Tacoma City Council enacts tent ban in parks but delays enforcement as shelters sought

Enforcement of a new park rule prohibiting walled structures, including tents, in Tacoma parks has been pushed back 60 days.

The City Council voted 8-1 to approve an amended ordinance changing the park code. Council member Chris Beale was the lone “no” vote.

The amendments would prohibit police from enforcing the code until Dec. 1.

The changes will allow the city to identify temporary shelter sites for people experiencing homelessness to go once the ban is enforced, said Council member Keith Blocker.

Blocker sponsored the amendment following concerns from the public last month.

“We know staff is working diligently to finalize a contract to facilitate a convening of residents, service providers and those experiencing homelessness. We also know staff is working diligently with local service providers to expand shelter options in Tacoma,” Blocker said on Tuesday night to a full crowd.

“We heard you,” he added.

Metro Parks supports the action to delay enforcement.

“We support the City Council’s action, and we will be at the table with Associated Ministries, the Metropolitan Development Council and other service providers and advocates as the community develops safe alternatives for shelter,” Metro Parks spokesman Hunter George said in an email Tuesday.

More than 30 people signed up to speak during public comment, the majority regarding the park code ordinance, which would prohibit any walled structures in Tacoma parks, including tents. Camping overnight is already against park code. Violations can result in a Class 1 civil infraction, with a fine of no more than $250, according to state law.

Members of the crowd were holding “Winter is Coming” signs, referencing those staying in tents exposed to the cold weather.

Council member Beale called the public testimony “gut-wrenching” and questioned the timing of the ordinance and said he lost sleep over the issue.

“I just think the timing’s wrong,” Beale said. “I’m not sure why we need to pass this portion of the ordinance now without the comprehensive work that is going to be done, that is going to be contracted, to be done first,” he said.

Maureen Howard, who sits on the Tacoma Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness, told The News Tribune she was pleased with the decision.

“Sixty days is better than nothing,” Howard said. “Hopefully it gives everybody enough time for the city to find places for daytime shelter and nighttime shelter for all.”

A couple of speakers on Tuesday spoke in support of the park code changes, including a man who said he found needles and trash at People’s Park.

“There is a voice missing from this ... and it’s the voice of my 4-year-old daughter,” he said. “We had a stabbing and a death. How am I supposed to bring my child to a place like that?”

Speakers also included Metropolitan Development Council CEO Pam Duncan, who said she’s looking forward to working with the city to identify shelter locations.

“I am sick and tired of every single year we have the same conversation like we forgot winter was coming,” she said.

Woodards said at the meeting that she intends to hold city staff and the council accountable for having more shelters by the time enforcement begins Dec. 1.

“I intend on holding out city manager and the rest of our staff accountable to make sure that we have a solution and that we’re not just telling people to move and giving them a place to go,” Woodards said. “There may not be one today, but we’re going to work hard to make sure that there’s one by the time this ordinance is enacted.”