Puyallup’s not homeless averse like critics claim

Puyallup City Council member Jim Kastama.
Puyallup City Council member Jim Kastama. Courtesy photo

Once again the good people of Puyallup are under the critical lens of News Tribune columnist Matt Driscoll, this time for the City Council’s decision to end a program to put up to 10 portable toilets throughout our downtown area to accommodate the homeless.

Driscoll claims the move demonstrates a lack of “courage and compassion.”

Fundamentally at issue are competing views of Puyallup’s future.

Our city is a community rich in a pioneering heritage, with many families who have lived here for four to five generations. In our neighborhoods you will find professionals and laborers living side-by-side.

This is a community where the health and safety of families and children is paramount, as evident by our great schools, parks and walkable neighborhoods.

We are also about supporting working families, with fair-market-rate housing, safe streets and encouraging civic engagement, volunteerism and care for our shared spaces. We welcome families and entrepreneurs.

But unlike Tacoma, or even Sumner, Puyallup does not have large, secluded industrial areas to accommodate a homeless population “composed mostly of single men and those dealing with behavioral-health and substance-abuse disorder” as identified by Driscoll.

The homeless population we serve needs to be compatible with this reality.

That is why Puyallup supports two of the most successful regional homeless programs for families: the Helping Hand House and Open Hearth.

Helping Hand successfully houses more than 125 families per year, comprised of approximately 430 individuals. Open Hearth provides short-term housing to over 100 families per year, comprised of approximately 300 individuals.

Both of these programs focus on families and integrate seamlessly into our neighborhoods.

Contrast that with the controversial New Hope Center and Freezing Nights programs located in Puyallup’s downtown. They do not fit into our community; they cater to single, unattached men, many of whom are drug-addicted and have criminal backgrounds.

To compound the problem, New Hope is located one block from Stewart Elementary School and two blocks from Kalles Junior High, requiring the schools to install new security systems to protect students and teachers.

Puyallup businesses, too, have had to take measures to protect themselves and their clients. MultiCare Health System, for example, hired a security guard to protect clients from New Hope Center.

Safeway, after experiencing tens of thousands of dollars in theft, put all of its hard liquor behind glass. And the City of Puyallup is hiring a security guard to protect patrons at our library.

While homeless advocates insist that we build a permanent shelter in Puyallup, the truth is that it wouldn’t fit.

We refuse to devote taxpayer resources to an endeavor that sacrifices certain neighborhoods (almost always the fragile, low- or mixed-income ones) to the well-known impacts of a homeless population: drugs, crime, prostitution, feces, needles and trash.

Catering to homeless advocates is a losing battle, full of unintended consequences.

The facts speak for themselves: As Seattle has accommodated the negative behaviors of the homeless, spending hundreds of millions on services, the problems have only gotten worse.

Seattle has even gone so far as to legalize heroin on a de facto basis by approving safe-injection sites.

Puyallup will not go down that path.

Our city will always adhere to the rule of “first, do no harm.” To us it makes no sense to place children at risk or to drive away businesses that give Puyallup its vitality.

Puyallup is committed to providing services to the homeless population that are compatible with its nature as a city of neighborhoods.

It’s time for Driscoll and his supporters to acknowledge this, and to broaden their focus to other cities in the South Sound. Why not look to Gig Harbor, North Tacoma or University Place for signs of “compassion” for the homeless?

We think we’re miles ahead.

Jim Kastama is a first-term Puyallup City Council member elected last November, and a former state legislator. Reach him by email at jkastama@ci.puyallup.wa.us