Helping homeless people can be done without harming Puyallup neighborhoods

Jim Kastama is a member of the Puyallup City Council.
Jim Kastama is a member of the Puyallup City Council.

“Trump-like”, “delusional”, “repugnant”, and most recently, “backward” – all terms used by a News Tribune columnist to describe people in Puyallup in an effort to intimidate the city into accepting the strategy of making our city the regional center for homelessness.

The City of Puyallup actively funds and supports homeless facilities and low-income housing programs that fit the character and needs of Puyallup, including the Helping Hand House, which houses over 130 homeless families every year.

The new $10.5 million Step By Step facility will help hundreds of at-risk moms with backgrounds of abuse, trauma, addiction and, no doubt, homelessness. In addition, we have contributed millions to regional efforts to solve homelessness through a tax imposed on citizens by the Legislature in 2005.

However, none of this is good enough. No matter the cost, homeless advocates seem intent on pushing misguided policies that destroy neighborhoods, enable destructive behaviors and needlessly consume tax dollars. At the same time, they intimidate anyone with the courage to disagree.

A common characteristic of the loudest critics of Puyallup is that none live in Puyallup. The spokesperson for the controversial homeless drop-in center does not live here. Neither does the homeless advocate often cited by the TNT in its columns assailing Puyallup.

Local news columnist Matt Driscoll does not live in Puyallup. The attorneys representing the homeless drop-in center live far from here.

None of these individuals lives in the neighborhoods their decisions impact. None of their children worry about discarded needles and illicit behavior on a daily basis.

Instead, these individuals belong to what Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal calls “the protected class,” insulated from the consequences of the policies they foist on others. Much of this is simply virtue signaling and feigned altruism, when they don’t bear any costs of their so-called altruism and compassion.

In Puyallup we are living with the reality of their decisions. In 2014, the New Hope Center opened in a neighborhood where an elementary school has 53% of its students receiving free and reduced lunches. At the time, the center’s announced mission was to serve only homeless people from the community. Yet in its first year, it attracted over 500 new homeless individuals to Puyallup.

An adjacent business had to hire security guards to protect clients; the school, located a block away, installed a new security system, constructed a 6-foot fence and closed its playground to the public.

Local public restrooms were outfitted with needle-deposit boxes to prevent children from coming in contact with discarded needles from drug addicts.

Despite this, New Hope Center management has never apologized to the community for the harm. They continue to show no concern for nearby school children, small business owners or neighborhood families.

Instead, they changed their legal description to a “religious” institution to take advantage of legal protections for churches and refused to comply with simple security requirements.

They have used every legal resource and maneuver, and willing media outlet, to intimidate the city into complying with their goal of placing a regional homeless facility in Puyallup.

To give in to their demands would require that Puyallup leaders become like them, and be willing to sacrifice the safety of others in the pursuit of failed, but outwardly virtuous, policies.

Puyallup’s message to the elites is that we will not become you. We believe there is a better way to serve others. We believe you can help people without destroying neighborhoods.

We believe you can discern between those who truly need services and those who are criminals, drug users and vagrants who prey on others, including vulnerable individuals who need and seek housing.

We will not separate our community into “safe” and “unsafe” neighborhoods, where only the well-off are afforded streets where their children can walk and feel secure.

Our goal is to align with service providers that agree with this worldview, as we have done for decades.

Jim Kastama is a former state legislator and current member of Puyallup City Council. His views do not necessarily reflect those of other council members.