Tacoma City Council moves forward with controversial homeless youth shelter

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Tacoma, Wash.– The building stands vacant on the corner of 54th and South Tacoma Way. The Tacoma City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to buy the two-story building for $850,000 in a move to help youth homelessness in the state’s third largest city.

But some along the strip of businesses say this is not the best place for a homeless youth day-center and overnight shelter.

"The backdoor was open and you could hear the guns popping," says Terry Middleton outside of her bar on South Tacoma Way.

The bullet holes are still there in the alley behind her bar and restaurant in the middle of the business district along the strip of bars and pawn shops.

"It was crazy, I ran to the back door to close it. There was a young guy running, trying to get away from the gunfire, I told him to get in the building cause there were people shooting all over the place."

Middleton says some of the scariest moments in her 14 years managing Buffino's Golden West have all been recently, in a neighborhood she describes as going downhill.

"I love kids," Middleton says, "and I don't think it's good for them."

A spokesperson for the South Tacoma Business Association, who wouldn't comment on camera, tells Q13 News that there are nine bars and taverns within just a few blocks of the proposed homeless youth shelter.

Middleton, who is a mother of four, says she'd have concerns about teenage girls near adult men who might be intoxicated.

"Sixteen-year-old girls around adult men who might be drunk?" she asks. "There's all kind of things, I hope they (City Council members) really, really reconsider."

Not everyone who works in the area is against the idea. South Tacoma Way property owner Chris, who declined to give his last name, says he's fine with the idea. "It’s better than sleeping on the streets. Yeah, people need a place to go."

The city of Tacoma says they looked at 200 properties in the last several years before settling on the 11,000-square-foot brown building on the corner of 54th Street and South Tacoma Way. The facility would host 12- to 24-year-olds during the day that currently have no place to go.

They city hasn't explained what services would be offered, but many similar facilities in Seattle serve hot meals, a place to wash and dry clothes, have access to computers to apply for jobs, and access to counseling. At night, the proposed shelter would offer a safe, warm place to sleep.

The city of Tacoma says the need is only growing in Pierce County. An estimated 1,000 to 1,200 kids and young adults currently living homeless in Tacoma. City officials say often these numbers go under-reported because this age group is prone to couch-surf at friends' homes rather than live in homeless camps.

The city says the important things that drew them to this location on 54th Street was being on a transit route and being in a diverse neighborhood.

"We believe the city alone can't address this problem, it takes a community," says Nadia Chandler Hardy, adding that a majority of homeless youth in Tacoma are people of color and part of the LGBT community. "We feel that where this site is located is a great setup for success for this site."

Chandler-Hardy says while the selected location is near bars and taverns, it's also near other social services, the area Boys and Girls Club, and around the corner from a public library.

The Tacoma City Council heard public testimony on the topic at a meeting Tuesday night. They then voted to authorize the purchase of the building and parking lot.