Does Tacoma homeless camp ban have votes to pass? At least 3 council members oppose it

Tacoma deputy mayor Catherine Ushka and City Council members Keith Blocker and Kiara Daniels have indicated they would not vote to approve an ordinance that would restrict homeless camps from being within 10 blocks of the city’s temporary homeless shelters.

The proposed ordinance aims to restrict where homeless encampments can set up in order to provide relief for shelters. It was introduced by council member John Hines, District 1.

Daniels, an at-large member of the council, said at Tuesday’s council meeting the ordinance causes chaos and confusion and is not a real resolution to homelessness.

“Shuffling people around does not solve the issue of encampments, and I feel like we’re creating a bigger issue for ourselves later on down the line,” she said.

Blocker, District 3, said the ordinance would not be an effective tool to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness and would cause more harm than good.

“If this was about supporting individuals experiencing homelessness, there should be some additional resources and ordinances to address those particular concerns,” he said.

Council member Joe Bushnell and Blocker introduced amendments to the ordinance.

The council approved adding Aspen Court, a 120-bed emergency and transitional housing facility at 8620 S. Hosmer St., to the list of temporary shelters. Encampments now would be banned near Aspen Court, Tacoma Emergency Micro-Shelter Sites at 6th Avenue and Orchard Street, South 69th Street and Proctor Street, 60th Street and McKinley Avenue; the stability site at 1421 Puyallup Ave.; the mitigation sites at South 82nd Street and Pacific Avenue and 3561 Pacific Avenue, the RISE Center Emergency Stabilization Shelter, Altheimer Memorial Church of God in Christ, Bethlehem Baptist Church and Shiloh Baptist Church.

A homeless encampment sits alongside the future site of a homeless mitigation site being built on the 3500 block of Pacific Avenue on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. The mitigation site is planned to open in October which would force the people living in the homeless encampment to move under a new ordinance prohibiting camping near city-run shelters that was proposed on Sept. 20, 2020 by the Tacoma City Council.
A homeless encampment sits alongside the future site of a homeless mitigation site being built on the 3500 block of Pacific Avenue on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. The mitigation site is planned to open in October which would force the people living in the homeless encampment to move under a new ordinance prohibiting camping near city-run shelters that was proposed on Sept. 20, 2020 by the Tacoma City Council.

Bushnell, who represents District 5 where Aspen Court is, said many people are aware of issues of homelessness and crime on Hosmer, and he wanted the temporary housing site to be included. Aspen Court is in the process of becoming permanent housing, he said, and once it is it will no longer be considered a temporary shelter, he said. Bushnell is a co-sponsor of the buffer ordinance.

Ushka, who voted in favor of the amendment, said she would oppose the final ordinance but thought the amendment made it a better ordinance. Daniels was the only council member to vote against the amendment.

Blocker proposed two amendments.

One amendment passed that would set the fine at no more than $250 and imprisonment at not more than 30 days for violations of the ordinance.

The original proposal states those who refuse to move out of the buffer area would face a criminal penalty of a misdemeanor, a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Hines said he thought the $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail are excessive, though he did not think anyone who would be arrested or cited would face that punishment.

Only Ushka voted against the amendment.

The other amendment Blocker proposed failed. It stated the first and second violation of the ordinance would be civil infractions and the third violation would be a misdemeanor offense with a fine not more than $250 or imprisonment exceeding 30 days.

City attorney Bill Fosbre said with the amendment, those in violation of the buffer ban would be provided a notice of infraction and have 15 days to respond and could request a hearing. If the court found they committed the infraction, they would have their first violation. The person would have to be found that they had committed the infraction again, and with the third infraction, law enforcement could arrest and remove the individual.

Hines said it would be hard logistically to keep track of the violations.

Blocker, Daniels and council member Kristina Walker voted in favor of the amendment.

The amended ordinance will next be brought to council Oct. 11.