Matt Driscoll

Puyallup’s pointless attacks on homeless resource center results in another predictable loss

The City of Puyallup has lost. Again.

If only someone could have seen this coming …

Buoyed by an apparently virulent strain of anti-homeless fervor, Puyallup — and particularly certain members of its City Council associated with the repugnant Clean Up Puyallup Facebook group — have been locked in a battle with New Hope Resource Center for what seems like eons.

They’ve disparaged and maligned the resource center, which endeavors to connect people experiencing homelessness to jobs, housing, mental health services and clothing.

They’ve blasted it, rhetorically and legislatively.

And, as The News Tribune’s Josephine Peterson recently reported, they’ve unfairly singled it out — which is part of the reason the city found itself taking its most recent embarrassing and predictable loss.

This particular tale of inept governance dates back to 2016 when Puyallup’s City Council passed a law requiring all properties deemed to be “significant impact businesses” to submit to a slew of onerous provisions.

For starters, the law required such businesses to employ a security guard, a mandate the city’s hearing examiner subsequently overruled.

The law also required significant impact businesses to have outdoor lighting, garbage removal, a code of conduct for clients, a fence, and a telephone line for community complaints.

If that sounds like a little overboard, it’s because it is. In Tacoma, a city with multiple emergency homeless shelters and an unsheltered population that greatly exceeds Puyallup’s, there’s nothing close to it on the books.

Oh, by the way — New Hope was the only location affected by the ordinance.

That was almost certainly by design, and one of the reasons that Homeward Bound — the nonprofit that runs New Hope — quickly sued.

Turns out, they were right to take the matter to court.

It should come as no great surprise, then, that on June 11 the ordinance was unceremoniously repealed — taking it off the books completely. Homeward Bound — which continues to say it wants to work with the city to address homelessness — welcomed the decision, dismissing its lawsuit a few days later.

Let us not forget that Puyallup’s latest loss comes on the heels of another loss handed down earlier this month by the state hearings board. On June 3, the board rightfully ruled that a city zoning decision limiting new homeless centers and shelters to a handful of parcels in the northwest corner of the city was a bogus as it sounds.

At this point, the Mariners have a better batting average than Puyallup.

Getting back to Homeward Bound’s desire to partner with the city to address homelessness, that’s precisely how it should work. There’s no question New Hope experienced growing pains in its early days, and there are surely still things the facility could do to make life a little easier on nearby neighbors and businesses. Few dispute that.

But the facility also has improved over time, and there’s little question it could improve even more with support from the city as opposed to a City Council actively undermining it at every opportunity.

A chance for teamwork, in other words, should be seized — especially when the alternative seems to be continuing years of needless and counterproductive aggression from city hall.

Here’s what’s clear:

In a world that made sense, the law’s repeal should would serve as a wake-up call and black eye for current members of the Puyallup City Council who advocated for it. They’d be forced to finally confront that fact that punishing the homeless, pushing them out and making life as difficult as humanly possible for service providers doesn’t work and will only result in more embarrassing headlines, lawsuits and time lost in addressing a crisis.

Sadly, since this is Puyallup we’re talking about, I’m not holding my breath.

Speaking with The News Tribune, Puyallup city attorney Joe Beck did foreshadow a change of course.

“We want to turn our attention to nuisance approach,” Beck told The News Tribune. “It doesn’t work to focus attention on one or two bad actors.”

Even better?

Turning the city’s attention to things that actually help get individuals experiencing homelessness off the street.

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.