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Addressing Homelessness and Unsanctioned Encampments

Since 2018, I’ve had the honor of volunteering for The Coffee Oasis, a non-profit organization that provides shelter and wrap-around services for youth experiencing homelessness. My work there has allowed me to see first-hand the resources needed to offer lasting help to the most vulnerable members of our community. That includes ensuring homeless youth have access to safe and encouraging places to live while they work toward sustainable housing and employment. 

Duke Paulson & Kristen Wynne - Tacoma Rescue Mission

Additionally, speaking with my friend Duke Paulson about the great work done by his organization, The Tacoma Rescue Mission, has helped inform and inspire my position on how the city can best partner with non-profit organizations to assist in the mission of helping those in need. I support working with organizations like the Tacoma Rescue Mission to launch proven projects like The Pierce County Community First Village, a community of micro homes, employment opportunities, and physical and mental health care.

The reality is that Tacoma is grappling with an unacceptable level of homelessness, impacting many vulnerable individuals. Tragically, too many live in unsanctioned encampments or vehicles, which are hazardous, unsanitary, and detrimental to the health and well-being of those dwelling within them, perpetuating a cycle of suffering and vulnerability. They are also dangerous for those who live and work nearby. We must act with compassionate solutions for the whole community.

As your councilmember, I will:

  • Expand the camping ordinance and work to add more managed safe parking lots.
  • Implement measures to prevent the recurrence cycle.
  • Measure outcomes to ensure effectiveness and accountability.
  • Ensure sanitary practices for the community and the environment.

Expand the camping ordinance and add more safe parking spots.

Last year, to increase the uptake of services, improve public safety and protect our waterways, the city banned unsanctioned encampments within ten blocks of city-authorized shelters and waterways. The city’s data shows this approach is reaping benefits — more people are accepting shelter and services than before. That is movement in the right direction. We can all agree that people with a stable and safe place to live and where they get services are much better off than those living on the street. We must expand this approach.

Expand the camping buffer zone to include K-12 schools.

The buffer zone should be expanded to include K-12 schools and related bus stops. These areas are essential for children’s safety and well-being. Their inclusion would safeguard vulnerable students and give Tacoma’s parents some peace of mind.

Include RVs and cars and expand on safe parking sites.

Currently, RV encampments are proliferating around Tacoma. Unsanctioned RV encampments pose the same issues as tents, but the ordinance does not include them. That must be fixed. 

The city should also expand and identify additional locations for managed safe parking sites so that those living in RVs and cars can access the services needed to address the root causes of homelessness. 

Implement measures to prevent the recurrence cycle.

We must remain committed to getting people into stable, safe shelters where they can get access to services. However, all too often, unsanctioned encampments reappear at the banned spot despite the repeated offers of shelter and services to all living there.  Clearly, far too many continue to decline the offer of help.   Recurrence of encampments shortly after being cleared must be addressed. Proactive measures should be taken to prevent this cycle, like site hardening, posting no-parking signs, and other similar strategies. By doing that we will send the message that we will no longer allow the inhumane and dangerous conditions caused by living on the streets.

Measure outcomes to ensure effectiveness and accountability.

We need to make sure that the money we are spending addressing homelessness is achieving results. The city must set goals and regularly review how well the programs we are funding are working. For each entity that receives city funds, we should review appropriate metrics, including the number and rate of people who:

  • received safe, stable housing
  • treatment or services
  • were connected with job training or jobs

We must ensure that we are effective in helping people escape the inhumane conditions of living on the street. 

Ensuring sanitary practices for the community and the environment.

Addressing the hygiene and sanitation aspect is crucial for the well-being of people experiencing homelessness and the broader community. The city must take responsibility for promptly cleaning up all waste generated from unsanctioned encampments to prevent the spread of diseases and maintain a healthier environment for all residents. Managing waste and maintaining hygiene standards is essential for the overall health and well-being of the community and those experiencing homelessness.

We can provide truly compassionate care to vulnerable people experiencing homelessness by ensuring we lead them toward sanitary and safe facilities.