Seeking out the homeless along Puyallup’s Foothills Trail
Get used to it, Puyallup.
If your elected leaders continue their brazen, unapologetic refusal to respond to homelessness with anything but tough guy bravado and pointless provocations, the lawsuit filed Sept. 14 with help from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty will not be the last.
Through impotent posturing, delusional mismanagement and blatant disregard for the city’s responsibility to be something other than an antagonist in the region’s homelessness crisis, Puyallup’s council has effectively placed a bulls-eye on the city’s back.
The message these so-called leaders seem intent on sending is straightforward:
Don’t like what we’re doing? Fine. Sue us. See if we care.
It’s a stance that’s screaming to be tested, and while the threat of litigation might not be enough to inspire change among council members — or the vocal coalition that gave many of them power — it should be enough to give reasonable citizens cause for concern.
Of course, it’s not just a threat now. It’s reality.
Again, get used to it, Puyallup. If there’s one takeaway from the lawsuit filed last week, it’s that the city’s callous approach to homelessness is asking for trouble and doing a pretty good job of finding it.
Clearly and unfortunately, Puyallup is far from alone in its suburban disdain for homelessness and rigid reluctance to do much of anything helpful about it. Leaders in a number of Pierce County cities — at least outside of Tacoma — are ducking and dodging their responsibility to help.
Still, while other cities do this on the down-low, Puyallup has taken an altogether different approach — gleefully shouting its intentions from the rooftop.
That’s why it was predictable that this month’s lawsuit — which specifically contends that Puyallup and co-defendant Pierce County destroyed the property of six individuals experiencing homelessness during encampment sweeps — included the following jab:
“Puyallup, in particular, has done a poor job of providing needed services to its vulnerable unhoused population.”
It comes as no surprise that the lawsuit arrives at a time the city is on the verge of making the provision of homeless-related services like shelters and drop-in centers all but impossible.
Yes, people have been watching, and the aggressive approach Puyallup has pursued — with zeal and zero reservations — has made the city an easy target.
As The News Tribune reported, last week’s lawsuit was filed by six longtime Puyallup residents experiencing homelessness. It argues that homeless encampment sweeps — which resulted in the loss of things like medical records, a birth certificate, family photos and even a GED — were unconstitutional seizures.
What ultimately happens with the lawsuit remains anyone’s guess. For its part, the city issued a lengthy statement, insisting that the lawsuit contains “false characterizations and numerous egregious misstatements of fact” and that it “looks forward to correcting the record in this regard.”
Pierce County also defended itself to The News Tribune while declining to get into specifics of the case. Spokeswoman Libby Catalinich told The News Tribune that “we take the needs and concerns of those experiencing homelessness with seriousness and respect.”
“As a policy, we provide 30 days’ notice of an encampment removal, and place flyers and postcards at each known site,” Catalinich added.
Those will be the items of contention argued in court if the case ultimately makes it that far.
A financial settlement remains a possibility.
Either way, it’s the type of costly situation that Puyallup City Councilwoman Robin Farris warned of last month when discussing her significant reservations about the city’s ongoing move to limit where homeless service providers can operate.
“I will no longer own the inaction that is sure to follow a one-sided ordinance that I believe will end up in litigation,” Farris said at the time. She and council colleague Julie Door appear to be the only reasonable voices left on Puyallup’s City Council.
Farris’ prediction came even before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that individuals experiencing homelessness cannot be prosecuted for sleeping on public property if no shelter options exist.
“Further, I will not remain a citizen in this current environment of neighbors pitting against neighbors and paying for senseless litigation that could be avoided with just some mutual respect and understanding,” Farris added.
And, it appears, par for the course for a majority of Puyallup’s elected leaders who take pride in being the loudest, most belligerent anti-homelessness voices in the region.