The Tacoma City Council has voted unanimously to extend a law banning camping on public property until the end of the year along with a declaration of a public emergency relating to homelessness.
City staff said in a memo to the council this week that there is still a homelessness crisis in Tacoma and public health concerns that stem from it.
“Although the conditions for many individuals formerly occupying homeless encampments have been mitigated ... unsanitary and unsafe conditions remain in homeless encampments throughout the City,” the memo reads.
Keeping the emergency declaration gives the city the authority to continue to expedite contracting, permitting and budget processes.
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The law against public camping, which essentially banned homeless encampments except for in places where they’re permitted — such as Tacoma’s tent city-like stability site where roughly 80 people are being housed each week in the Dome District — has been in place since July. The City Council’s declaration of a public emergency related to homelessness was passed in May.
Since May, the city has removed 327 homeless encampments and made 882 contacts with homeless individuals, staff said at a presentation to the council on Tuesday.
Critics have warned that the law banning public camping criminalizes homelessness and is unconstitutional.
The city has also reached out to 361 people living in their cars since the council’s emergency declaration has been in effect. Another ordinance passed in July by the council cuts down the number of days people can spend sleeping in their cars in the same location and hikes the fines for violating that time limit in an attempt to keep car campers from concentrating in one neighborhood.
That car-camping ordinance didn’t come with an expiration date, so the City Council didn’t have to extend it Tuesday, city attorney Bill Fosbre said.
After declaring a public emergency, the city has been developing a three-phased approach in an attempt to mitigate the effects of what Mayor Marilyn Strickland called a homelessness crisis on residents, businesses and those people experiencing homelessness.
The second part of that phase is the large tent site, which is designed to help stabilize the homeless and address their barriers to finding housing. City staff wants to continue that stability site through 2018.
Of the roughly 140 homeless people who have been housed there since it opened in late June, nine have transitioned to either temporary or permanent supportive housing, the city said. Five went to jail. Two died. Nine were asked to leave, and 15 left voluntarily.
There have been 91 drug-related arrests stemming from homeless camps since the emergency was declared. Police also have written 34 citations for violating the public camping ban and 41 citations for violating the city’s new car camping laws, staff told the council on Tuesday.
A beefed-up police presence around the large tent site also has resulted in 396 traffic citations being issued there in recent months, according to city staff.