I don’t want to get too inside baseball in talking about a columnist from Tacoma, but his recent hot take on criminalizing homelessness is bizarre, even for him.
Writing for the Tacoma News Tribune, Matt Driscoll takes the City of Tacoma to task for what he views as the criminalization of homelessness — and he has seen an encampment that proves his point!
Driscoll laments the fact that Tacoma passed a ban on public camping; he calls it an “embarrassing blemish, evidence of good intentions gone awry.” But the city was right to pass this ban. Though he doesn’t acknowledge this, public camping is dangerous and inhumane. Driscoll seems more put off at the fact that the homeless have to move from camp to camp, instead of being upset that they’re literally living out on the streets, in the cold, wet weather of Western Washington, surrounded by trash and, too often, human waste.
The bulk of his piece centers on homeless folks being moved from campsite to campsite. He seems unconcerned that they’re camping on private property or next to businesses where they may drive customers away.
“The city of Tacoma has criminalized homelessness with its ban on public camping,” Driscoll states. “But with shelters and the city’s own Dome District transition site full, there’s really no other way to describe it.”
There is another way to describe it: inaccurate.
First off, it’s hyperbole to claim moving people from private property is criminalizing homelessness. It’s already criminal to trespass, regardless of whether or not you’re homeless. And moving people in tents out in public, without arrest, is hardly “criminalizing” the behavior; the city isn’t arresting them. The city is pushing them into services. You can call it nuisance policing, I suppose, but we generally don’t tell criminals to skedaddle — we arrest them.
Additionally, while the Dome District transition site may be full, there are always beds available somewhere, including during colder months. Perhaps not in Tacoma, but, when you’re in desperate need of a safe, warm place to stay, there are beds available in the region. Will they have to make sacrifices? Yes. Getting this kind of help involves more sacrificing on their behalf, including letting some of their possessions go.
There’s a greater societal benefit when we get these folks in safe spots while also allowing businesses to flourish without homelessness driving away customers and allowing residents to feel safe walking around a neighborhood. I know we’re now in the business of virtue signaling our support for the homeless without actually helping while dismissing the concerns of taxpayers. But a simple solution is there: take them to spots where there are, in fact, beds.