Federal Way exercises ‘tough love’ on city’s homeless population

Apr 4, 2016, 1:56 PM | Updated: 3:00 pm

homeless, Seattle...

The new director of street outreach for Seattle's Union Gospel Mission says a simple gesture of caring is sometimes all that it takes to help someone in need. (Seattle Police Department)

(Seattle Police Department)

There will be no more coddling of the homeless in Federal Way. Because as far Mayor Jim Ferrell is concerned, encampments are not a moral or effective solution path to fixing what has become a “public safety risk and concern” and that a better solution will come through “tough love.”

“We are not helping anybody by facilitating and encouraging this sort of lack-of-accountability lifestyle to continue,” Ferrell told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “We need to get the people out of the woods and in treatment and on the pathway to self-sustaining. We’re not doing anybody any favors by allowing this to continue.”

Related: ‘Mayor’ of Melrose trying a different tactic with Seattle’s homeless problem

The City of Federal Way has launched an initiative for cleaning up homelessness in the city through a coalition of Federal Way departments and faith-based organizations.

Ferrell said the issue initially caught his attention during January’s One Night Count that found 263 people sleeping outside in Federal Way, a 150 percent spike from 2015. The following month, propane tanks being used in a homeless encampment on private property just north of Steel Lake caused a fire that resulted in five trees being engulfed in flames. Ferrell toured the area afterward.

“I was just astounded with the amount of debris and garbage and needles and, really it was just absolutely outrageous,” he said. “… If this had been in the middle of summer, we would have lost at least those few acres and the houses next to it.”

The city of Federal Way has allocated $100,000 over the next two years to create a day center that includes information human service options on housing, chemical dependency and mental health. Meanwhile, Ferrell said the city has started an inventory on all encampments &#8212 banning the ones on public property and working with private property owners kick in money for clean up on their land.

“I’m a believer in accountability,” he said. “But I’m also a believer, and so are so many people in our community, (of) compassion.”

Ferrell says encampments that accumulate filth, garbage and needles on public property simply won’t fly anymore.

“This property belongs to the people of my community, of our communities,” he said. “… People may be entitled to not have a job and be homeless, but they’re not entitled to sleep where they want. And we’re going to make sure that our community is safe and clean.”

Ferrell, a former King County prosecutor, says the situation can’t be solved by giving people “an out and a tarp.” With that in mind, he says homeless individuals will be trespassed from both public and private property and that, if they return and cause problems, they will be sent to jail.

“We don’t want to prosecute and arrest our way out of the homeless situation,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the way to do it. But some tough love is necessary, as well.”

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