Puyallup Herald

Puyallup’s rules for where homeless centers can operate are unacceptable, board rules

Seeking out the homeless along Puyallup’s Foothills Trail

The Comprehensive Life Resources’ homeless outreach team finds the homeless and connects them with the resources they need.
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The Comprehensive Life Resources’ homeless outreach team finds the homeless and connects them with the resources they need.

A state board that oversees land-use disputes has ruled that a Puyallup ordinance that restricts where homeless centers can be operated is unacceptable.

In a ruling released Monday, the Growth Management Hearings Board said Puyallup’s designated zones for homeless centers were not accessible enough through public transportation.

The ruling also said the ordinance violates a city law that requires Puyallup to “promote a variety of housing for people with special needs, such as the elderly, disabled, homeless, and single householders.”

The City Council has until October to decide on changes to the ordinance, the Growth Management Hearings Board said.

Puyallup’s attorney, Joe Beck, said the city still is evaluating the ruling and hasn’t decided whether to appeal the decision or revise the ordinance.

Dealing with homelessness has cost the city more than $1 million dollars on litigation, enforcement and programs in the past three years, Beck said. The city has been involved in at least four lawsuits over the issue with nonprofit Homeward Bound, which runs Puyallup’s New Hope Resource Center.

Homeward Bound challenged Puyallup after the City Council voted in September to pass an ordinance that restricted homeless services to specified “zones.”

The ordinance permits homeless shelters and drop-in centers on 18 parcels encompassing 41 acres in the northwest corner of the city. It was the only land to meet requirements like 1,000-foot buffers between the facilities and “sensitive uses,” such as residential-zoned parcels, schools, parks, trails, libraries, day cares, preschools and special-needs senior housing.

Existing resource centers, like New Hope, were grandfathered in.

Since the ordinance’s passage, no one has applied to build a homeless service center within the city limits, Beck said.

Councilwoman Robin Farris voted against the ordinance in September.

“This was a 100-percent preventable lawsuit,” Farris said this week. “That’s money we spent defending this lawsuit rather than addressing the issue.”

Homeward Bound board member Ric Rose said he looks to Tacoma’s support of service providers as a model for the nonprofit and Puyallup. Tacoma granted $1.6 million to the Tacoma Rescue Mission for 50 beds last month.

“It’s a question of whether the (Puyallup) leadership wants to balance the needs of the residents who have homes and those who don’t,” Rose said. “They have not given respect to the fact that homeless are people. They are not all drug addicts, and they are not all thieves.”

The Growth Management Hearings Board agreed with the city on many arguments and did not fully invalidate the law .

Councilman Jim Kastama saw the ruling as lenient.

“As we’ve seen in Puyallup, they can really cause detriment to the neighborhood,” Kastama said of people who are homeless. “We have to make sure we have the right precautions in place.”

The City Council plans to work on the ordinance in sub-committees and further discuss adhering to the state’s decree in future meetings, Kastama said.

In a separate but related case, Homeward Bound has sued the city. Puyallup has specified requirements for New Hope, including a security guard, outdoor lighting and a telephone line for community complaints.

The city has appealed a Pierce County Superior Court judge’s decision that this is a land use issue, and the Washington State Court of Appeals is expected to decide on June 19 whether to hear the case.

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