The city’s Stability Site has helped reduce some of the concerns that homeless encampments have produced. Tacoma City Council heard an update on the topic on Sept. 18. City Manager Elizabeth Pauli noted that the Stability Site is not meant to be a solution to end homelessness, but rather was the city’s response to health and safety issues related to homeless camps. Cost of the program this year is estimated at $6.9 million.
This is being done in a three-phase approach. The first is mitigation of health and safety impacts of the encampments. This includes clean-up and enforcement to deter illegal activity that affects residents, businesses and the environment.
The Stability Site, located on Puyallup Avenue near the bridge connecting Tacoma and Fife, is the second phase. It provides temporary shelter, services focused on housing and enforcement efforts adjacent to the site. The third phase is short-term transitional housing options.
Plans for a second site have been dropped. Pauli said it was not feasible due to difficulty in siting it and the high cost of establishing it. She said 85 percent of the residents require permanent supportive housing. The city cannot move them into housing at the pace it had hoped for, with the shortage of appropriate housing resulting in a slow rate of placement.
Behavioral agreements and housing plans are done within 40 days. Residents participate in meaningful daily activities, including gardening and repairing bicycles to be given to children from low-income families. Food is delivered each day. Many of the residents want to work. One program connects residents with employment, with a social worker determining who is ready to go to work.
The site served 155 people in 2017, with 116 deemed to be chronically homeless. This describes people who have been on the streets for 12 months in a row, or a total of 12 months over a course of several years. It has served 140 people so far in 2018, 97 of whom were chronically homeless. Seven residents were employed last year, and eight this year. Those with a high school diploma or equivalent were 73 and 62. Many have a disability; 124 in 2017 and 103 this year. Twenty-nine residents last year were placed in housing, with another 17 so far this year.
Tacoma has about 480 shelter beds, nowhere near meeting the current demand. Conversations are underway with faith-based organizations about establishing temporary shelters.
Some of those on Tacoma’s streets were displaced from housing in surrounding cities. Councilmember Catherine Ushka noted recent actions taken by Puyallup City Council to restrict siting of homeless services. A meeting is set for Oct. 8 between city of Tacoma officials and those from the county and suburban cities. “That hopefully will be the start of a county-wide conversations,” said Mayor Victoria Woodards.
The city has cleared out 74 encampments in 2018 to July 26, at a cost of $117,000. Sometimes they reappear nearby. The mayor noted the Washington State Department of Transportation recently cleaned up a camp near South 84th and Hosmer streets near Interstate 5. Woodards saw a new camp that sprung up soon after on the other side of the freeway.
Calico Cat Motel, a low-budget inn on Pacific Avenue, was considered as a transitional housing site. “That option became unfeasible to us,” Pauli remarked. The city had shut it down in the past for criminal activity, including methamphetamine production.
Nearby, at 7051 Pacific Ave. sits the Morgan Motel. Its business license was suspended last December. It reopened on April 1. It has been source of numerous calls to police over the years. A man was fatally shot in a room in 2013 in what was determined to be an armed robbery attempt. In March 2017 a man drove a truck into the building after an argument with two women, one of whom he threw a rock at. Two people were arrested there in May 2017 as police investigated drug activity.
According to a city report, there have been no complaints filed with the city’s Tacoma First 311 program since it reopened. Employees of the Tax and Licensing Department visit every other week to ensure compliance with the conditions of the business license. Of the eight rooms, three to four are usually occupied, including one room with a long-term guest. The guest register requirements are met, with all vehicles displaying the necessary parking permits. No excessive litter or debris has been observed.
Community liaison officers with Tacoma Police Department make regular visits. There were calls to police about disturbances on July 20 and Sept. 5. Both times, officers found nothing out of the ordinary.