece of their minds about the city’s homeless population.

The testimony frequently rose to a passionate crescendo as they complained about crime, drugs and inappropriate behavior. Homeless advocates pleaded for more compassion, more help and more money. In the end, despite receiving an emphatic education into the depth and dimensions of the issue, the council took little long-term corrective action amid the high-volume atmosphere of the council chambers.

Now the council is proposing to change its approach to such policy discussions, appointing a committee with a specific task of researching, debating and discussing more far-reaching solutions to the issue.

“We need to create a mechanism to meet with the stakeholders, to discuss the options and formulate plans to get the job done,” said Puyallup Deputy Mayor John Palmer. “It’s almost impossible to do at a council meeting,”

As recently as two weeks ago, Councilwomen Julie Door and Heather Shadko proposed that the full council discuss using city buildings to house the elderly and families with children who lack adequate shelter during severe weather. But when word spread about the discussion, residents reacted strongly, and the two removed the item from the agenda.

Now Palmer is proposing the council delegate those conversations to a subcommittee.

“I think we need to create a new model so that we can move forward to do things other than create just Band-Aid solutions,” he said.

The council is scheduled to consider Palmer’s idea Tuesday night. Under the proposal, the council would appoint three members to the committee and task them with doing the groundwork for larger proposals.

Door says she supports the idea.

“It’s time to do some legwork to move forward,” she said.

When she and Shadko added the emergency severe-weather housing item to the earlier agenda, she said, they had intended to simply open up the conversation about the issue, not come to an immediate solution, but the public misunderstood their intent.

Palmer said he envisions the committee working with the city administration, with homeless aid groups and with neighbors to perhaps create a permanent shelter with 24-hour staffing to provide temporary housing for the homeless and to help them solve their problems.

“Of course, a high priority is building this in an area outside downtown where the health and safety of residents won’t be threatened,” he said.

The New Hope Resources Center, a nonprofit organization that provides referral services and lunches to homeless people in the near-downtown area, has become the focus of complaints from Puyallup homeowners who say the center attracts some people who openly take drugs, steal and engage in public sex.

The city has come under scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice for its policies regarding homeless people. The city is cooperating with the department.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663

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