Residents and those providing services to homeless adults in Puyallup gave public comment Thursday, Jul 25 in regards to recommendations made by the Puyallup Task Force on Homelessness that aim to mitigate the impacts homelessness has on the downtown community.
The task force was organized earlier this year and was given a mandate from Puyallup City Council to identify the current impacts of chronic/adult homelessness to various sectors of the community and to make recommendations for council approval that would reduce impacts.
Among recommendations made include establishing a policy among shelter programs that seasonally or permanently bans individuals who repeatedly offend; setting a zero tolerance policy for alcohol and drug use on shelter sites; encouraging development of more permanent housing for homelessness populations causing the greatest impact; and encouraging the establishment of a drop-in center that is open every day staffed with social services on education, employment, mental health and chemical dependency services.
Ted Brackman, who began the Freezing Nights program eight years ago and the Homeless Coalition 12 years ago, took issue with the tone of the language in the task force's draft document.
"This document addresses homeless people and churches and programs providing services as the problem," Brackman said. "But it doesn't address the big elephant in the room. It misses the question, 'What are the negative impacts of current systemic city policies on people who are homeless.'"
Brackman emphasized to the task force that when people are homeless in Puyallup they have no place to be.
"Where do they go?" Brackman said. "That message that the city is giving city-wide is that they are not welcome. That is abuse. That robs them of their dignity."
Brackman said the question not being addressed that he mentioned earlier is "a glaring omission."
Eric Renz, who is a overnight host of Freezing Nights at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Puyallup, said that banning people who are homeless from shelters is not the answer.
"Putting them back out on the streets would only exacerbate the negative impacts to the downtown," Renz said. "We need to figure out ways to ramp up services to help people with dependency issues and mental conditions rather than thinking about throwing them out."
Sister Pat Michalek, the director of St. Francis House, said she is in support of developing drop-in centers that would encourage people who are homeless to volunteer in the community.
"I know that some of these recommendations will lead to good changes in the lives of these people," Michalek said.
Zac Green, a task force member, said there was no intentional omission made by the group in the draft document and that the group fulfilled the mandate as it was specified by city council.
Green said it would be a good idea for city council to put together another task force that takes a wider scope on the issue.
Bryan Jeter, chief of the Puyallup Police Department and a task force member, said it best.
He said the mandate received from council did not come with a set of instructions.
The task force will consider public comments made and present final recommendations to council at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 13 during the regular council meeting.
Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at Andrew.email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.