Puyallup won’t be hosting a tent city for homeless individuals in the immediate future, city officials decided Tuesday night.
After a lengthy public hearing on the proposal, the city council failed to approve an ordinance that would have allowed a 40-person encampment somewhere in the city.
Homelessness prevention advocates, church representatives and some members of Puyallup’s homeless community spoke overwhelmingly in favor of allowing a homeless encampment in town.
They said a camp would help families who have ended up on the street as a result of the economic recession and need a place to stay during the coming winter.
But council members said they wanted to develop a long-term plan for dealing with homelessness – including emergency housing options – before deciding that an encampment should be part of the solution.
“We need to get people in transitional housing, in permanent housing, in shelters,” said Councilwoman Kathy Turner. “I don’t think we necessarily need them in tents.”
The council members took no action on the tent city proposal, effectively killing it for the time being. Council members said that they’d like to do more research on homeless camps, including a visit to Camp Quixote in Olympia, before deciding to allow one in Puyallup. Several council members indicated a desire to revisit the proposal at a later date.
City Manager Gary McLean said the council could bring back the ordinance or an amended version of it at any time should they wish to do so.
The Puyallup ordinance didn’t specify where a camp would be established in the city, but said that a religious organization could host one on private property for up to 90 days. The ordinance would have allowed only one temporary encampment in the city at any given time.
Councilman John Knutsen expressed concern that a 40-person homeless encampment could cause nearby residents to worry about their safety.
“I think you have to look at the people across the street from these encampments and ask, ‘What does it do to their life?’” Knutsen said.
The council members tasked groups supporting the tent city ordinance, including churches and the Puyallup Homeless Coalition, to help the council develop a long-term plan for combating homelessness in the city. Turner suggested that other jurisdictions, such as Edgewood, Sumner, Bonney Lake, Tacoma and Pierce County, would need to be involved.
The council’s decision was a disappointment to some encampment supporters, who said that there are many newly homeless people in Puyallup that require immediate relief.
“I don’t know where we’re left after this,” said Ted Brackman, co-founder of the Puyallup Homeless Coalition. “We have a crying need – hundreds of homeless people in Puyallup – and apparently they have to go back to the woods and to the Wal-Mart parking lot while we figure out what direction to take.”