Discarded syringes, bottles of urine, piles of riverbank trash, public defecation and a wave of property crimes have arrived in Puyallup with a new population of homeless people, more than three dozen speakers told the Puyallup City Council on Tuesday night.
Those speakers were among a standing-room crowd that jammed the council’s chambers and overflowed into the hall.
They came to let the council know how they were being adversely affected by the growing homeless population and to demand more effective solutions for themselves and homeless people.
The council had scheduled Tuesday night’s study session to educate itself about the programs and resources available to deal with homelessness in Pierce County. Council members heard from a half dozen community and governmental organizations tasked with helping the homeless.
But the bulk of the session was occupied by public testimony from residents frustrated and angry that the city seems powerless to deal with the problems caused by some homeless people. Some of their concern centered on New Hope Resource Center, a church-based nonprofit that opened in November 2014 to serve Puyallup’s homeless.
Former longtime Democratic state lawmaker Jim Kastama told the council that “the people of the northeast section of town are bearing the burden of other people’s altruism.
“In two minutes (the amount of time allotted for each speaker) I can’t elaborate on the prowling and thefts my family has experienced nor the exposure to prostitution, vandalism and drug dealing at our local park due to the increase in the homeless population,” he said.
The New Hope Resource Center, Kastama said, serves the homeless population of not just Puyallup but also others attracted to the area by its services.
Cheryl Borden, New Hope program manager, said many of the out-of-town homeless are attracted to Puyallup by the availability of other resources such as Good Samaritan Hospital. Others come to the area to serve time in the Puyallup jail, but don’t leave after their release.
The resource center attempts to help those out-of-towners return to their hometowns so relatives and friends can help them.
“I can’t tell you how many tickets I’ve bought to places like Spokane and Chehalis,” Borden said.
Kastama suggested the homeless need to take responsibility for helping solve their own problems, which include drug addiction, mental health issues, lack of education or job training.
“They must also work perhaps helping this community in a volunteer capacity,” he said. “And if a person is unwilling to do this, we must have the courage to ask them to move on,” he said.
Citizen speakers told the council:
▪ The River Trail, which the city spent some $3.5 million to build with the help of citizen volunteers, has become a dangerous place to walk.
“We don’t feel safe walking the River Trail. We don’t feel safe having (my daughters) play in our backyard alone,” said Ashley Cuyle.
▪ Some of the homeless population camping near the Puyallup River routinely discard old clothes, bottles of urine and the remnants of items they have stolen into the river.
▪ Pioneer Park in the center of downtown has become a hangout for homeless people, some of whom curse at families playing in the park or make lewd comments about mothers bringing their children to the park.
▪ The Puyallup Library has become a makeshift changing room for the homeless with men and women who take sponge baths in the restrooms.
▪ Some downtown business owners say their customers have been confronted by the homeless begging for money or urinating in public.
Tim Mellema, the owner of two downtown Puyallup businesses, said he considers himself a caring, sympathetic individual who wishes to see homeless people helped to overcome their situations.
“But there is a huge difference between helping and enabling,” he said. “We are destroying our city by making it a mecca for the homeless to migrate to.”
Jenny Roberts, the owner of a hair salon near the Hope Center, said she has had to clean up feces, bloody tampons and trash from her location. She said some of her stylists have left because they feared for their safety. She is thinking about moving the salon to another locale.
Homeless care providers told the council they are working hard to find homes for the homeless despite limited resources and rising rents and home prices in the area.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663