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‘Stability first’ legislation to address Tacoma’s homeless encampments fails

Dec 13, 2021, 5:30 PM | Updated: Dec 14, 2021, 9:47 am
Tacoma homeless...
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

In the latest attempt for Seattle-adjunct municipalities to codify the removal of homeless encampments from public property, Tacoma City Council has failed to bring “Pathways to Shelter and Stability” to a vote, legislation which would have made camping or storing possessions on public property a misdemeanor crime.

The legislation was “walked on” ahead of its scheduled public comment period, and was removed from the council’s agenda on Dec. 7 by a 6-3 margin, the Tacoma News Tribune reports.

The policy resembles Tacoma city law from 2016-2019, which maintained the criminality of public encampments. The law expired in 2019, and since that time Councilmember Robert Thoms — who has lost reelection to council and will be replaced by Sarah Rumbaugh in 2022 — has failed to pass similar legislation. Thoms cites Martin v. Boise, which maintains that a municipality cannot punish the homeless with encampment removal in the face of a lack of affordable housing.

With recent approval of increased taxes to sponsor low-income housing and shelter options in tow, Thoms is adamant that the time has come for the city to prompt relocation into housing with laws such as “Pathways to Shelter and Stability.”

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“It wasn’t about banning camping,” Thoms told KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show. “It was about saying that taxpayers are going to provide resources— we increased our taxes by .10% for housing in our community. If we’re going to create shelter and housing capacity, we need to, as a government, be able to get people into that capacity.”

Thoms added that he believes housing first solutions are ineffective, and the city must be able to assist the homeless off public land before they can be relocated into social services that best meet their circumstance.

“What is more realistic is we need to have stability first, and that may in fact lead to housing,” Thoms continued. “But some of these people are going to be diverted into drug rehab programs, some of them mental health assistance, and others into shelter. We shouldn’t treat this group as a monolithic group of people who are just one paycheck away from housing.”

That process starts with accountability, according to Thoms, both on the part of the city, as well as the displaced.

“I worry for Washington specifically: We are a caring group of citizens who are taxing ourselves at some of the highest levels in the country to try to address the issue,” he said. “And on any given night, we can’t ensure every single shelter bed is filled until we have a government process in place like this Pathway to Shelter and Stability.”

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‘Stability first’ legislation to address Tacoma’s homeless encampments fails