[Hpn] City to try to banish homeless campsites

William Charles Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Sun, 13 Aug 2006 10:05:27 -0400


City to try to banish homeless campsites
JASON HAGEY; The News Tribune

August 13th, 2006

City officials and social service providers are preparing to launch an 
initiative aimed at wiping out homeless camps in Tacoma.
It's an ambitious goal, they admit, but one they believe is within reach.
They're quick to add, however, that it's only a pilot program. Even if it 
works, the program won't solve the larger problem of homelessness.
"It's challenging, ambitious. We are aiming high," said Councilwoman Julie 
Anderson. "We are aiming high because doing anything less won't get the job 
The plan relies on a partnership between the City of Tacoma and a trio of 
nonprofit agencies: the Metropolitan Development Council, Greater Lakes 
Mental Healthcare and the Tacoma Rescue Mission.
If the City Council approves funding, it will go into effect Sept. 15. 
Council members will hear the first reading of an ordinance Tuesday and are 
expected to vote on it the following week.
If approved as expected, police officers and representatives from the other 
agencies will start by going into the camps and notifying people that the 
camps will be eliminated.
Campers will be given three options: move into an apartment rent-free, move 
into short-term emergency housing or simply move along.
People who choose to move into an apartment will receive regular counseling, 
and those with mental health or substance abuse problems will be prodded to 
receive treatment.
They won't, however, be required to stay clean and sober to remain in the 
apartment. Illegal activity, such as drug dealing, will be grounds for 
eviction, just as it is for any other renter.
The city hopes to find enough money to move up to 250 people out of camps 
and into apartments. Housing and service providers have agreed to provide 90 
apartments in 90 days to get it started.
Council members are being asked to approve spending $500,000 from the city's 
dormant housing development trust fund to pay for the city's share of the 
The money, which came from federal grants, was supposed to be combined with 
other sources to establish a housing trust fund. But several attempts to 
raise the rest of the money have failed, and the money has been sitting 
Additional funding for the effort is coming from Tacoma's public works and 
police department budgets, Pierce County, the MultiCare and Franciscan 
hospital systems and the nonprofit agencies.
If the plan works, all of the contributors should end up saving money 
because they won't be arresting and jailing as many people, or providing 
expensive emergency room health care, said City Manager Eric Anderson.
"It's a test project," Anderson said. "We hope to demonstrate that it does, 
in fact, save money."
The basic idea, called Housing First, is modeled after similar efforts in 
other cities. It differs from other programs aimed at homelessness in that 
it seeks to provide housing before addressing other needs, such as mental 
illness or drug or alcohol addiction.
Councilman Mike Lonergan, the former executive director of the Tacoma Rescue 
Mission, is optimistic about the plan, but also realistic. He doesn't expect 
to see all of Tacoma's homeless camps immediately eradicated. Its chances of 
success depend on how success is defined, he said.
"Is it showing a measurable difference? Yes, I think we can," Lonergan said. 
"Is this to be the end of homelessness? No, I don't think so."
Councilman Tom Stenger said he is skeptical. He worries about "driving 
everybody to Fife and Lakewood and Parkland and then declaring victory."
Lonergan said that's a valid concern, but noted the flow goes both ways and 
that homeless people also arrive in Tacoma from those communities.
City Manager Anderson said there are a lot of unknowns, including how many 
homeless people will accept housing and whether the program will attract 
people from other cities. No one expects every homeless camper to accept 
housing, or every person who does move into an apartment to succeed.
"We may in fact be overwhelmed," Anderson told council members.
But even if the program runs out of funding for moving people into 
apartments, the city intends to keep shutting down camps whenever they 
spring up. Officials will go back to campsites that have been eradicated to 
make sure they don't reappear, and officials hope to hear from the community 
whenever a new camp appears.
The goal is to remove a camp within 24 hours of its appearance, Anderson 
It's a matter of protecting people who live in the camps and protecting 
public health, he said.
"People who live in the encampments live in squalor, way below the standard 
for how people should live," he said.
Councilwoman Anderson said it's important to establish a no-tolerance policy 
for homeless campsites while also offering people who live in them real 
The number of campsites has grown dramatically in recent years and it's time 
to take action, she said.
"It's just out of control out there in the woods," Anderson said.
Tacoma City Council meeting
When: 5 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Council Chambers, Municipal Building, 747 Market St. Homeless camps 
in Tacoma
 . An estimated 300 to 500 people live in homeless camps in Tacoma.
 . City officials hope to find funds to move up to 250 people from 14 
identified camps into apartments, and provide them with case managers.
 . Housing and service providers have agreed to provide 90 units in 90 days.
 . The program's effectiveness will be evaluated by the University of Puget 
Sound. Funding partners for the Housing First Encampment Elimination Project
City of Tacoma: $500,000 from federal grant funds and $800,000 from Public 
Works and Police Department budgets
Pierce County: $500,000
Franciscan Health System: $100,000
MultiCare Health System: $100,000
Other partners: Metropolitan Development Council, Greater Lakes Mental 
Healthcare and the Tacoma Rescue Mission 

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