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Puyallup imposes new rules on homeless center after talks falter

A couple dozen homeless people wait for New Hope Resource Center in downtown Puyallup to open at 5:30 p.m. as part of its Freezing Night Program in December. The city has imposed a new security rule on the center, and the center has agreed to abide by other new rules.
A couple dozen homeless people wait for New Hope Resource Center in downtown Puyallup to open at 5:30 p.m. as part of its Freezing Night Program in December. The city has imposed a new security rule on the center, and the center has agreed to abide by other new rules. phaley@thenewstribune.com

The city of Puyallup late Tuesday imposed new rules on a controversial homeless center after failing to reach an agreement with the shelter’s sponsors.

The rules, which the city says are aimed at reducing the center’s impact on Puyallup neighborhoods, have been under study for months while the New Hope Resource Center’s sponsoring organization and city officials tried to hammer out a deal.

In the end, the negotiations were stymied by a disagreement over security requirements, Puyallup City Manager Kevin Yamamoto said. The city wanted the center to hire professional security guards to deal with client issues at the center, while New Hope wanted volunteers to handle security.

New Hope, staffed mostly by volunteers, said it didn’t have the money to hire guards. The group told the city that posting guards at the near-downtown center would cost almost $100,000 a year.

The parties also could not agree on the city’s counteroffer: a more limited requirement for a security guard during the noon meal and when homeless people gather to be transported to and from overnight shelters.

The city decided to impose that rule this week after talks stalled. Yamamoto said the city estimated the limited security will cost the center about $25,000 yearly. New Hope has until the end of April to comply.

Center officials plan to meet this week to ponder their response to the city’s edict. Director Paula Anderson said the number of incidents on center grounds already has decreased without a guard. Spending more money for security would not help the center accomplish its basic mission.

“I don’t think that hiring a security guard is going to help us move more people out of homelessness,” she said.

Since the center was established in late 2014, it has helped 170 people move into stable housing and receive treatment for substance abuse or mental illness, Anderson said.

New Hope did agree to several other changes to its business license requirements that the city also imposed Tuesday, including new lighting and sight-obstructing fencing, cleanliness standards for the center grounds, an incident log maintained by the center and a telephone system to field citizen complaints.

The new rules set varying deadlines. New Hope has, for instance, until the end of August to erect a fence on two sides of its property. It must maintain a code of conduct for its clients immediately.

The center has been at the center of complaints from Puyallup residents and business people who say it has been a magnet for drug addicts and miscreants who steal from nearby residents and businesses, and scatter trash and syringes around the neighborhood and downtown parks.

The city has moved cautiously in imposing new demands on the center, in part because the federal Department of Justice is investigating complaints that the city has violated homeless people’s rights.

A lawsuit filed by the DOJ or by the homeless organization could prove expensive and time-consuming for the city, Yamamoto has told the council. If the federal government forced the city to abide by a consent decree that could be imposed by the courts, the city would lose its flexibility to deal with the homelessness issues, Yamamoto has said.

In a memo to City Council members, Yamamoto advised them not to comment on the new rules because of the federal inquiry.

Puyallup Mayor John Hopkins noted that he has not been critical of the center’s mission, but of its location. The center is reportedly shopping for a new site farther from retail businesses and residential neighborhoods.

Dozens of Puyallup residents have repeatedly told the council in public hearings and council sessions that they want New Hope moved out of its 414 Spring Street location. The city offered to buy the center building, but the center and the city couldn’t agree on a price.

John Gillie:

253-597-8663

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