It was standing-room only before the Lacey Planning Commission on Tuesday night as more than 50 people attended a public hearing to speak out against a proposal to address homelessness.
Not all of the testimony was on topic. Some expressed general concerns about homelessness in Lacey. Still each person was greeted with round after round of applause that something must be done.
The public hearing was designed to get feedback on a proposal the planning commission has been working on for six months, including proposed changes to the city’s existing emergency housing facility regulations.
Now, the city allows only faith-based organizations to host homeless encampments. Under the proposed changes, nonprofits or local government also would be able to host encampments.
Planning manager Ryan Andrews told the audience that hosting and running an encampment is sometimes beyond the capacity of a church. Under the proposal, a church could host the encampment and a nonprofit could run it, he said.
The proposed changes also would establish standards for public health and safety as well as sanitation.
Some, like Terry Johnson of Lacey, simply called on the city to step up enforcement.
“I think the first step is to enforce our current laws,” he said. “It’s ridiculous that we have a group of people that are allowed to live lawlessly. Most don’t want help, all they want is something for free, damaging everything they come into contact with and it costs the city. Use our funds wisely, increase the police force and enforce our current laws. That’s the first step to making this problem (homelessness) go away.”
Gerald Pike of Lacey, one of the few to speak in favor of the proposal, called it a “reasonable document.” He took issue with how homeless people were characterized during the meeting.
“I’ve spent time in these camps and they’re not the ones you are describing,” he said. “They are young people, trying to make a living and they have nowhere else to go. Go out and find a place to rent and you’ll be surprised at what it costs.”
Dennis Zech, who said he lives in unincorporated Thurston County, raised concerns that Lacey is simply following in Olympia’s footsteps.
“I’m afraid you’re gong to follow what Olympia has done (to address homelessness),” he said. “And if you want to see the results, drive to downtown Olympia. It’s horrible. You can’t let this happen to us.”
Peggy Madsen of Lacey said the proposal doesn’t go far enough. Instead of tents or people sleeping in their vehicles, it needs to be “brick and mortar housing, with mental health and health services, as well as education.”
Anything less is not worth it, she said. “We are wasting our taxpayer dollars, and I’m dead set against it.”
Scott Goodwin of Lacey told the commission not to pursue it at all. Originally from northern California, he said he was familiar with the homeless situation in San Francisco and now Seattle.
“I ask that you not do this,” he said. “If you open this door, it will be like (homelessness) in Olympia, Seattle, San Francisco, Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Don’t do this. I beg you, don’t do this. You will destroy the city.”
The planning commission, an advisory body, is set to have a work session on June 4 to reflect on Tuesday’s public testimony. The commission also is accepting written comment on the proposal through 5 p.m. May 31. Comments can be sent to planning manager Andrews at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who have more generalized concerns about homelessness, Andrews urged them to attend a Lacey City Council meeting set for 6 p.m. June 20 at Salish Middle School, 8605 Campus Glen Drive NE, Lacey. A discussion about homelessness is on the agenda, he said.