Tacoma councilmember: Social workers key to making new ordinance work

Oct 13, 2022, 11:51 AM
Homeless encampment in Tacoma (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

City councilmember John Hines said Thursday that Tacoma can make its new homeless ordinance work.

The City Council passed the measure this week to create a homeless encampment ban around temporary shelters, which restricts homeless camps from being set up within 10 blocks of the city’s temporary homeless shelters.

Tacoma bans camping near shelters to contain homelessness

Appearing on KIRO Newsradio’s Seattle’s Morning News, Hines said that social workers are the people who will make the new ordinance work.

“We have a homeless engagement alternatives liaison team that goes out to all of our candidates for shelter currently in Tacoma, and does outreach and offers this service before we ever move anyone,” Hines said.

The conversation will shift 

“The change will be that in these buffer zones, the conversation will shift from purely ‘Hey, what services would you like?’ to ‘How can we connect you to these services?’ and, just let [people] know, you’re in a buffer area where you cannot erect an encampment, and you’re going to need to move outside of the 10-block area or accept offers of shelter,” Hines said.

“We have a lot of temporary shelters in the city to bring people off our streets and into shelters,” Hines continued. “In some of those places, we saw encampments, right up against those temporary shelters. So we really tried to separate the issues we’re seeing with encampments. We recognize that encampments are a real health and safety issue, not just for the people inside of them, but for the neighborhoods in which they’re set up.”

KIRO Newsradio’s Dave Ross asked Hines how many people they would need to house and where the unhoused people living in encampments will go.

Hines responded that based on a recent report from neighborhood news services, there are about 300 people in homeless camps in the city. He said the city manager reports there are 45 open beds, but as many as 200 more are coming online soon.

“We have 10 temporary sites, we set up along with lots of other places in our city for people to go, ranging from tiny home villages to hotels to traditional targets – shelter,” Hines said. “The hope is that as we’re addressing these encampments in these buffer zones, those people will take us up [on] our offers of shelter where they haven’t in the past, and then if they choose not to, then they would move to the outside of the buffer area.”

Enacting the new ordinance was a difficult decision

Colleen O’Brien asked Hines whether this was a difficult decision. Even the mayor said it was gut-wrenching to vote yes, but something had to be done.

“I think it just shows you how complex this issue is. No city has figured this out,” Hines responded. “I think, for the most part, our council wants to help people. No one wants to just push people around. We all want to help people and get them into shelters and services. We cannot just allow the status quo to continue.”

Colleen went on: “I see one of those councils accused you of criminalizing homelessness, what’s your response to that?”

“I don’t think – this is not criminalizing homelessness. This is saying that you cannot set up an encampment within 10 blocks of a city-authorized temporary shelter,” Hines responded. “So the piece of this is that you can continue to camp in Tacoma in places outside of the buffer zone. I hope that people do not choose to do that. I hope they choose to enter our shelters. But the goal is not to put people in jail. The goal is to provide safety for people in our temporary shelters, to encourage people to take our offers of service.”

“At first, we didn’t move people because there was no place for them to go. So that was wrong and that’s illegal,” Hines continued. “So we now have a place for them to go. And then you go in and you offer shelter, you offer counseling, you offer help getting a job, you offer food, and they say ‘no, we don’t like your rules. We’re still not going to move in.'”

Getting through to the hard to reach

Dave asked: “So it sounds like you’re trying to get at those people that are hard to reach. Is that fair to say?”

“Yeah, when we look at the people that are on our streets, they’re some of the hardest to reach. They’re the most chronically homeless. And so really thinking about, how do we get them the services and help that they need. Part of this idea is we’re offering different types of shelter services. When we go to the encampments and people say, ‘No, I don’t want your offers,’ this is really kind of getting into ‘what is it you do want because you can’t stay here, you can’t continue to be on our streets,'” Hines said.

“I’m hoping this will clarify some of those conversations with those people on the street so we are ready to provide what they need because we have rules in our community.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.


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Tacoma councilmember: Social workers key to making new ordinance work