Homelessness

Solutions for Homelessness

Puyallup is not immune to the rise of homelessness in the country and has been dealing with the issue since 2011.


Background


In 2012-3, the City Council formed a Homelessness Task Force. All the recommendations of the Homelessness Task Force were accomplished with the exception of a day center. A group from the faith-based community decided to start a Day Center on their own. The day center is called New Hope Resource Center and falls under the umbrella organization Homeward Bound.


At that time there were no permit restrictions for or process to establish a homeless day center and it was treated like a non-profit business.  Regrettably, the new non-profit did not engage anyone in deciding the location and found an affordable building on Spring Street because it was close to DSHS, bus services, etc.  Close enough to services for their homeless clients to travel without a car. When they opened I believed New Hope would have some oversight of their clients and wanted to give them a chance to succeed.  If I had been asked, I would have advised New Hope not to put the center in the middle of the business district. Unfortunately, that area started to attract homeless that both were getting services and those who are no longer a client at the center. Businesses within a half mile of the center started to have significant issues, such as asking to use a bathroom, urine and fecal matter in doorways, and theft.


To make matters worse a next-door business owner started a Facebook page to document everything that occurred at New Hope and advocating to drive all homeless out of town. To be fair this business experienced significant impacts; however, it is not realistic to expect all homeless will leave.  Unfortunately, this group is the primary reason why there has been no solutions for homelessness and actually contributed to the increase of homeless in our community.


Whenever the topic of homelessness comes up, this group rallies followers to come to council and they are very vocal about not having services for homelessness or spending money on homelessness. They impact the decisions by our council when other councilmembers who back down under the pressure. Currently, we have four councilmembers who subscribe to the idea of driving the homeless out of town.


Legal Framework


Significant Business License

In 2016, the city passed an ordinance that would make Homelessness Services fall under a Significant Business License. It was based on compliance issues reported to the city by residents. The city went through the process established in the SIBL and the conditions did not appear to be fair to New Hope. The city negotiated and couldn't come to an agreement over the conditions.  Homeward Bound sued the city.  It is still in litigation and while in litigation, the ordinance cannot be enforced.


Homelessness Services Zoning

In September 2018 city council passed a second ordinance to limit outright zoning to a small area on Valley Avenue. I agree that zoning for homeless services should be identified; however, this zoning was so restrictive and Homeward Bound is litigious that I believed it would be in litigation as soon as it passed. In March, 2019, Homeward Bound did take the first steps to a lawsuit. 


Martin v. City of Boise

The Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled in September, 2018 that cities can't make it a crime to sleep on a public street or sidewalk when no homeless shelter is available.


The constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual punishment,” under the Eighth Amendment, prohibits “criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter,” said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The state, the court said, “may not criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless.”


Advocates for the homeless were joined in the case by the U.S. Justice Department, which filed arguments in the Boise case in 2015 saying laws against sleeping on public property, when no shelter space was available, unconstitutionally punished people for being homeless. 


The Justice Department arguments were also a warning to communities throughout the nation that the criminalization of homeless camping should be discouraged. [i]


The ruling was sufficiently narrow to generally allow a city’s ban on “sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations”.  The City of Puyallup has an ordinance that prohibits sit/lie laws in the Downtown Business District during regular business hours.[ii]

    

[i] Source document, San Francisco Chronicle Sept 4, 2018, Homelessness: It’s not a crime to sleep on the street — absent other options, court says


[ii] Puyallup Municipal Code (PMC) 9.20.217 Sitting or lying down upon public sidewalk prohibited.


Homeless Shelter in Puyallup


Freezing Nights (also falls under Homeward Bound) offers shelter at participating churches yearly from November 1 to March 31. There are no restrictions for Freezing Nights because the services falls under the First Amendment freedom of religion provisions.  During those months we do have a shelter. The remainder of the year, there is no shelter available in the city, resulting in limitations on the enforcement of the sit/lie laws and to an extend the camping ordinance.


If we had even a small shelter, the police could properly enforce these laws. The homeless are very aware that enforcement is restricted, so I believe it is a place to live for homeless who do not want services. Typically these are individuals who have been trespassed from shelters or want to engage in illegal activity.


The result of the legal environment and significant resistance by a vocal minority is a city that can't help those who need help and creates an opportunity for the bad actors to leverage the discrepancy for their benefit.

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