Tacoma’s new approach in fighting homelessness

TACOMA — The city of Tacoma is making a homeless encampment ground zero in its fight against homelessness.

The encampment on Portland Avenue has been around for about a year ,according to businesses nearby. But in the past several weeks the city has brought in portable toilets, clean water and security guards as they reach out to every single homeless person.

At last count, the city estimates there are about 500 homeless people in Tacoma.

There are about 70 living in tents at the homeless encampment on Portland Avenue, which the city is now calling the 'Compound'.

“I’ve slept under bridges and everything, I haven’t seen this much help,” Valerie Godines said.

Godines says the promise of clean water is keeping her at the Compound.

“Mitigate the human suffering, mitigate the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods,” Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.

Strickland says she’s battling homelessness in a new way.

“To be honest with you, we tried the sweeps and guess what? They don’t work,” Strickland said.

Instead the city has moved in with the homeless, triaging the most vulnerable from a mobile trailer.

“Some people need 24 hours care and they should not be in the street they need supervision,” Strickland said.

Strickland recognizes that every homeless person is unique, needing different resources.

They will offer help to the unemployed, the mentally ill and some who are drug addicted.

But Strickland is not afraid of tough love.

“You refuse, then we don’t want people sleeping in the streets of Tacoma; that’s not allowed anymore,” Strickland said.

The city is also cracking down on illegal activity.

“Within these encampments you have people using illegal drugs, drug dealers showing up preying on people,” Strickland said.

The encampment comes with rules and a deadline to vacate.

“We are cleaning up this encampment and we’ve been very very clear about that,” Strickland said.

They are in the middle of phase 1, expected to last 4 to 6 weeks. The people who accept help is expected to transition into phase 2 of the city’s plan by the end of June.

“Phase two is the tent within a tent approach,” Strickland said.

Crews on Thursday were in the process of building a giant tent on Puyallup Avenue, which is less than a mile from the Compound.

Homeless people will continue to get more help at the Puyallup location. The city will also identify affordable housing for the hundreds who need it.

“Sometimes throwing money at the problem isn’t going to solve it, if you are not intentional or strategic about what you are doing,” Strickland said.

The Pit Stop Deli owner Lisette Clark she’s noticed a difference after a yearlong struggle with theft and heroin needles on her property. Her business is directly across the encampment on Portland Avenue.

“Just having security over there relieves me of the stress we deal with everyday," Clark said.

Clark says she’s lost business because of the unruly scene across the street, she’s also called 911 numerous times to address safety concerns.

Clark says she hopes the city’s approach will make a dent.

Strickland says it’s unrealistic to eradicate homelessness altogether but she is hoping to make significant progress by the end of the year.