Puyallup homeless center faces opposition at public meeting

A Puyallup center for the homeless Thursday night outlined a new set of rules and procedures designed to make the center a better neighbor.

Many of the 250 attending the public meeting at Puyallup High School were having none of it.

“We came here to hear about new rules that would help heal the homeless problems in Puyallup,” said Puyallup downtown resident Patty Gratz in testimony at the meeting. “What we got was a glorified infomercial for New Hope.”

New Hope Resource Center has become a lightning rod for criticism from many Puyallup citizens. The downtown center serves Puyallup’s homeless population with referral services, counseling and meals.

Some of those citizens complained Thursday that the shelter has become a magnet for drunks, drug addicts and criminals who are preying on Puyallup homeowners and disturbing the peace in the suburban community of 30,000.

The Puyallup City Council has created a new “high impact” business license for operations such as New Hope. It requires them to take extraordinary measures to soften the impact of their presence and prevent unpleasant side effects.

The city has yet to decide what special measures New Hope will have to take to qualify for their high-impact license. Thursday’s community meeting was held in part to let residents speak about that.

The center — which the city shut down for nearly two months this past spring for building code violations — said it has already implemented stricter rules and stiffer requirements for those receiving services at the center.

The center’s new executive director, Paula Anderson, said the center is carefully screening those who want help. The center is requiring clients to make progress toward putting their lives back together or they will be denied further help. The center is also implementing new security measures, such as video camera surveillance and perhaps a perimeter fence.

The center serves an average of 37 clients daily, and screens an average of four new clients each day.

Cheryl Borden, the center’s former managing director, said the center doesn’t recruit clients from outside the area. She said 71 percent of the people the center serves lived in the Puyallup area before it opened 21 months ago.

The center is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It provides lunch, but no overnight accommodations.

Some speakers said the center is badly located near downtown’s main business area and between two schools. Jenny Roberts, who operates a hair salon adjacent to the Hope Center, said she has had to call police 53 times to deal with issues related to the center.

In the past 10 months, police have been called 211 times to the center, she said.

If the center can’t be closed or moved, she suggested the city should require 24-hour security, enforcement of the “no smoking within 25 feet of the building” law, hiring certified counselors and strict enforcement of existing rules.

Roberts said she has seen public sexual activity among the New Hope clients, public urination and defecation on New Hope property, and clients have threatened her on her property.

The Puyallup City Council tried to buy the New Hope building, but negotiations stalled.

In recent months, the city’s police force and public works department has moved homeless encampments away from the city’s River Trail, and Pierce County this week began evicting about 100 homeless campers from the banks of the Puyallup River along River Road.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663

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