The Puyallup City Council has voted to extend a moratorium that prohibits new emergency shelters, drop-in centers and other institutions that provide social services to persons experiencing homelessness from operating in the city.
The extension was approved on a 6-0 vote at a special meeting Thursday. Councilman Tom Swanson was not present for the meeting. Councilman Dean Johnson and Mayor John Palmer cast their votes over the phone.
“It was a sound decision,” city manager Kevin Yamamoto said. “It’s just standard operating procedure — it just literally keeps the status quo in place until they can get their regulatory work done.”
The moratorium was first enacted in March 2016 and has continued to be extended as the council develops a plan to address homelessness in the city.
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In the past, the moratorium was extended in 180-day increments.
The council went with a 60-day extension this time because city officials say they’re closing in on a plan they hope will alleviate the impact of homelessness in Puyallup.
“Realistically, in two months, we should have this done, and it will be almost entirely based off the Bellevue ordinance,” Yamamoto said.
At meeting on July 10, city staff gave a presentation on the city of Bellevue’s draft standards for homeless-serving uses. Currently, Puyallup doesn’t have such land-use regulations.
Bellevue’s draft ordinance addresses specific zones where homeless services would be permitted and prohibited. The permitted list includes “a variety of commercial, office, downtown and medical zone districts, as well as two area-specific commercial districts.” The prohibited list includes residential, commercial and light industrial districts.
Bellevue’s ordinance applies to day service centers and permanent overnight shelters. It does not apply to temporary public safety facilities, temporary encampments and religious organizations hosting temporary encampments within buildings on their property.
The ordinance also requires a Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) process, which is meant to “foster communication between the community and Homeless Services Use operators” when a homeless-serving facility is proposed in an area. The GNA Committee consists of “neighboring residents, City staff, a School District rep and a rep of the proposed facility and their funding agency(ies).”
Council members agreed to use Bellevue’s standards as a baseline for developing their own ordinance. A draft of that ordinance is expected to come to the Council meeting on Aug. 21.
“I think we’re close on our hopefully tight regulations that we’re going to have,” Councilwoman Cynthia Jacobsen said at the Aug. 9 meeting.
For some Puyallup residents, the wait has been a long one. For years, they’ve spoken during council meetings about issues of sanitation, security, theft, littering, illegal drug use, indecent exposure and other negative impacts occurring around businesses and in neighborhoods near an existing drop-in center, the New Hope Resource Center located at 414 Spring St.
“The New Hope (Center) will be open for four years of business in October, and the pace at which the city operates is embarrassing and unacceptable,” Puyallup resident Jenny Roberts said during the public hearing. “This has been on the front burner the entire time, and it needs to be addressed and figured out once and for all.”
The extension of the moratorium didn’t come as a surprise to New Hope Resource Center executive director Paula Anderson. The moratorium would only affect the center if it were to move, and while that was a discussion in the past, Anderson said there are currently no plans to move at this time.
“I’d like to see the city working together with service providers and the community to try to resolve the issue of homelessness and allow the native resources to be in the area that’s appropriate for the people that need it,” Anderson said.
JoAnn Laning also spoke to Council at the meeting, stating she had to switch from Kalles Junior High to Aylen Junior High because her parents thought it was unsafe for her to walk through downtown Puyallup.
“I am 12 years old, and I’ve lived here for seven years and unfortunately have been exposed to homelessness, drugs and increased crimes,” Laning said. “So please don’t allow any more unregulated homeless facilities in our tiny city.”
Carlos Castañon, a homeless outreach worker with Comprehensive Life Resources, attended the meeting and told The Herald that there was misdirection of fear and bias being spread.
“As an outreach worker, it’s a complicated answer,” Castañon said. “If the moratorium is to wait until a decision is made on an ordinance, then I support that. But do I support having an ordinance that prevents further agencies opening up (that help homeless folk)? I definitely don’t.”
For Castañon, it comes down to what will be in the draft ordinance the city brings to council this month.
“If they thought not providing services to people was going to be the answer to their problems, they’re gravely in error,” Castañon said.