Don’t blame ‘elites’; Puyallup must do its fair share to fight homelessness

Re: “Let’s help homeless without harming Puyallup neighbors,” (TNT, 7/14).

I read this Local Viewpoint column by Puyallup City Council member Jim Kastama with interest, but also with mixed reactions.

The City of Puyallup’s government does deserve credit for responding to homeless family needs by supporting Helping Hand House and for its new Step By Step facility.

However, it has a long history of appearing to do as little as possible for homeless individual men or women, except perhaps for inviting them to go away.

The recent arrangement with the Tacoma branch of Salvation Army, while a positive attempt, also reinforces the image of a city government encouraging homeless people to go away.

Full disclosure: I don’t live in Puyallup either. But I try to observe Puyallup’s government objectively. Fairness is important to me. I need to question several of Kastama’s statements.

He asserts that outsiders are attempting to coerce the city’s government into creating a regional center for homelessness. It seems to me that Tacoma already fills that role, and nobody I know wants to shift all that responsibility over to Puyallup.

We just want Puyallup’s government to do its fair share by serving people in need with dignity and fairness.

Kastama asserts that his city government has “contributed millions of dollars to regional efforts to solve homelessness through a tax imposed on citizens by the Legislature in 2005.”

He is referring to ESSHB 2163, which imposed a $10 surcharge by the county auditor for each document recorded.

That legislation permits the county and cities to finance homeless services. A city may receive and use a portion of that fund if it “affirmatively elects to accept the responsibility for housing homeless persons within its borders.”

Unfortunately, Puyallup has not elected to do that. Puyallup’s portion of the monies collected by the auditor cannot come back to the city until it accepts that responsibility. That’s not a contribution; it’s avoidance of responsibility.

Mr. Kastama criticizes the New Hope Resource Center for promising to serve only homeless people from within the community when it opened in 2014 yet allegedly attracting over 500 new homeless individuals to Puyallup in its first year.

I suspect that the unbalanced economy had more to do with that increase than did New Hope; it isn’t that large.

Homelessness everywhere keeps increasing in our current economy, and it will take changes in our economy to truly reduce homelessness. Until that happens, it does not appear that investment of local tax dollars in humane solutions is “needless.”

I don’t appreciate Kastama’s attack on us “elites.” It is divisive and uncalled-for.

But what concerns me more is the apparent silence of those Puyallup residents who do favor a fair and compassionate response to people within the city who are homeless. I encourage you to stand up and speak out.

Al Ratcliffe of Tacoma is a retired psychologist and a member of the Tacoma Human Rights Commission and the Pierce County Homeless Coalition. Reach him by email at alratcliffe@gmail.com