Politics & Government

Tacoma’s homelessness crisis needs an emergency solution, mayor says

Homelessness in Tacoma has reached a crisis level, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tuesday, and the City Council directed the interim city manager to make an emergency plan for temporary shelter and help for the population.

Strickland made the late add to the City Council’s agenda, saying she had called an emergency meeting with city department heads last week to discuss homelessness.

“Our goal is to make sure no one who’s in Tacoma has to sleep on a street, in a park, beneath an overpass or outside, and the message we want to send is help is available,” the mayor said.

“Now we have to figure out what that means, because the questions we have to answer for folks if we’re clearing out encampments is, where do I go then? ... We don’t have that answer right now, and we know it’s a very complicated, complex problem.”

That means getting homeless people access to medical care, food, housing services and emergency shelter, the mayor said, as well as that the city must move against illegal activities, such as public drug use.

Interim city attorney Elizabeth Pauli said the city wants to find an approach that also will ease the effects of homelessness on residents and neighbors. She said addressing the crisis can’t be a “government-only solution.”

Strickland challenged those watching the meeting to think about what they’re doing to help.

The city will have to explore ways to address homelessness, she said, noting that short-term solutions could range from tent cities to adding more affordable housing and creating emergency shelters.

Declaring an emergency allows the city to speed up some of its processes in getting those plans into place, Strickland said.

“By directing the city manager to explore what it takes to declare an emergency, it will give us the ability to waive some things in deciding how we want to address this,” she said. That might include waiving procurement rules or expediting permitting processes.

Not everyone will take help that’s offered, she acknowledged.

When the “Jungle” camp under Interstate 705 was cleared out last month, the city offered 30 vouchers for shelter. Three were accepted, she said.

“Help is available,” the mayor said, “and we want to be able to answer the question, ‘If you’re going to move me from here, where can I go?’”