Puyallup has won the dubious honor of being named to a national “Hall of Shame” for its approach to homeless people.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty called out the Pierce County city of 30,000 and three others elsewhere for “their aggressive enforcement of criminalization laws and history of evicting homeless encampments.” The other cities on the list are Dallas, Denver and Honolulu.
The distinction didn’t sit well with city officials.
“I take great offense to Puyallup being named to this list,” said Mayor John Hopkins. “We, the council and the staff, have been working all year to come up with a humane program. We have spent more time and effort this year in studying homelessness than we have in the last 10 years all together.”
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In its citation of Puyallup, the center said: “Even though there in no year-round emergency shelter available to the rapidly growing homeless population in Puyallup, the city has enacted a number of laws making it illegal to camp, panhandle, sit or lie down in large swaths of the city or to be present in public parks after closing.”
Hopkins said the city has adopted a caring policy in regard to its homeless population. “We’ve devoted considerable money to homeless programs, and we’ve made sure the rights of the homeless are protected.”
The mayor said police don’t arrest people for simply sleeping in parks or on public property. The city has assigned one police officer, Jeff Bennett, to work with people experiencing homelessness to help them find resources and direct them to agencies that can help solve their issues.
Hopkins said merchants and homeowners deserve the city’s attention too. Some of those citizens have filled the council chambers to overflowing on several occasions this year to ask for help in dealing with crime, drugs and anti-social behaviors they associate with homeless people.
Many of the city’s efforts have focused on the New Hope Resources Center, a homeless referral center located on the edge of downtown.
Residents have complained that New Hope has attracted a cadre of homeless people who camp on the River Trail, steal property and do drugs and have sex in public. The city is working on new licensing conditions to keep New Hope more tightly regulated.
Paula Anderson, New Hope's director, said she didn't feel comfortable commenting about the city's inclusion in the hall of shame.
“I haven't read the report. I don't know what research went into coming to this conclusion,” she said. “There are some people in Puyallup, however, who do think the city has acted badly.”