Public outcry over Tacoma’s anti-homeless boulders forces city to reconsider

Jun 16, 2015, 7:27 PM | Updated: Jun 17, 2015, 5:28 am
homeless boulder...
The City of Tacoma installed boulders on city property in 2015, only to remove them after a public outcry. (KIRO Newsradio/Chelsea Hawkins)
(KIRO Newsradio/Chelsea Hawkins)

For weeks, the City of Tacoma and the police received calls about a grassy area near the main branch of the public library.

Bates College students and church-goers complained about public intoxication and urination, and drug deals at Ernest Brazil and South Tacoma Streets.

But the city’s solution &#8212 clearing the area and installing huge boulders to discourage homeless encampments &#8212 resulted in even more attention and widespread criticism than the original problem.

Speaking in front of the City Council on Tuesday, Colin DeForrest, who manages homeless services for the city, said there won’t be any more rocks. But he said they have to do something because even though the city devotes millions to six homeless shelters, it just isn’t enough.

“Many areas of Pierce County, Puyallup, Lakewood, Fife, U.P. [University Place], Gig Harbor, Bonney Lake … none of them have any shelters. What that means is that anyone from those areas is coming to Tacoma to use our shelters,” DeForrest said.

Funding for housing and homeless services is half of what has been requested in years past and shelters are turning away more and more people, said Nadia Chandler Hardy, assistant to the city manager.

Though efforts are being made to take a compassionate approach, some areas are so dangerous they need immediate action, DeForrest said. That’s when his team sweeps in to clean up.

“One of the common things we find at these sites is hypodermic needles, which is very concerning,” DeForrest said.

In the case of the South Tacoma site, most of the people there weren’t even homeless &#8212 they were just loitering.

Though the boulders will remain, the city said it’s going to re-evaluate the overall approach to homelessness when examining future problem areas.

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Public outcry over Tacoma’s anti-homeless boulders forces city to reconsider